Notational, No. 23

But Hamlet does not like matter. He wants it to melt, resolve into a dew—even the matter of spirits should do so—and yet that dew is matter too. He likes nothing, absence, zero, vacancy, all of which “Nature” abhors and her Law forbids—as we still believe. The word “O,” newly ambiguous with the importation of “𝚘” from Arab mathematics, is uttered more in Hamlet than in any play but Othello. And Hamlet says “no” more than any character in Shakespeare. This hatred of matter on Hamlet’s part is shocking: it measures the greatest imaginable despair. For even the dead are matter. (Is this what generates a ghost in place of the corpse of his father?)

✧ Mary Baine Campbell,Shakespeare and Modern Science”

Matter is the remnants of a bright occasion stashed in the basement. Bits and pieces of something so promising and full of unfettered expectation have been packed up and sealed into crates, boxes that are only moved by the forces of necessity. From one end of a darkened chasm to the other: rearranged perhaps, reorganized, recombined; but still, there will never be tinsel in the hot furnace of any anticipated revelation for these tired things again. Nor a gasp to accompany any connection and release that might fire out from a sudden compression so intimate that it has made new beginnings possible.

This often feels like what I suspect lies at the end of what I return to so often: the terrible renunciation of the illusion of freedom that comes from existing in a world defined by limits, but motivated by a spurious injunction to imagine a life absolutely unfettered. By boundaries. By facts, organized around principles, that say: most of what we think we know is composed of space. That being is lonely in the sense that nothing is really in contact. That we cannot be anywhere doing anything at any moment. Space and time are coincidences that determine where, when, and how we can go next. But there is so little of either available from the start.

Hamlet says “no” so much because he voices the denial that begs to be vocalized when you encounter a hard “no” yourself. Or a “yes” that means “no” when you hear it. Assertions and negations are flying about us all the time; and these answers that ring in the ear beg to be denied from something deep and steadfast within. When something is not possible, when something is asserted in the world and we are forced to contend with it; and that thing amounts to being a being, which we can’t avoid—and maybe do not accept no matter how reasonable or graceful it might be to do—”no” is sometimes the only sane thing to say. The matter of articulating the rejection of matter, or some matter, makes everything that much harder. What do you want to say, without deception or equivocation, when the options are worse or worst?

We are confined. These atoms do not prevaricate the way we would like them to. We are packed up. You can say “no” to any matter, but at its most fundamental, it does not hear—it only moves.

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