Notational, No. 22

Isn’t electricity a mysterious thing? Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin who tied a key to a kite? We live in such a mysterious universe, don’t we? Some people say that science clears up all the mysteries for us. In my opinion it only creates more!

✧ Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Amanda’s frivolous banter not only insinuates but also declaims a persistent reality, one that springs tenaciously from a devision of knowledges that springs from a modern bias. The conviction that comprehension and control of nature is a kind of revelation which remains unrelated to the understanding of human life, especially as it unfolds in day-to-day routines, obscures our imbrication with the very forces which have threatened us, and forced us to adapt, whinge, and pray to be delivered from for most of our frenetic history. To be sure electromagnetism is mysterious, as all action at a distance is mysterious; as light is mysterious, and the energy which drives all the motors of action. More, the mysteries of our universe do not collapse in the face of modelling and control, but multiply, and present new questions to replace the ones predictably answered. As a flippant toss of phrase isn’t what she’s saying eerily apropos? To point out that there is an outside and an inside to human experience—that the world continues to threaten and bamboozle us despite our research and inventions—is an indisputable truism; but is it not also something that genuinely needs to be contended with, not just when the lights burn out, but when we feel complacent and at ease with the idea of a “safely” manufactured environment, even though there is nothing to mediate between any bit of matter or energy, anywhere, that is not natural. Mystery remains nature’s default.

ben-franklin-kite-woodcut

Presence

present

Expectation is a curious orientation. At its heart, it is a state that we feel entitled to. When we turn ourselves outward, grasp invisibly into the future, and take hold of a thing un-yet realized . . . something about that feels justified; even if it doesn’t feel so very realistic. What we expect draws within and coalesces around a core of right: as if some deeper reasoning has been at work, drafting a bill that comes into effect at midnight. From inside our subjectivity: the eager public: ourselves: we have been given just enough grounds to dwell upon even our most modest desires and our willingness to be spoiled. There is something in the future that we feel we deserve just as much as we want.

Often what comes to be revealed on the day is both a fulfillment and a desolation; a raw recognition or conversely equal disappointment. Jubilation. Despair. The accumulated evidence of many tomorrows waited out has its own way of making us feel adequate but out of sync. We are led to invest in the coming moment, to foresee a kind of destiny upon its arrival. Life, it may be said, encourages it. Patterns emerge effortlessly, and we project them on a luminous screen that banners across the approaching morning.

To expect, in the true sense of the word, carries with it an array of consequences. To expect brings all stray desires home with you, but snappingly hungry and irritable about the meal that’s on offer. In reality, and I speak broadly, the random, unforeseeable nature of even the simplest outcomes means that our dreams are constantly thwarted; but also that the most reasonable drafts detailing our rights in the future promised by ourselves to ourselves refuse to manifest faithfully. Our fictions are choked with characters perfectly adapted to the whims and uncertainties of their time and place. The sleuth susses out the criminal, rarely surprised by the knave’s nefarious endgame—but together they’ll often talk it out, until all the motivations are clear. The valiant and perspicacious leader addresses the crowd—but wasn’t he always sure of persevering, and wasn’t the defeat in line with his expectations from the beginning? The Machiavellian plots of the mastermind results in a coordinated pulling of all the strings of countless hangers-on, and puppets, wound in clockwork, dance according to the might of the right she has invested her powers in. The dream of a dream realized is reinscribed over and over. We might expect that at some point our own hard-won deductions, inductions, or abductions will someday work out for us unequivocally. The projected rights of tomorrow will work out right in an end befitting our creative drafts.

This is a season of expectations. Despite the anti-climaxes of ambitions thwarted and dreams unrealized—relationships, presents, and events unrequited despite our unquestionable deservedness—the holiday season is a lesson in acceptance, of things as they are with all of their unexpected manifestations. Our right to the future can only ever be approximate, just like everything else. What we see coming our way, behind the luminous screen, resolves itself into view as it crests the horizon. Is that what I was waiting for?

Yes. This is what you get.