|From the Paris Review: Writ in Water|
Jesus, Socrates and the Buddha, never wrote any word that has been preserved.
1 Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Some claim he wrote the names of all those who were with sin, shaming them. Others that he inscribed into the earth the names of all those who didn't believe. Or that he wrote a single word: Unforgiven. But there is no indication any man ever read the only words ever written down in the dust by Jesus. It's amusing to consider he, like the wily Ulysses, wrote: "No Man," for it illuminates the following exchange with the adulteress:
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
All of this just antecedent to the book chapter verse of John 3:16 written upon sheets hung over stadium walls where we go to witness violence. Most recently, upon the forehead of a suicide. Unforgiven. No Man.
In the essay, On the Cult of Books, Borges writes:
It is well known that Pythagoras did not write; Gomperz (Griechische Denker I, 3) maintains that it was because he had more faith in the virtues of spoken instruction. More forceful than Pythagoras' mere abstention is Plato's unequivocal testimony. In the Timaeus he stated: "It is an arduous task to discover the maker and father of this universe, and, having discovered him, it is impossible to tell it to all men"; and in the Phaedrus he recounted an Egyptian fable against writing (the practice of which causes people to neglect the exercise of memory and to depend on symbols ), and said that books are like the painted figures "that seem to be alive, but do not answer a word to the questions they are asked." To alleviate or eliminate that difficulty, he created the philosophical dialogue. A teacher selects a pupil, but a book does not select its readers, who may be wicked or stupid; this Platonic mistrust persists in the words of Clement of Alexandria, a man of pagan culture: "The most prudent course is not to write but to learn and teach by word of mouth, because what is written remains" (Stromateis), and in the same treatise: "To write all things in a book is to put a sword in the hands of a child," which derives from the Gospels: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." That sentence is from Jesus, the greatest of the oral teachers, who only once wrote a few words on the ground, and no man read what He had written (John 8:6).
Following, Plato tellingly writes the words of Socrates in the Phaedrus:
Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Language dissolving like a castle of sand in the advancing surf. The woven pattern raveling unraveling, reversive, intensive, ambiguous. The word cannot contain the thing :: as the thimble cannot contain the ocean. All acknowledge it stands for, signifies, but is not the thing itself. But a malevolent cogito emerges when spelled out into words: I think, I am but when I write, I am no longer. Every word is a Procrustean Bed wherein my flesh is carved away and limbs hacked off to fit into a dead child's Sunday School suit. I am not so described. The Cloud of Knowing that is my self is a Galaxial Milky Way whirlpool whirling.
"For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth."
What testimony will endure of any one of us? What is the meaning of the word written into the dust? Or upon the water? Or upon the stone?
This grave contains all that was Mortal
Young English Poet
on his Death Bed,
in the Bitterness of his Heart
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies
these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone:
Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.
24 February 1821.
|James Henry Breasted copying a hieroglyphic text in the temple of Buhen, Egypt|
He pressed the leaves of trees and plants into his book and he stalked tiptoe the mountain butterflies with his shirt out-held in both hands, speaking to them in a low whisper, no curious study himself. Toadvine sat watching him as he made his notations in the ledger, holding the book toward the fire for the light, and he asked him what was his purpose in all this…Whatever exists, [the Judge] said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth…The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can acquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.
- Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy