Monday, January 05, 2009

Accidental Leisure

As is customary with me, I used part of my leisure time to think about ontology. Of all aspects of metaphysics, I find it the most becoming. Part of this is that I have been haunted, ever since I met him, by my never-met mentor, Odo Marquard, and his essay on the "accidental." He and his generation of Germans had a powerful reason to feel anxiety about the distinction between purpose and accident, between existing and being, and his lovely books emerged at a time when Americans, at the end of the last century, were ready to feel as unhappy with the "splinter in your mind."

Oh, post-mortism had already been announced, practiced, perfected, and become pop culture by then. "History is a flat field" -- yes, yes, how fun. "Fragments are made into wholes by the unifying consciousness" -- quite endearing, that. "Existentialism has run its course, and now we're all ironic" -- no doubt, but do you mean it? Scientists had even joined the chorus. It's a wave! It's a particle! It's two great things in one. Yes, they had their pave or their wart-icle. Whatever it was, they had it, and then they wanted to have it some more. Why? Because they could.

It has been an age of proliferating unnecessary causes. You can put power generation near the consumer, or you can get superconductors in your power cables. You can regulate speculation in energy and reclassify it as a staple good, or you can go way the heck out in the ocean to drill. You can try very, very hard to "make it new" and come up with new imagery that is both communicative and discursive, or you can have Richard Nixon playing marbles with Mussolini in Trieste, while Enrico Fermi plays flute in the background. (Don't get me wrong: Tom Stoppard is the best of them.) It's not that any of these warticles or post-mortist achievements is not worth the effort, but each and every blinkin' one of them is somehow more effort than achieve, and each is more testimony to a nervous will than a desire.

(It was a clever idea, having the
font color taken from Britney
Spears's tanned midriff, but
it didn't work too well.)

I have been thinking, in my unhappy way, that all the explanations fail. So has everyone else. For a few years, now, I have taken the approach that accidents proliferate to such a degree as to prove an unconscious intent. In other words, if we sum all of the accdidental actions, all of the things people are unaware that they are doing, and if we add in all of the chance conditions of existence (time of birth, meeting the right significant other or not, meeting the right or wrong temptation, the irrational time you punched a friend), then we get a meaning. It is not a satisfactory meaning, of course, for that would give a great equals sign and "balance the equation" (to keep the Matrix allusions).

It's a warticle, and we're trapped in it.

We live in an age fated to be accident prone. More to the point, we are determined to be determined, insistent upon insisting our will be obeyed. We will have more post-mortem novels, more plays with John Donne sung by Robert Oppenheimer, more dances done in mechanics coveralls, more poems made up of soup can labels, more superconducting children's toys, more bathos and extremity. In this constant yoking of absurdities together, in this violent joining of impossibilities, we will declare ego sum. More importantly, we will say, "Though there is no purpose, there is my achievement, and it passes the time."

No comments: