by Westin Tiggard Olgilvy
(Originally published on 31 July 2006)
I herewith tender to the reader my reply to my esteemed colleague, Mr. P. Igneus. I had only recently received the letter, which was dated three months prior; such is the habit of Mr. Igneus: put off till tomorrow whatever needs consummation today. A minor character flaw, however, and I generally enjoy receiving the oddly shaped missives from Igneus.
I should confess that Igneus is what some might call, well, eccentric. Perhaps a tad daft. Stultus Dei. Yet a deeper intellect I have not yet encountered, and it is our wont to communicate about those subjects for which the less intellective care nought. Howsoever the case be, here is the letter:
31 July 2006
Dear Igneus, I am in receipt of your letter of the 20th. That would be April 20th. Nevertheless, permit me to respond, if you will, to several of the assertions you rendered in your letter, offered, as they were, in the spirit of rational enquiry and debate. First, of Plato’s Cave, I must remind you that few there are who bother to read the analogy circumspectfully or with the requisite erudition. Such is the sorry state in the hederal halls today.
Of his renowned Cave, Plato draws a comparison between the world of spirit and the world of flesh, or, as he says, between our nature (fusis), as it pertains to education (paideia), and the world of his Cave. Put more simply, Plato contrasts the two planes: of the worldly, common-sense perception, and the world of the noumenal, that is to say, of the mind (nous). And as Sir Thomas Browne wrote in his Urn Burial, “We yet discourse in Plato’s den and are but embryo philosophers.”
A world of shadows, Igneus. Of this world much can and has been said. A goodly amount. A fructificative plenitude. Or perhaps too little. For has any of us ever seen beyond the shadows that lie in front of us, obscuring our vision of the truth? Has any of us truly broken the fetters that shackle us, as Plato writes?
If you are paying attention, Igneus, and I have my doubts, knowing as I do your tendency to wander off with a snifter of Cognac and a large trabuco, the truth of the matter is thus: namely, that some of us have indeed released ourselves from that Platonic captivity, that penumbral exile, and have walked out of that Cave into the bright light of what Rudolph Otto called “das ganz Andere.” Yet Seneca replies that Fortune owns both slaves and free men alike (Sen. Ep. ELVII, Lucilio suo salutem). Given this assertion, a further is made by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, where he ventures that experience is an empirical cognition.
Now if the latter be true and the former as well, does it not follow, dear Igneus, that mankind has come to a fork in the road of existence? That the fork itself may not be a fork, but a spoon? For surely, it should be patent to you that existence has no reason for its own existence. And why should it? It would seem fair to asseverate that existence has much more to do than sit around and merely exist.
Strangely, then, even existence finds itself a slave; a slave fettered in a non-existent Cave about which a perhaps non-existent philosopher once wrote, who was Plato or someone named Plato. You are that slave, Igneus, and I have come not to taunt you, as I may have once been tempted, but to free you. I am convinced that once you perceive the dual nature of existence, its being and not-being at once, you will divorce yourself forthwith from the silly chattering of the merely this world, which lies before you plain to see (even, of course, if it does not exist). For you see, the noumenal and the phenomenal are interplaited with each other, which naturally suggests that existence itself, at least occasionally, does not exist. Which means of course that these words do not exist, at least not in the normal sense of the word. Further still, and to our mutual benefit, the Yankee himself does not exist, an unlooked for Donum Dei. It is as if God requires us to infuse existence with the fluidity of our selves, howsoever insubstantial they may be.
Consider that which does or does not exist, Igneus. Is your consideration itself existent? Or mine? All good questions for capacious minds to ponder. Thus, though normally I would salute you with my name, yet it is worth considering, if such consideration exists, that I use that of another. By doing so, I thereby confirm the non-existent with the existent, and trump them both, keeping in mind the functional property of the naming habit, to call into being that which was not yet existent. (Though, of course, we now know that the calling itself may not exist either.)
Therefore, with warm regards,
Tut Ankh Amen,
Dear Reader, I did, in fact, carry out my plan, which I am sure you have hitherto divined, to confuse Igneus so thoroughly that he would have no choice but to confine himself to his study, armed only with his stogies, his Cognac, and a dog-eared copy of The Republic, for days if not weeks. But a man like Igneus, as I was soon to discover, is not so easily baffled by the metaphysical, epistemic reasoning which I had, it seems, let loose on him like so much as a match to the oil of ignorance.
And there is only one thing more dangerous than a non-existent Igneus: an existent one.
Westin Tiggard Olgilvy was born in Blue Mountain, Mississippi, to Dr. Furman T. Olgilvy and Emily Delight Olgilvy. A scholar and writer, Olgilvy is best known for his “Life of Sidney Lanier,” an exhaustive study of the musicological basis of Lanier’s poetry. In addition, Olgilvy translated all of Plato into ancient Greek.