From a Notebook circa 1990:
Comic irony: the condition of knowing what you didn’t know just seconds ago or years back and then, knowing how to think about it.
Tragic irony: the condition of not knowing the above while others do.
Morning irony: understanding you’ve the blues and knowing you’ll have to work with them all day.
Evening irony: seeing how the blues at 6 AM were correct or incorrect.
Luck stands between the above like an 18th century lamp lighter.
“What did the president know and when did he know it?” was not, as many believe, a political or juridical question, but one connoting either comic or tragic irony. Nixon is one of the few public figures to have had both. He knew he’d broken the law. He didn’t know quite how he came to be a law breaker. His answer, deflective, was to say “everybody does this….”
Whenever you hear someone say, “everybody does this,” remember the double tragic irony of not knowing which camp above you fit into.
I’ve always liked James Tate’s line: “curses on those who do or do not take dope.”
I loved my mother
She was always a such dark person
I see her everywhere in the woods
Hän oli aina tumma henkilö
Näen hänet kaikkialla metsässä
I guess there’s another category: forest irony. Where you recognize the animism of your subconscious.
I think of Ludwig Wittgenstein some mornings. Isn’t that odd? He occurs to me very early.
Usually it’s this quote that pops into my waking noggin:
“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits.”
Oh I like this for lots of reasons. As a visually limited man I admire the temerity of the utterance, insofar as all humans have some kind of visual limitation. Wittgenstein posits the power of imagination to declare anything, and then, with a smear of logic, to cement an idea into consciousness. I suspect this is how he survived the trenches in WW I. And I know for certain its how the disabled survive. Look at the nouns:
Death. Event. Life. Experience. Eternity. Duration.
In my sophomore year of college I was fascinated by Boolean algebra. In mathematical logic, Boolean algebra is the “branch of algebra in which the values of the variables are the truth values true and false, usually denoted 1 and 0 respectively.” (See Wikipedia.)
The quote above is pure Boolean logic. One may easily draw a Boolean equation for the proposition eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Then there’s a leap—Wittgenstein says our visual field has no limits.
If eternity = timelessness then the present (time) also equals timelessness. Good.
If timelessness is related to mindfulness (we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration) then the operations of mind become our vision. Hence our visual field (anyone’s) has no limit.
You can see where the poet in me would like this. You can see where the blind person in me also admires it.
As logic it is unimpeachable. The trick is to live it.
Early. Wittgenstein for breakfast.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger