ular age may well return to ‘On the Closing of Millom Ironworks’ (‘whichever way it blows it’s a cold wind now’) or ‘Windscale’, which contemplates the after-effects of a nuclear leak, ‘Where sewers flow with milk, and meat / Is carved up for the fire to eat / And children suffocate in God’s fresh air’. Or it could be Norman Nicholson’s late studies of beck and wall and dune and shingle and mountain, those striking shortlined pieces at the beginning of Sea to the West, that – by looking above and beyond Millom – keep their freshness for a new generation.
FRANK KUPPNER Random Souvenirs of a Fleeting Return to the Continent
Very often, the mere fact that the author later died is itself already a sufficient comment on the absurdity of the eternalist pretensions inherent in his work.
There is something ‘absolutely ultimate’ which is going to be the right answer to one of our particularly inspired questions, is there, Dear Master?
The main problem surely is that practically everything, including thought – (including thought about transience!) – seems to be being produced on the assumption that these wonderful people here and hereabouts aren’t really all going to die and go away completely.
(For which of us, tell me, has never really lived at the single most vital, most important moment of History? You, perhaps? Me?)
Or perhaps everything is fully intelligible only at ten past four in the morning?
In your ignorance, cretin, you thought the true number was a mere zero – whereas in fact it was an endless string of zeroes!
(‘But if I had known my life was going to be like this, Doctor, I’d have to have been somebody else already!’)
I would be somebody else, but for the fact that, most unexpectedly, I turn out to be me. (And with this delightful sense of failure too!)
Oh, we would all like to be someone else, I dare say. But who?
No-one ever goes beyond himself. It is always still you, whatever it is.
A thing in itself? What thing? Do you mean that thing there? If not, what?
[The very notion of the thing-in-itself is a conceptual/linguistic trick of the light.]
How the Universe actually is, even now, is how the Universe is in itself.
As if, for instance, it could even be conceivable to know an apple as it is in itself. What apple?
Might it perhaps (really, as it were – somehow, deep down) be something else? Something else entirely? So – not an apple? What the human concept of X really is in itself! When no longer a human concept, apparently.
(To experience it as it would be if there were no experiencer there to experience it! And what could it possibly be like then?)
‘What is ultimate reality?’ Well, for that matter, what isn’t ultimate reality? As far as I can make out – which I suppose need not be very far, I admit – there is nothing but ultimate reality.
The sense that something unutterably great is happening, my father always used to say, is nearly always an illusion.
(Oh, yes. That familiar, haunting pop-song from my youth. My Old Man’s A Continental Philosopher. Already something of a contradiction in terms, is it not?)
Supernatural. Superficial. It all comes to much the same thing very soon indeed.
(The sense that something unutterably unimportant is happening is probably always an illusion too.)
Still, Dad. No doubt the Cosmos is something of a special case.
But, I suppose, in the end – (if that is quite the phrase) – your parents are merely the particular people who happened to produce you. (Yes; you. (Try to be good, by the way.))
So. I’m alive. Thou art alive too. How very surprising (all things considered). (Forgive me both my anachronisms. (Isn’t the entire sentient Universe – (at least!) – rather an anachronism, by the way, Your Honour?)
As for ‘going beyond oneself’ – well – perhaps it’s the sort of thing one can build up to gradually. First of all, say, bravely stretching a toe out beyond one’s initial limits – and then, as it were, taking heart, and extending the foot even further. (Then maybe the other foot? And there, eventually, you are!)
‘To become itself.’ Such a reverberant turn of phrase! (Of course, at times one again rather fears that the entire Universe has somehow failed to become itself.) (My over-arching plan is – to become myself! Not a grossly hubristic project, one might at least suppose.)
Nothing is not the meaning of the Universe.
Nothing transcends the world.
(Or: There is nothing that transcends the world.)
Absolutely none of us can ever in any way get any deeper into it than the acutest actual human thinkers can manage, flaws and all. (Higher Exam Question: ‘What does “It” in the previous sentence refer to, children?’)
Nothing is not the meaning of the Universe.
(This means something quite different now of course.)
Careful, my child! Try to keep authentically close to Being as such! There’s a good boy! (Er – good girl, sorry.)
Are we not nearly all, Sisyphus, more or less working non-stop doing our best to make sure we receive our invitation to a sublime unending final party which is in fact never even going to be given?
(But surely non-Being must itself also be the great non-problem?)
Hello there. I wish to penetrate deep into the nature of Being. (But first things first! Is there by any chance – erm – a, you know – a free toilet anywhere in this bloody place?)
It seems to me, Joseph, that just about anything could just about end at just about any point. No?
Frank Kuppner: Random Souvenirs of a Fleeting Return to the Continent