Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Essay: X

NOTE: An extraordinary idea for an essay came to me as I was listening on headphones to Lecuona and watching television with the closed-caption option. But by the time I had disentangled myself, dashed upstairs, and logged on, the topic had vanished from my mind. Still, a enticing abstract of the thing lingered in consciousness, so I determined to pursue the general train of thought:

I've paced these halls many a night ruminating on the exigencies, and vaster implications, of X. Doubtless, from the dawn of time, many of you have done the same. Indeed, the most superficial survey of the literature of X reveals that it has numbed the minds of the greatest intellects of our civilization; this has not prevented them from discoursing at length on the topic, else we'd have no record of their often pathetic fumblings. Still, the question of X remains, stark, vivid, and essential, regardless of what crude answers, or lack thereof, we might produce.

A, in his labyrinthine essay "Transcendental Deduction of X in Relation to the Senses," concludes at the very last, "And thus although X can be held neither to participate of being, or of non-being, it nevertheless enters into its own essence, both empirically and a priori, thus rendering the brute facts of experience both negligible in relation to it, and categorically undeniable." This is, to put the matter bluntly, stupid, but at least monotonously so, and we must have a beginning.

The notorious Enlightenment wit B attempted to dispose of the matter with his customary panache: "Without X, none of us would be here; with it, I fear, most of us ought to be embarrassed to be here." This oft-quoted remark plays nicely on the paradox of X, but B's further remarks are often omitted: "And in ten minutes time, I won't be here. Think on X as you consume my share of the wine." Interesting that B, a notorious dipsomaniac, should present himself as so free with "his" share of the wine, a fancy that surely would not have been plausible in any context other than X. B was murdered by a cuckolded husbanded before the week was out, so we'll never know if he was layering his ironies in a uniquely relevant manner, or was simply having his little joke at the expense of the fashionable classes.

This did not prevent C, writing from Greece in 18--, from remarking in a letter to his publisher, "Oh, that I might have had a fuller understanding of the import of X before this moment. But I was young, and fresh on the scene, and full of words; the whirlwind took me up, and never put me to earth again. And now, now that I begin truly to see -- now it is too late. The day wanes; my mind is haunted by shadows, not of things unseen, but of things seen; the final battle is imminent, and no wine can still my tremblings. And somewhere, from that last darkness, I begin to hear the song to which I have for so long been deaf, but now it roars, roars: 'X, X, X. It is so. It is X and shall remain.' Good-bye." While this may seem like typical fodder for undergraduate essays, as indeed it is in schools that bother to teach such things, it is a good deal more. It is the corruption of reason by the very passion that brought it about; it is the annihilation of X in the moment of its recognition. Had C lived another decade, he might have cast bread upon these murky waters. Probably not, though. Lucidity was not his strong suit.

We are in modern times all too familar with D's startling breakthrough paper, "X in the Transformation of Energy in Expanding Systems." However, the very real material benefits that D's precedent-shattering theory made possible -- the transformation of academic journals into foodstuffs; the development of invisibility in espionage, entertainment, and personal transportation; the construction of the various Stargate devices -- must not blind us to the fact that D's X is a scientific construct only, defined mathematically, and has little bearing on the larger, epistemic use of the term, whose mysteries are no closer to solution than when E noted that "thought cannot exist without X, yet X bears no relationship to thought" in 300 B.C. We might add that over two millenia of thought about X bear this out.

For myself, I choose to take X where I find it -- in the crowded marketplaces, in the fashionable drawing-rooms, in the hush of the forest at dawn, in the very eggplant I disdain to eat. But, even were I to find it everywhere, I should be no more capable of moral comprehension of its consequences than if I had never considered it at all. Beyond this, we must beat breasts in silence, and leave speech to them alone. X is pretty complicated.