Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zeno's Martial Truth

"Zeno stretched out his fingers, and showed the palm of his hand, - 'Perception,' - he said, - 'is a thing like this.'- Then, when he had closed his fingers a little, - 'Assent is like this.' - Afterwards, when he had completely closed his hand, and showed his fist, that, he said, was Comprehension. From which simile he also gave that state a name which it had not before, and called it katalepsis. But when he brought his left hand against his right, and with it took a firm and tight hold of his fist: - 'Knowledge' - he said, was of that character; and that was what none but a wise person possessed."

How might I read this? The world remains formless and flows undistinguished. There is no use but only the witnessing of appearances. The hand remains without purpose; it is a crystallization of its nature. Then the world takes form slowly as things are ripped from the flow of appearance to be dissected; the hand begins to form into something of use. Finally the fist is clenched; things are known, a thing is distinct, a truth emerges from the flow of appearances. What do we do with this fist of truth? We attain it, as wise people, strike out and use it in the world. Truth is not truth if it is as useless as an opened, unmoving hand. For knowledge and truth are not abstractions removed from the body and the world, lofty, feathery things to drift in some deaf, dumb and blind dream. Truth and knowledge command us to act, to use them, and a truth that does not demand action, is nothing but the meaningless, useless flow of appearance. Only in the use of truth do we find out if its fist is strong and healthy enough to shatter the fallacious; without this exercise of truth, this pugilistic match, knowledge and truth remain the fallacies of sickly cowards.

But are the fists rough and brutish like a boxers? No, while the striking out in the name of truth may require a degree of crudeness and a willingness to become dirty, the pugilism of truth can be sheer starkness of a lived ethic in the face of a spiteful crowd of denouncers. Our truth is measured by the strength of a the fight, the strength of the truth, not by the brutality of the fighter.

No comments: