July 06, 2007

The Imaginary Philosophy

It was one of those newsmagazine articles that explain the latest impenetrable philosophy to readers who are flipping through on their way to the movie reviews and are keen to learn of something they can hold over the heads of their spouses. It told of a book eight hundred pages long, three hundred of them footnotes, that purported to overturn all conventional views of identity and consciousness. Fueling the excitement was the fact that the book was unreadable.

Jespersen was avid to understand this outpouring of genius but he knew in advance he would never be able to slog through the book, and probably not even a single chapter. He would have to make do with the magazine article instead. Taking each journalistic phrase as the distilled essence of pages of leadfooted inference, by the third column of the article he came to a thunderous realization: he understood! The philosopher was analyzing the human mind as if it were a mechanism and the physical universe as if it were a human consciousness. Jespersen teased out the meaning further: animate and inanimate were equal creations, twin mirrors of the double face of their creator, who could see himself only in them. There is no social agent, there is no experiencing ego, there are only reflections of the invisible.

From then on, Jespersen lived in the charged air of a disciple. He wrote poems inspired by the new system. His diaries recorded how the modernday Pythagoras’s thought had transformed his life. He bored his coworkers with clumsy explanations of exactly what the great thinker meant.

Then one day, feeling that he had at last prepared himself, he read the book--and its ideas were not at all what he had expected; he had completely misunderstood. All that about the human and the inanimate, the identity of creation and creator--it was nowhere to be found in the eight hundred pages.

Overcome, he sat in his bathroom looking at an open razor. Then he shut the razor and put it away, bemoaning his lack of nerve.

He sat on the edge of the tub all night, wondering how he could have believed in a philosophy that had never been invented at all, that had been thought of by no one.