Always wanting to understand. You can’t.
You have to yield, you have to retreat,
you have to do what cats do
when they crouch, that shudder of muscles
contracting before they hurl themselves towards
some prey or other, maybe playfully,
maybe meaning business; or when in the fiercest
Kabuki they confront a rival, and the whole
universe distills into a single-minded
millimetric advance, and then
without warning, perhaps because things are looking
bad - the excuse is always some fly or gnat
discovered in their vicinity -
they look around, pretend to be distracted,
what has this to do with them? it was hardly serious!
But who knows, maybe they really do get distracted.
- Patrizia Cavalli (trans. Geoffrey Brock)
When I was in grad school, I used to jot down comical epitaphs on philosophers. I just came across the notebook with some of them. I chuckled at how I'd arranged them in chronological order! Some are better than others . . .
[famous for his logical paradoxes that prove motion to be impossible; for instance, if Achilles gives the tortoise a head start, he'll never catch up, because he'll have to traverse half the distance, then half again, etc.]
Zeno said to Death,
"Give me a head start—
I’ll prove no matter
How fast you dart,
You’ll never catch me
And my racing heart."
Death said to Zeno,
"Why not? For fun,
Have your head start."
[famous for living in a barrel and seeing how self-sufficient he could be]
Diogenes mocked our needs.
He worked on the strength of his will.
He wondered how long he could hold his breath.
We’re counting still.
[famous for the Republic, in which he imagines a perfect political order; also famous for his distinction between being and appearance]
Here lies the man who dreamt a city
Where there would be no need for dreams.
He said death is no cause for pity;
And his is not—or so it seems.
[famous for his wager that it's a better bet to believe in God]
The rascal Pascal condemned
Matton, his only friend,
For every weekend rambling
To Paris to go gambling.
Why should it be any sager
To place the famous wager?
I bet God isn't nice
To all who throw the dice—
Gambling on number seven
Or, like Blaise, a place in heaven.
[famous for the categorical imperative, died a bachelor]
If you want to tickle a cunt,
Don’t model yourself on Kant.
Without a wife,
He lost his life
Of categorical want.
[famous for his idea of the "will to believe" - interesting to note that I eventually named my son after him]
Had two good names.
Would I will to believe
If either were Steve?
[famous for his book Being and Nothingness]
In the tub would fartre,
Observe and assess:
Being, then Nothingness.
Thought is gazing on to the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to a conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.
- D.H. Lawrence
I give David credit for hanging in there these past few rounds.
Should he have been disqualified for landing some low blows? He is the underdog . . . Plus, Goliath has also struck some low blows - though mostly unintentionally: his fists are so big that it’s next to impossible for him to land a blow to the stomach without also hitting the groin. In any case, the referee is clearly a joke.
David is bruised all over, bleeding profusely. Curiously, Goliath seems the more sluggish.
As a Philistine, I’m rooting for Goliath. But I’m human, too. How can I not feel for David, even though (perhaps because!) he spits in my face? Part of me secretly wishes that the fight goes on until both fall simultaneously to the ground.