Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


O Ye Faithful

Only the faithful, who believe
in what they cannot see,
allow themselves the luxury of doubt.
The faithless cannot afford to doubt,
but must be rigid in their insistence
on not seeing what looms before them:

Behold the adulterer's faith
in spouse's stupidity, in the nonexistence
of a specific agonizing future, in somehow
being able to talk his/her way out of anything
or to wait out all questions in silence
until life moves on, all questions
forgotten. Behold the faith of politicians
in our apathy and forgetfulness, the faith
of conmen, admen and newspapers
in our credibility, the faith of deadbeats
(as they waste friend after friend)
that no matter how many of us they break,
another willing crutch will appear
to prop them up (until it, too,
snaps beneath their bulk
to be replaced by yet another).

A friend suggested that this poem should begin with "Behold the adulterer's faith," and probably she's correct, since that's showing what the first stanza, abstractly and somewhat obscurely generalizes about. And it's where the poem moves from purely oracular (and who wants to hang out in an incense-choked cavern with a hag who cuts open birds to search the guts for omens and talks like a zombie?) to something with an element of wit and irony. I think it's interesting to see how much faith the supposedly faithless have. Sometimes blind dumb faith is simply blind and dumb, like all the criminals who know they'll never get caught--even after being caught again and again.

But I've kept the first stanza because I like the point that there's another kind of faith, not at all blind, which gives one the certainty (and space) needed to tolerate doubt. The criminal's faith, if faith it is, is desperate. He puts himself in a position where he can't afford doubt. It's too expensive.

Really, faith is a word we use to describe someone who seems certain of things for which we, who call it faith, see no evidence. But such faith can range from an apathetic agreement with what one has been told or had impressed upon him to desperate grope for something to which one can cling--and to someone who is simply certain of what is obvious to him, an obviousness that escapes others.

If someone had extremely sensitive hearing and could hear melodies where for others there was only silence, those of us who could not hear the melodies he danced to would call his hearing faith until all our instruments agreed with him. The one-eyed man among the blind, if they had no concept of vision, might seem to them a man, not of vision, but of faith, if he went running ahead of them without due regard for obstacles.

But it's fun, when one knows, to doubt what one knows, to challenge it. Science (derived from a word meaning "to know"), when it IS science, relishes doubting itself. I have no doubt that you are here, reading this, but it is easy for me to doubt it. I can decide you're here. I can decide you're not.

For that matter, I can decide that I'M not here. (Or am I a question?) The more certain I am of who I am, the more I can play with who I am. The more able I am to be myself, the more easily I can be anyone or anything, like a child being Daddy. I suppose such things are not really what we usually think of as doubt. They are play, fictions, art (more rudely, lies). But where certainty is simply knowing what one knows (and what one doesn't know), doubt becomes play, fictions, art.

Knowing in the absence of evidence that others can perceive--so similar to what we call insanity (he KNOWS there are giant spiders coming down the wall others see has no giant spiders on it). One difference is that one who DOES know in the absence of such evidence is not obsessive about it, is able to take the viewpoint of others who do not know. He can choose viewpoints. And, if he is artist enough, he can get others to see what he sees. The great composers have all given us music that only they, at first, could hear.

Of course, if he's indiscreet, he may still find himself burdened with a "diagnosis." But only shrinks can fail to see the difference between one clinging to a viewpoint others do not share and unable to assume any other viewpoint, and a person who is able to assume agreed-upon viewpoints, but able to assume viewpoints that are his alone.

It's not the ability to create and experience and dwell in a world no one else can perceive that is madness. It's inability to share in the agreed-upon creation we call reality. And another sort of madness is the inability to create and experience and dwell in a world no one else can perceive. Such an ability is, I think, native to all beings, so those who judge the sanity of others based on departure from agreed-upon reality are, themselves, awfully scared of slipping into knowledge and finding themselves having to take responsibility for what they can create.

That's a complex statement. To simplify: There are the normal (the so-called sane), who are not in very good shape, having lost the child's ability to pretend and perhaps a great deal more and who cling to what everyone knows, the most boring sort of faith. There are those who, having been bruised by the reality that everyone knows and having harmed others in that reality, prefer not to confront that reality, prefer to pretend it's not there or dub-in something else, rooms crawling with giant spiders, for example. (His world will be full of exaggerated manifestations of whatever he is trying to evade in reality. Resistance is pressure against something that has no space to retreat into. It oozes back into the life of the one who pushes it away.)

And there are those who are truly sane, able to choose a viewpoint, certain enough of themselves not to need to cling to agreement, nor to need to fight agreement and cling to an alternative reality. Able to create.

1 comment:

Wm said...

How can I comment about a scan from recent to early that rides on a wave of mind imagery. The recalls of my similars of me own as I deage from bawdy to baby and from "know to not-know" and back again have left me wordless in this space now filled with the dual impressions of our own.

Thanks, Dean,


This word, "Sistutsi" tells you I am not a robot - Hmmm - something about the Tutsi of my sister?