Exploding the text.

Following a fierce pitched battle with my son (see, if you’re interested, my previous blog entry, “Eldils”) I’ve been reading up on postmodernism. This is a bit tricky, since I can only ‘read’ what my computer will read aloud to me, so that a fair amount of what I can access is hypertext, which makes the activity quite postmodern already.

 

It’s possible, and very interesting, to think of experienced ‘reality’ as text in itself, a complex multi-layered cultural construct. We really can’t know what anything is other than by what our language says it is, and I think no one can really argue that language is not the lackey of culture. Since we can only think with language, then thought might be seen as hypertext, as a gloss on the larger text, which is what some of us are pleased to call ‘reality’.

 

Most of us have been raised on a reality snuggled up nicely between Descartes and John Stuart Mill. Tidy, well-lit, five-sensory and impervious as Teflon to any form of thought except its own. If this is our only access to, and definition of, everything that is, how do we get outside, into what isn’t?

 

Algebra hit quite late in my life. We spent, in those days, two full years working out the huge sefl-generating architecture of Euclidean geometry. At the same time we were studying Latin grammar, another huge self-consistent architecture. And then suddenly there were negative numbers, a whole world on the other side of zero. I saw, decades before there were computers, or virtual anything, the possibility of constructing a virtual and opposite universe on the other side of the line. In a way I was ready for it. When I was seven I read “Alice Through the Looking-Glass, and beneath the crazy surrealism of what one might easily call an early postmodern narrative I saw Lewis Carroll the mathematician at work.

 

It seems to me that atheism, or something perhaps less athletic, is the end-point of the Cartesian universe. God can’t be held in that logical argumentative five-sensory box. So to get at Him we have to reach outside of the “what-is” into the “what-isn’t”. I’m trying to remember and futilely digging in Google for a poem by Ben Johson on the death of some young woman of consequence. In the poem he proposes that since everything good and beautiful has left our current reality, we should now reach out for (and here’s the part I’m trying to remember) something like “silence, darkness, things that are not”.

 

I’m leading myself on a merry chase here. What I think I’m trying to say is that we can use language to sabotage the text we inhabit, essentially by breaking the rules of Cartesian discourse, and that Lewis Carroll, negative numbers, and Ben Johnson give us clues as to how this might be done.

 

We only have to posit one thing outside the box, one negative number, and it will behave like a fractal, like its own Big Bang, and generate . . . . what? God, for example.

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