This/Here/Now

“You never stop wanting it to be simple, do you?”  George is looking at me with those eyes that are both constrained and wild.  There is accusation floating in front of them, making them waver as if from the heat of some desert.  George is played by someone who looks a little like Sean Connery, but with rather bushy sideburns, and his accent is German rather than Scottish.

Alan Tudyk“I don’t want IT to be simple, because I know it’s not!”  I need to be someone, so you can think of me as being played by Alan Tudyk today.  “I just want to get the point through a heuristic strainer and into a blog post.”

Now it’s derision.  “Blog posts!”  Snort, eye roll.  “I spend my entire career harping on how knowledge can only be in the finished system, and you want a blog post!”

“I think you know how well that point has played since you were writing.”

Deep sigh.  “Indeed.  I should be grateful that anyone pays any attention anymore.”  Longish pause.  “Okay, let’s try it.”  I notice the slight grimace; he never likes it when he says something that sounds like Nietzsche.

The Object is on the table between us.  Or so it seems.  I reach out and point, bringing my index finger almost, but not quite into contact with it.  I speak loudly, slowly, and deliberately.  “THIS.  HERE.  NOW.”

hegelGeorge’s face has softened into an I’m-the-teacher sort of serenity.  “Your utterance is supposed to be helpful because…?”

“Because it’s supposed to be certain no matter what else…  happens.  No matter what else IS.  I can indicate The Object, I can MEAN it, whether it’s physical or mental.  I can mean it even if it doesn’t exist, whatever that means.  I can INDICATE it clearly, unambigously.”

George nods.  “And when, exactly, is NOW?”

“It’s at the time when I point.”

“The time when you point is not present.”

“It was present at the time I did it.”

“A present presence that is recoverable how?”

My turn to nod, solemnly.  “Only in relation to other presents; this one, for example.”

“And any of those other presents…?”

“Same deal.  There’s no now without an enending cascade of thens.”

George nods again, and takes a deep breath.  “Enough on that for your blog post.”  We allow an electric silence.

After a while, he speaks again.  “Where is HERE?”

Though I know where we’re going, my voice is slightly shaky.  “It’s where I point.”

“And when you pointed, I was supposed to know what you were pointing to.  That you were pointing to a whole thing and not one or some of its parts, that you were not pointing to its color, that you were not pointing to its surface as opposed to its depth, that I was supposed to follow the line of your finger away from your body and not toward it, yadda yadda yadda.”  I’ve never heard George sound so hasty (in Treebeard’s sense).

“You’re really getting into the spirit of this blog post thing.”

His smile looks pained.  “Spirit in English, there.  Not Geist.”

“OK, so there is no HERE without an infinite array of THEREs, like the endless hallway created by facing mirrors.”

“Sure, that’ll do for your purposes.”  Another silence descends and waits, as a child waits at the window for the next flash of lightning.

It’s longer this time before George continues.  “And THIS?”

I’m afraid I might be stealing his thunder, but here goes.  “It’s nothing but a NOT-THAT.”

George has been staring into space, and now makes deep eye contact.  “Nothing but…”

“Are you Heidegger now?”

Snort.  “Or is Heidegger me?”

“His way of thinking IS yours at this point, is it not?  If there’s anything like a ‘bottom’ to what a THIS is, it’s how it turns up in my world.  I can make it present-like-an-object by saying ‘THIS,’ but that presence never stops leaning on its being a THAT in relation to all of the other possible THISes.”

The pain is back in George’s smile.  “Heidegger’s sense of what’s going on when you refer to ‘all of the other possible THISes’ is so freaking different from mine.”  Deep sigh.  “But yeah, that’s the gist.”

I can’t help smiling at this point.  “Wow.  We have a gist rather than Geist.”

His face softens.  He never could wholly resist a pun.  “And now you still need to say the last thing.”

I look at him blankly for a second, then I realize what he’s talking about.  “That this is not silly subjectivism.  We don’t just turn the pointing into ‘however it seems to me.’  I’m not a spectator apart from things; I am among the things, ambiguously a thing myself.”

George nods.  “Very Merleau-Pontienne, but it’ll do as well.”  He gestures at The Object.  “It speaks to us in many voices, not one.  But still it speaks.  And we struggle, learning how to listen.”

A long, companionable silence.

“Thanks, George.”  I stand to leave.

He stands to show me out.  “You are very welcome.  Come back anytime.  You know that whenever you come back, HERE will be different.  So will you and I.”

“That was the big point I had in mind today, I think.  ‘I’ am not the same.”

“And yet it will still be you and me.  We are the same.  Same enough, so to speak.”

“I will come back.  I always do.”

“We all do.”

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