Missing in the sense that outer space is ever-present

–When the initial conditions of an issue are behaviorally complex, it’s as if cognition tries to see, really see, the issue along all its major dimensions: to see it as if in the clear light of day and around which we could walk and examine it from all directions, close-up and from a distance. Instead of that clarity, we end up missing much. We want to see the figure in full—follow the shadow and you find the body—but are left with herms, partial torsos held on frail shafts, more an etiolated Giacometti than the bodied Rodins.

Each issue’s presence is complex because it marks what is not (no longer) there as being also present. How is this important? Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and J-J Rousseau’s The Social Contract have a good deal of implications for inequality, but their resonance for that topic is also as “fragments” of larger unfinished works that the authors never got to writing—this being markedly the unfinished business of any complex policy issue as more can and must be said but hasn’t (again for these two projects, about inequality).

–We hanker after immediate evocation without all the beforehand description and explanation. It’s as if one can take a short-cut to conclusions, like that immediacy that sometime comes in opera: Judith’s high C in Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, the Baroness’s “Lulu” at the end of Berg’s eponymous opera, the vibraphone’s signaling of Tadzio’s entrance in Britten’s Death in Venice, the sounds and after-image of the guillotine slice at the end of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites.

It matters to me in ways I can’t explain (one reason leading to another as in an infinite regress) that, while both pieces are astounding, the music of Orff’s Antigonae captures more in the moment than Honegger’s Antigone (compared to, say, how un-Antigone the eponymous 18th century operas of Tommaso Traetta and Josef Mysliveček sound).

The evocative moment voids the distance that is entailed with having to think about (reflect on) what went before or comes after. It’s like what happens when I look at the photos in Emmet LeRoy Emmet’s Fruit Tramps (1989); I’m “there,” with them, all push and shove now. (I’d call this sentimentality, if it weren’t for the pictures.)

–Reading for what’s missing would be like reading Hardy’s 1912 poem, “Convergence of the Twain” as if it were still part of the news about the sinking of the Titanic the month before. It would be as if my portal to 19th and 20th century thought were my own lived, real-time thinking about and experience of reading novels of ideas, like Nicholas Mosley’s Hopeful Monsters, Bruce Duffy’s The World As I Found It, or Harry Thompson’s This Thing of Darkness. I’d be reading for the contingency that hindsight erases.

Or from the other direction. To read for what’s missing is to see as the variety and ironies of today’s “certainly” in this earlier exchange on human contingency:

Stranger: …For the dissimilarities of both human beings and actions, and the never being at rest, so to speak, of any single thing among human things—these do not allow any art whatsoever to proclaim anything simply in any area concerning all things and for all time. We do grant these things, I suppose?

Socrates: Certainly

(From Plato’s Statesman as edited by Brann, Kalkavage and Salem, 2012)

NB. The title is a quotation from a letter of literary critic, Hugh Kenner.

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