“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Parmenides and Red Riding Hood

An old post I've redone for clarity's sake

Marc Soriano on his book, Les contes de Perrault, culture savante et tradition populaire: “Ai-je mené mon enquête, ou mon enquête m'a-t-elle mené?”[Have I led my research, or has my research led me?]

Which  brings me to a familiar story. A man tells this tale in a poem: in a chariot balanced on bronze eight spoked wheels, with an iron axle, pulled by wise horses and led by celestial maidens, he comes to the portal of night and day and is there greeted by a goddess who cries out to him that he has left the beaten track of men.

The goddess then proceeds to tell him a cosmic secret. There are two ‘routes’ of inquiry: that of what is, and that of what is not.

Philosophers, enraptured by what is and what is not, have neglected the question that some more naïve inhabitant of roads, ways, trails, streets, pistes, sentiers, Wege, some vagabond, some pour lost soul, might ask – say a girl wearing a red hood, entering a forest and coming to two trails to her grandmother’s house. That question is – how is being, or non being, like a road? Or, if inquiry and being are so related as the chariot wheel is to the track – how is inquiry a road? Why this image?

Who leads the inquiry? I imagine this question coming from the girl, as she strips off the hood and throws it into the fire, and strips off her socks and throws them into the fire, and strips off her chemise and throws it into the fire, a magic fire that consumes instantly and ashlessly, and all the undergarments, strip he tells her, and her staring at the being on the bed of whom she has always had a presentiment. The being who wants to see all of her and never will, there will never be enough seeing, just as she has remarked on enough of him, seen him – his teeth, his ears, his hairiness. This couple, made of girl and wolf, sex and hunger. Both know trails, tracks, paths. One will return, one will not. Both know the pins and needles. One is the route of what is, one is the route of what is not and cannot be. Beware of the second route.

Not that this couple would have been in any position to read the fragments of Parmenides, which were first gathered together again – all the extant verses - in the West by G.G. Fuelleborn in 1795. [Nestor Luis Cordero, 10]

He was not a gentle wolf. Perrault wrenches this story from the forest and the tracks first laid down by man back to the court:
Mais hélas ! qui ne sait que ces Loups doucereux,
De tous les Loups sont les plus dangereux.

But the maidens that accompany our hero to the portals of night and day – the girl might have recognized them. Saintyvres, in a folkloric interpretation of Perrault, associates the chaperon rouge with the headdresses of the May queen: On the isle of Lesbos, on the eve of May day, the young girls gather flowers in the countryside and on returning home make crowns that they suspend over doors, and crown themselves: red flowers are mixed with wheat stalks, nettles and garlic. The garlic protects against the evil eye, the nettles prick the enemy who wants to enter into the house, the wheat attract riches and the red engenders gaiety.”

Of this couple, I am made. Of this route, I am puzzled. These routes, what leads, what follows. I have been thinking of addiction as a road, a path – of one among a type of path, in what is called path dependence. Here the path, forgotten by the philosophers, turns upon them – that so submissive thing, hardly a thing at all, on which angels, devils, beasts and mankind walk up and down. With the confidence that the way back is along the same path as the way forward. The goddess at the portal of day and night might seem, to the man honored by her instruction, to have made this point clear. Don’t worry about the quantification of the road. Of the route of the search, what counts is the search – not the route. You can go back anytime you want to.

Except in the poem, that ability to return is attributed by the goddess to herself. Slyly – she may be a gentle wolf: “Behold within your mind’s own deepening frame/those presences steadfastly fixed, yet all/removed from obviousnessn; for never shall/these beings dissolve their ineluctable hold/on Being, whether scattered manifold/across the cosmic all, or packed into/a rounded ball; for, where I start, thereto/shall I again return self-same.” I may assume that the “I” here is a shifter, and that I is I. But in the converse of mortals and gods, as we are reminded again and again in the ancient texts, it is the god’s great favor to use mortal words – and the gods have names for things in their own language.

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