Every time I get back the automated response from you, I reread it, searching through those uniform sentences for a tone, a double meaning, a hint I may have missed in the past or that has evolved over the time you have spent out of country.
Think of the changes that have become manifest since you were last here. My middle name is still the same, and the color of the sun is pretty consistent, and 4 is still NBC, but changes that have been occurring over our lifetimes have become distinctly manifest, and that is usually the moment that matters.
In this sense we miss the boat. We mistake a hundred million grains of sand for a dune. It reminds me of Borges’s “Argumentum Ornithologicum”:
I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer—not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc—is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.
Now of course there is a slight glibness to Borges (detectable in the title and the unnecessary “ergo”). Speaking from experience I can tell you that librarians (even blind ones) have a sense of humor. But isn’t he quite right?
It reminds me of The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 12. Luke quotes Christ as saying, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Conveniently mirrored in Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”)
Of course, suggesting that 2.5 sparrows can be had for a penny is absurd. Is Luke suggesting that Christ thought you could buy half a sparrow? I thought sparrows were chosen in this anecdote because they are small and essentially indivisible.
And then Matthew further complicates things. Are two sparrows sold for a penny? I don’t know, you tell me! If they are, then the price of 2 sparrows is one penny, which is not the same price that Luke quotes. Now if they can’t keep the price of sparrows straight, maybe they’re wrong about other stuff. Maybe Matthew meant, “Some of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father,” or Luke, “God lost count of the hairs on your head.”
The two quotes, however absurd, do go hand in hand with the Borges piece, no? Birds are an ideal vehicle for ontological discussion. First: they often travel in flocks, which happily blur the line between independent creatures (each of which is numbered) and a collective identity being guided by a divine or all-powerful force. Second: they fly! Nothing reminds us more of the rules we must follow than seeing them broken. In fact, I’d say we can’t recognize something as a rule unless we see it broken. No?
Hope all is well!
Robert de Saint-Loup
Thank you for your e-mail. I am currently in Tanzania/Zanzibar doing research for the year and will have limited internet access. It will take some time for me to respond.
My new cell is: +XXX (X)XXX XXX-XXX
Have a wonderful and blessed day.
Asante (thank you),