—–Having appeased and no doubt satiated many gluttonous readers with the easy-going narration of recent adventures in reality, so to speak, those brushes with commonality, so to speak, such as locking your keys in your car, and having to argue with pretending muggers, and extra-eager policemen, I now return to my proper investigations into the abstract and the infinite. For a long moment there I was fired up with the prospect of another of those novels, which I wrote so happily in my youth, but correlating images failed to produce a story. Reality usually fails to simply supply meaning of its own accord, though one may desire that it do so! That is it’s greatness. “Knowledge itself, transitively speaking . . . is a desire,” I said to my friend Mondrago, as we sat, each with our adoring wives, overlooking the September sunflowers on the veranda.
—–Mondrago squinted, then he squirmed. This boldly stated truth–if it was a truth–warranted further explanation. Well, I said, to begin with, everybody has several alter-egos hanging around, like people wandering not far away, in the garden picking flowers, suitable for use as various situations arise. I asserted this even in the face of my most faithful conversational partner, so it might have been taken, by him, as a diminution of his status. “We are not ourselves, when we talk to each other,” I said; “more like we are the other one, framing the subject, for our real self, watching . . .” He nodded. “To put it another way,” I bowed my head and said, “talking to oneself is facilitated by the fact that one is permanently denied access to their actual self.” This of course he understood completely. Life is a desire, is always a pursuit, and about it, or anything learned there, you can never get a singular–and hardly ever a profound–debate going. “Dialectically with oneself,” I added, just to show how relentless I could be.
—–“What I am really driving at,” I said, and paused.
—–“Yes, what are you driving at?” feigned the Frenchman. At which point I spun full tilt into lecture mode, and took on that crowd of straw men I also keep handy, those academic types and those literary critic types, who are in chronic need of pity, understanding, and a good scolding.
—–I am not being sarcastic, I said to Mondrago, whose wife Samantha was now listening, sweetly (you could hear her listening, she was so sweet). I took on the whole lot of them and called them all “he.” When he, I said, thinks back on his academic career as a teacher, and then author, he feels that he never really obtained either, enough to not blush at the title, but somehow all that has happened, in life, is he has been peeled away. Peeled away and exposed as the kid he always was, say in seventh grade. Knowledge, the idea of it, is a thrilling prospect, to be learning sounds like an activity, like to be in love with a subject. But now he sees, knowledge is a desire. And it is only relative to others, that he stands out at all; others who he himself has judged, perhaps prejudicially. Perhaps! His status is entirely manufactured, if he were to admit it to himself. He is so completely unaccomplished! And is it a sufficient piece of wisdom to have gained from it all, only this old truth? That it was the thirsting for knowledge that was the genuine strain and tension, running like alongside him and refuelling him in his career. That the impossibility of gaining truth fully, was the guarantee that he would always have this career.
—–“Sounds a little flat,” I said. “Sheer disappointment is the lot of the scholar, if he does not reclassify himself as a man of passion,” I added, to finish the thesis. Then went on anyway. Full tilt into a rant, listing all my foes! The professor of religion who cannot locate his own religion among the many brushed with in his study, which is the same as his office, with a view of a tree cut off by the window. The mail ought to come in more often, he thinks. Knowledge is such a far distant prospect you become wistful, nostalgic for a loss you didn’t even actually suffer. Egads! The scientist who has learned in his brilliance to shift focus, from the organism to the terrain, the particular to the context–in which it swims. From the grit to the grease, oh that is no way to put it!
—–These are careful, accomplished, learned men who face the wisdom that kills the discipline. And is that life? Knowledge is not desire itself, no that is too serious an equation; knowledge is only a single desire, among the things desired. And as we keep saying, as we already know, the object of a desire is not the desire itself. Is it? Lest the two insensibly swoon and blend. Shame on your ambition!
—–“In every instance,” I went on, “knowledge is a desire.”
—–Keep saying this. The desire and the object of the desire are of a different order. This is a shock, almost impossible to bear the thought. That knowledge is a desire. That knowledge is an experience, trivial, fleeting, exquisite and consequential–for it was life. Desire is all of life, the very fiber. “Knowledge is power,” said Thomas DeQuincey, who had no power, and much learning. But he could write like the wind–a charioteer riding in the wind. Knowledge is not desire, but a single desire. Not a sexy verb, but a floundering noun. The active content of one of those experiences you have, which will not die, but haunt you, sinner! It is not the end of anything, not the thing achieved, but a desire. This is why you managed to be, once, passionate about a life of of ideas, because ideas consume you, they are not simply achieved. Knowledge is not the package received . . .
—–I got to where I was no longer sure of what of this I was saying, had said, or was thinking. So I wrapped it up. “Knowledge is an experience, like a trip to Europe,” I concluded.
—–At this point the breeze came up and the September light shifted to a deeper yellow, intensifying amidst the flowers and showing up bare patches in the garden, out of which my wife came trippingly, like in an idyll. She was wearing a straw hat that I never saw before. Unbelievable! Overwhelming quiet took hold.
—–“I would like to hear more about that professor of religion,” my wife said. As she was just coming back with some cut flowers, I couldn’t understand how she knew I had even brought him up. “How did you know,” I began to say, but she was so innocent, so imploring–giving me such an imploring look. And Mondrago and his wife Samantha, they were listening, and now there were crickets, sounding invisible and near.
—–“How long do the crickets last?” was the question. Everyone asked it at once! Don’t we already know that, doesn’t it happen every year? Well, one can desire to know, but it never sticks, because knowledge itself is never free from the circle of inquiry, though it may run about in the yard, and throw streamers in the air in celebration of . . .
—–“Yes, I would like to hear more about that trip to Europe,” says Samantha.