Excellently strange REM video from about 1994ish – with the extravagant title ‘E-bow the Letter’. i don’t like REM but i like many of their songs. The lyrics generally resist the intelligence – sometimes with a Wallace Stevens-like precision, just perfectly incomprehensible; like Fairyland you glimpse “meaning” in the distance, but when you head for it you are suddenly in the middle of nowhere, walking in the wrong direction. Perhaps, like the Grail in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, you only find it when you’ve given up looking for it; that is to say, your human notions of the truth keep you in error; you must preserve the spirit of investigation, but simultaneously let go of your too-rigid understanding, to let in what you do not presently know (which sounds easy but is very difficult). Perhaps this is why Socrates, with his seemingly pointless deconstruction of sophists’ arguments, can seem liberating as well as annoying – just to let go of an overly rigid understanding is itself  a kind of wisdom. Reading Chesterton’s Heretics essays, i feel his own understanding is purposefully soft, loose, agile – that whereas Anscombe (reportedly) devastated CS Lewis in debate, Chesterton, if refuted, would, i feel, simply say “hummm” and look thoughtful, and probably enjoy the experience, as it would undoubtedly only provoke him to new heights of whimsy and wisdom. Wisdom isn’t so much a matter of knowing lots of things, or having the right answer; it is more to do with the relation between what you know and what you don’t know, having a semi-permeable membrance between, rather than (as is usually the case) a watertight bulkhead.

i can see why people become enraged by poets like Geoffrey Hill or Stevens – it isn’t nice to feel the limits of your own intelligence; to be mocked by a meaning just out of reach. We like to think meaning is inherently human, or even more specifically, that it is within our reach. Why are people enraged by Hill but not by nonsense poetry? – i suppose because, with Hill, one senses a meaning just out of reach; we are tantalized by it, painfully.

In Borges and Kafka also, this sense that the universe has its own order; that we can glimpse it, just enough to speculate, to analyse, to propitiate; but that the order in its entirety is beyond us. i don’t see the world as an alien environment, into which we are absurdly thrust, but no more do i see human intelligence as wholly adequate to the task. We live beyond our intellectual means.

If i am right, and wisdom isn’t so much an assemblage of “things i know”, but is rather the ability to use what little you know, without becoming immured in knowledge, then the mythic mind is faithful to our limitations and abilities – we have glimpses, we make guesses, but we are not too surprised by that which lies beyond, by the unguessable.

Systems, creeds, are generally formed and pursued by those who need to feel the universe is, like a computer, a little strange but ultimately comprehensible, made up of clear rules and laws – a world without whimsy or wildness (a machine). i am a little drawn to this, in that i do try to understand, to perceive general principles – for which having other life memories is useful, for triangulation – but i am always wary of mental cages, of systems. Partly, i am drawn to rune study because one etymology of ‘rune’ is ‘mystery’ – you follow your knowledge far enough, and the investigation leads to – what? – not a neat little conclusion, but rather one of Emily Dickinson’s vital pauses – so –

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