Mad-Hatter Rummaging

wittgenstein's three blobs of ink

Time ago it was that he would refuse to admit that in the world as a whole there were three things. Take three blobs of ink, his friend and elder had said, and he shook his pen three times on a sheet of white paper. Young Ludwig with his mad blue eyes would not admit these things to be in the world at all. And that is somewhat the distinction, but not quite, that the open-collared Cambridge philosopher would make between fact and fiction, though I must admit that that is not what he meant at all, and which I am merely borrowing torn from the bastardized template of lost time, du temps perdu, to serve myself if not a nameless master of my own. What might be said about ‘finite assertions’ and infinite abstractions is not so much my interest. Mine is in things like hats, straw hats, if you will. That there were indeed three clowns wearing them in my little clownish world of words and green grass I would like to assert as having been once true. And that these three gentlemen digging up my garden on a summertime whim and dare, when I saw them, they ran off like bolts of lightning through the trees and forever disappeared. Now, another would assert that all I have done is mimicked the difference between ‘fancy’ and ‘imagination’—the former being of a merely mechanized function of memory and the like, and the latter being the supreme creative force of human perception.

three straw hats

Time ago it was not as well, and in that world there were always these three glorious things, ink blots on a folded linen napkin gone to waste, forced upon the young man by an ample yet, alas, second-rate mind. And later on, in this same world, the one that never was, there were always, too, three empty summer hats made of hand-braided straw which never had never been pitched atop a living human head, nor had been ever doffed from three, two, or one. Now before I take my leave, I must do so suggesting only this single proposition: that what I have said here every child who’s known sand to be slipping through its fingers already knows, and that only later on can this a worry ever become, that only then are these same once-children beset with, “Was it true?” or “Was it not?” And of those two last questions, dividing the world itself as such, which have and has never meant that much to me, I must finally end this little sally by having us think upon such things as ‘luminous grey’ or ‘a half-knight’s move” —whether you can imagine them to be or not at all.

Concrete & Sand


There are objects, and no one remembers them. There are people, and no one remembers these. There have been and there will be times that disappear. The strange notion that any of this can be kept (whatever ‘kept’ means, and shall one day mean) persists. But for now, it is pleasant to take a hand to the wet grass. It is good to feel the water breaking along the shore in bare feet. It can be frightening of course to hear storms overhead, so frightening that we will paint them with our own feelings, which they lack, and call these sometimes ‘frightening’. All these things and more will pass to nothing. It could be so, once we are gone, that we shall have created traces which the absence of any consciousness at all will never need to know about.

Giving Up On Your Favorite Color


Having almost completely displaced the world now, we can look at it, almost like a discarded object at a yard sale for others perhaps to buy. It is like, as a past lover had sealed within an envelope for me to open later in Berlin, enfolded about a piece of her own dental floss, a handwritten note that read, “Like me, a little bit used, though still good!” She had wished me safe return. But the willingness we have to spill the most intimate, the most personal details of ourselves, like a solitary sailor, who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers, his coins scattered on a bartop, is nevertheless alarming, or, at any rate, to note. For who can remember anymore stubbing her toe on the raised, wooden planks of Fire Island? And who can recall the sweetness of seeing the purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains jutting up immensely and suddenly on that flat road? Before even having felt really a thing at all, before having tasted salty or sour on one’s tongue, before having divided the difference between what is bitter and what is acrid, the possibility of these human moments is automatically transferred elsewhere. Really, little more than the joyful tap of ‘the ability to send this’ is experienced right now.

Perhaps an old, leftover expression itself such as ‘like a hot potato’—which stands for ‘the thing’ to be gotten rid of—does remain. But the chairs, the music, the people? All that delicious randomness, fun, and chaos? Everything that goes with, that went with, the hot potato . . . Gone. They are gone. Fled, like the gods fled to the woods, long ago, according to some. To dwell ever alone in grief? Gone. To live even a lost cotton candy moment by oneself in carnival bliss? Gone. To immerse oneself and to be burned alive in a Blakean fiery pit of anger? To feel these all too human things, things that are ours. They have very nearly, like a mathematical formula underlying it all, become objectified—either in the digitally silenced words we transmit on the fly, or the 2.4 MB pictographic scans of our next or more recent flat tire by the roadside, that tiny deflated cry that does not say, “Help me!” even, but: “Look at me in this position of distress!” Even the exclamation point itself has become just another way to announce the multitude of our many assertions, rather than as a human marker marking our plaintive, lonely cry for succor and much needed assistance, when truly or sorely needed.

Along with our distresses, our glories we have tossed into convenient, easy-to-predict categories to be ‘consumed’ by those we do not know, (and those we do!) We have created, too, the illusion of stumbled-upon, scattered breadcrumbs—digital clues—whose organization is actually very carefully organized and thought out. What had been important once—to feel the bee sting—that is become obsolete, if not soon to be unknown altogether. That unknown moment of terror, that moment of pain, that frightening lasting instance of running into the kitchen to have one’s mother pat down the stinger’s reddening inflamed spot with a poultice of her own homemade wet baking soda, and thus to feel soon better, and thus to be relieved, saved by her, this belonged to another world. I am not arguing that this is a ‘bad’ thing. I am only observing that the ‘human element’ has become nearly irrelevant, and that we have become the almost perfect, inhuman observers of the skies, heavens, and ourselves on this little blue marble, like players at a casino who play the exquisite game well, even perfectly, without caring about winning or losing.