Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Nearly Nothing

I think I could probably spend my remaining years quite contentedly just looking for pictures where, really, there is nearly nothing to look at. The chances are that I probably will.

If I think of nothings that are something, I usually recall the closing lines of Wallace Stevens' poem "The Snow Man":
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Many readers have considered those lines difficult, but keep the title in mind and a firm grip on your double negatives and it doesn't seem impossible to understand, intuitively, if not logically.

At least, not for us in 2016. Remarkably, though, this paradoxical, profoundly elusive poem was first published in 1921, the year before the great year of "modernism", which saw the publication of Eliot's Waste Land, Joyce's Ulysses, and a host of other foundational texts, including Wittgenstein's Tractatus. It seems that an average undergraduate can now, with a little effort, grasp texts that challenged the best minds of nearly a century ago. Time does its work.

But, hang on, it seems like only yesterday that I was an undergraduate and 1922 was just fifty years ago! How did that happen? How quickly everything becomes nearly nothing.

No comments: