Like as the Palestinian gazelle desires the water brooks. . . (Psalm 42)
George Oppen is a poet English majors want to be sure everyone knows they have read. Not one English major has read his work, however, because it is incomprehensible. Unless, of course, the English major also has the temerity to say they have read and understood Heidegger’s Being and Time. Which I suppose is possible. But not likely. Understanding, that is.
My purpose today is to contemplate reality.
You may now giggle, either aloud or to yourself—no matter.
You ask if I have read Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Langer, Kristeva—and before them, Plato, Socrates, Boethius, Kierkegaard, Kant, Wittgenstein. Yes, I have. Well, sort of. I’m not smart enough to figure most of those folks out. I always have the sense, reading them, that either their brains are more highly evolved than mine (and, most likely, yours) and I am not even in the same world they are in, or they are having us on, sounding profound when they are, in fact, stumbling around looking for ways to explain things exactly as the rest of us are.
The epigraph Veritas sequitur . . . [of the poem, “Psalm,” by George Oppen] evokes the conceptual framework and spirituality of Thomas Aquinas who in the thirteenth century argued for the Divine as an efficient cause for everything that manifests, that is, for the entire created world. It would be incorrect to understand Oppen as involved in any theology, however, even as the poem possibly demonstrates a religiosity; but what might give rise to religious sentiment is within Oppen’s purview (Burt Kimmelman).
Veritas sequitur. “Truth follows.”
On January 5, 2015, my brain had some sort of seizure activity in the morning. I say “some sort” because I’m almost certain it was, but my neurologist concluded from my description that it was likely not a seizure. I know how my seizures feel, and I can say without doubt that it was—at least at the outset—a seizure. Most likely our difference in designation comes from the fact that the sense of dissociation that is the main result of seizure activity in my brain lasted all day. Seizures (my particular brand, at any rate) are momentary. Unless I black out and am gone for a short period of time. Then all bets are off.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” the nice policeman asked a few years ago when I came to in a Target store and a small gaggle of concerned people was standing around me. “No, I’ll go home. My car is right out there.” “No, we’ll drive you home,” the other nice policeman said.
That’s a real, full-blown seizure.
What I experienced on the 5th of January was a moment of dissociation (they’re a dime a dozen in my world) followed by an entire day of confusion and depression. And more dissociation.
The question I’d like to pose (because I’d truly like an answer) is whether or not the day of confusion, depression, and dissociation is, in point of fact, the norm for Homo sapiens, that our life spent thinking we know what is going on both in our own consciousness and in the world around us is abnormal. A lie we have convinced ourselves is “real.”
In asking the question, I am, in fact, in good company.
Who shall doubt
of itself carrying
of the actual’ being
itself ((but maybe this is a love
of the self nor the racing
car nor the lily
is sweet but this
—George Oppen, 1975
I’m not (never was) an English major. I taught college English for 30 years without ever once knowing what I was doing. (Speaking of dissociation!) But I understand “Who shall doubt consciousness in itself of itself.”
Who shall doubt consciousness? Probably not you nor your parents nor your lover, and most certainly not your Congressperson nor your Pastor.
My guess is that anyone who has been given the tandem gifts of a moment of dissociation and a day of depression actually understands consciousness better than people who have never had the experience of that duality.
The first time I pretended to be an English major (spring semester, 1987, Salem State College in Massachusetts) I taught “Introduction to World Literature.” One of my colleagues, a real English professor, suggested I use Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot as the required “novel in translation” for my class. He knew about my dissociation and depression, and I was madly in love with him.
When I want to be sure I’m not alone out here in this dissociative world, I read a little Dostoyevsky or Oppen. “Their fiction and their poetry, they comfort me.” (Perhaps I am an English major; at the very least, I know how to make allusions. Psalm 23.)
Back to contemplating reality.
If you are blessed with seizure activity, you know better than most about reality. It isn’t. That, of course, is nonsense.
But explain to me, if you think you know what’s real, how a deer grazing in a meadow in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming came to be. And how I came to be so I have in my mind indelibly the memory of that deer (the memory will be there, I am convinced, when I know very little else because of the ravages of Alzheimer ’s disease).
Ultimate reality, I said.
Those who have not been given the gift of dissociative seizures might do well someday to find a meadow to sit in, sit still, unengaged, quiet, not trying to control anything and watch for a deer to come and graze. Watch intently. Wait for it.
What’s real in this idyllic scene? The deer or your perception of it. Or neither. Or both.
. . .just as the investigation of being is the primary task of metaphysics, so is the question of truth. Truth designates that which is real, and was real and “that which always is and knows neither birth nor death” (Fr. Andrzej Maryniarczyk).
Those of us lucky enough to feel for a moment now and then that nothing is real, physical, knowable can tell you:
Don’t give it another thought.
“Psalm,” by George Oppen.
Veritas sequitur …
In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass
The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
The small nouns
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.
Oppen says in his notebooks, “I choose to believe in the natural consciousness, I see what the deer see . . .”
My Big Horn Mountains