Profundity and Absurdity: Taking Stabs at Truth

Welcome to my blog. I tend to take the world seriously, probably a fault, but a personal habit nonetheless. This seriousness includes the presumption that what passes in public as truth probably isn’t, and that the glances and sniffs one gets walking around are signs of and on a trail toward truth. I grant myself the fancy that I’m searching for truth when I write. Maybe you do too.

At the same time, I distrust words, as would any alert reader of José Saramago‘s novels, as I enthusiastically try to be. Words, as he has often noted, have a tendency to run away from us, taking us hostage with them, on and on, one after the other, until the worlds thereby created collapse into absurdity. Then too, words are all the writer has, and as those novels also prove, profound truths sometimes—and in Saramago‘s case often—coalesce, brood, brew and distill into what reads as essential wisdom, or as at least an arresting folk saying. We may seek to be profound, but we are most likely to end up in absurdity. Truth might be thought of as the top of a summit or a boundary region that can be approached, neared, verged upon, and converged around, but arrived at and dwelt in only momentarily and with difficulty. Profundity and absurdity are the Janus-faced aspects of hope and risk in the search for truth. Here are a few Saramago quotes to illustrate his attention to the prospects of words:

Life is like that, full of words that are not worth saying or that were worth saying once but not any more, each word that we utter will take up the space of a more deserving word, not deserving in its own right, but because of the possible consequences of saying it. Saramago (2002) The Cave, Harcourt (p. 28)

Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them come irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a good deal, they put up with everything. Saramago (1997) Blindness, Harcourt (p. 281)

It had proved a difficult dialogue, with traps and false doors swinging open at every step, the slightest slip could have dragged him into a full and complete confession if his mind had not been attentive to the multiple meanings of the words he carefully pronounced, especially those that appeared to have only one meaning, those are the ones you have to be most careful with. Contrary to what is generally believed, meaning and sense were never the same thing, meaning shows itself at once, direct, literal, explicit, enclosed in itself, univocal, if you like, while sense cannot stay still, it seethes with second, third and fourth senses, radiating out in different directions that divide and subdivide into branches and branchlets, until they disappear from view, the sense of every word is like a star hurling spring tides out into space, cosmic winds, magnetic perturbations, afflictions. Saramago (1999) All the Names, Harcourt, (p. 114)

It is easy to forgo, embellish, exceed, or forsake truth. Most people, my cynic self tells me, do that. There are two familiar ways to miss or dismiss truth. The first is to turn terror, fear and angst into a need for enduring certainty. One says: the following is true, that’s my belief, now leave me alone to wear these acquired habits, never ask about that subject again. There seem to be people who are so certain of everything that they have settled the problems of life forever. They live in deadening habits.

The other way to dismiss truth is to need and love power. One says, I’m in charge, I hold the power, I’m the authority, what I say is certain, what I say is true, it should be good enough for you, if you don’t like it, leave.

Maybe these two sources of untruth are really one. Would power be needed if a person weren’t afraid? This confusion of mine about whether there are one or two or more roads to self deception is itself an example of the tendency to go beyond truth, to excess, by bypassing the issue under immediate discussion for attention to a related but different one. I don’t know how many reasons there are for giving up truth, or of all the sources of self-deception and lies. Who says lying is the only way to forsake truth. To retain humility, or if not that, to avoid embarrassment, or perhaps to lower the bar, I tell myself that my blog entries will be mostly awkward stabs at truth. It is dangerous to think that truth will be hit directly or often by one’s words. In an age of dead certainty, my stabs are likely to conspire and consort with the words of a legion of other murderers of truth. You know who you are! All right, then, you know who they are! Who cares, it’s up to the reader to decide.

Another digression suggests itself. Is humor a friend of truth or its abandonment? Satire and parody presume that humor and truth are friends. Like any digression, this question, any question, a question asked, sparks thought and words, and moves on and along with every stab at truth. As Kurt Vonnegut had a character say, “And so it goes.”

Anyhow, Welcome. I expect to post every other week. I look forward to your comments. Guest contributors are welcome.

Will Callender

November 14, 2011©

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5 thoughts on “Profundity and Absurdity: Taking Stabs at Truth

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  1. Small but pesky shadows ran for cover when your posting came today, Will. Dispersing wildly, their sixth sense (or seventh, or above?) propelled them toward other galaxies, leaving just a little more room for truth to amble in, to settle down, to take a seat, to position itself carefully, precisely even, to be at the ready to leap into a moment that might re-steer a thought or two, a creative dream or two, or to ignite a wish that kindles a passion for knowing something better, more beautifully, more sincerely–and sometimes, more bravely.
    Saying thank you seems inadequate for having invited me into your blogosphere, but words are all I have, assembled alphabet letters conveying meaning of some sort, strung together like little threads of hope, and cast with care into the universe of promises to come.
    I look forward to listening and learning with you, and with everyone who enters in.

    With love to you and Beverly, Sherrie

  2. My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond ‘Z’ and start poking around! ~Dr. Seuss

    How wonderful… you show us the way to what lies beyond ‘Z’. Welcome to the land of yuzz (blogging)! I can’t wait for the next post!

  3. If we bracket the question of Constitutional rights and the controversies of random drug testing as a gatekeeper to employment, civil rights, access to safety net programs, does not Maine and the Governor have to consider the serious problem with methadone and oxycodone abuse?

    How can this be addressed in a manner that protects the key tenets of our democracy?

  4. Please, Turn the Page:

    1. You may not believe in Poetry,
    2. History, or Geometry— at least
    3. If there’s a ‘Triangle;’ however,
    4. It seems a risk that you don’t know
    5. That Art is something that can show
    6. You life without a dollar sign, that
    7. Life has Life sewn in each rhyme, and
    8. In a song, a book, and friend, where
    9 . Dollars would not flex–nor spend
    10. Themselves on things that harm—
    11. Like toxins used to fish and farm.
    12. Your job’s to help Maine’s people sow
    13. Their wonder, and help goodness grow!
    14. Each worker seeks a better place,
    15. And toils for love, and toils for grace,
    16. And cares for people rich and poor,
    17. And welcomes those with less–and more.
    18. The people, land, and their goodwill
    19. Ought make your heart and soul stand still,
    20. And marvel that you have the right
    21. To view with mercy all our plight,
    22. And come to see with transformed sight
    23. That freedom rings both day and night
    24 When you respect each person’s right
    25. To celebrate democracy.
    26. You must not lock the door to that,
    27. Or we shall take your key!

    1. A ritual tradition in Maine for 15 years, on Jan. 5, 2011, as requested by him, no poem was read at the inauguration of Governor Paul LePage.
    3. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, March 25, 1911 in NYC, resulted in 146 deaths of mostly women and young girls who were locked inside the upper floors of the factory where they were working. The tragedy inspired progressive new labor laws that greatly improved job safety.
    5. In March, 2011, a 36’ mural depicting people at work, in Maine, was spirited away from the Maine Department of Labor to an undisclosed location. Governor LePage claimed that the mural was one-sided because it portrayed only workers, and not ‘job creators.’
    9–12.Speaking about the dangers of environmental pollution and bisphenol (BSP), Governor Lepage said: “The only thing that I’ve heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards.”
    23-25. “Kiss my butt.” was the response of Governor Paul LePage, when he refused an invitation to attend a Maine NAACP meeting in Jan., 2011. He added: “They are a special interest… End of story. And I’m not going to be held hostage by special interests.” Also, in November, 2011, Maine Republican Party attempts were made (but failed) that would have overturned an existing law that permitted Maine voters to vote and register on the same day; however, to continue to make it more challenging for people to participate in democratic processes a legislative session in 2012 will meet to determine if there will be a requirement for a valid photo I.D., in order to cast a ballot in future Maine elections.
    26-27. The People of Maine will have the opportunity to reconsider who they cast their vote for in the next gubernatorial election. The ‘key’ to the “way life should be, democratically speaking, will be determined by the people at that time.

    Sincerely, Unidentified Freedom Oasis, a concerned Maine Citizen, 2011

  5. Hi Will-

    Congratulations on getting your blog up. I know first hand how exhilarating it can be to finally get it up and running, and I hope posting will be mostly fun, not a burden.

    Regarding truth seeking. My experience has been that most people quite honestly believe they’re humble about the truth: they know it’s important, they hope there is a Truth, but they mostly acknowledge they haven’t paid attention enough, and probably don’t know what it is.

    Still, people act assertively as if they’re certain there are truths someone else has revealed or discovered, and they’re hitching their wagon to some of them, (even though they’re too busy or too anxiety-laden to say much about those truths, let alone live in accordance with them.)

    It turns out people still need tribes to belong to, material or mental groupings that provide identities to latch onto and ride – along with large macro generalities, ideologies, about the way the world really works. Sadly, taking action, even when unclear why, is so often seen as more functional and preferable to deep introspection, awareness of ambiguity, and realizing you might be wrong – all of which might be seen as weakness.

    Along any human spectrum – political, religious, cultural, demographic etc.- I see wonderful people who are reasonable, humble, curious, fair-minded, and honest. Regrettably, along that same spectrum there are so many of our human brethren who are not.

    So I give full-throated support to any effort to help us calm down, be reasonable with each other, and above all, try to learn.

    Keep posting, Will – I’ll be reading them.

    Shaun

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