Wednesday, August 21, 2013

God, groceries and language

I have God and groceries in my pocket. Onions, butter, red bell peppers on one side and on the other, Peter Rollins, saying, "God can no more be contained in experience than in language."

God and groceries equally contained in language, jotted in a pocket notebook, referred back to on a shopping trip or in the throes of back porch contemplation. Of course, neither are actually contained in language. Rollins is right, language is just a finger pointing at the two. And groceries are a lot easier to point to than God is.

Language being imperfect is no reason to abandon it. Maybe to reinvent it. Sonny Rollins (no relation to Peter) in the 1950s was thought of as one of the top saxophone players around. But he stopped playing in clubs and spent three years on the Williamsburg Bridge, reinventing his style. His language. Getting it right.

Martin Heidegger looked at the whole of western philosophy and decided that they'd all missed the damn boat in how they were thinking about "Being," so he went back and tried to start over, better.

I like S. Rollins' commitment to his art and Heidegger's stones to think he could see something that the sweeping history of philosophy was missing. After penning something as dense as "Being and Time," Heidegger throttled off the word count and runed out this:

The world's darkening never reaches
     to the light of Being.

We are too late for the gods and too
     early for Being. Being's poem,
     just begun, is man.

To head toward a star--this only.

To think is to confine yourself to a
     single thought that one day stands
     still like a star in the world's sky.

He peered into one of the early doorways to existentialism, which others would have to walk through later. He trusted groceries more than God, or at least in language's ability to get to the former.

Thought and language. Together they can guide you through the supermarket, contemplate Being, or leave you just shy of God. What is it that gets us beyond? If you asked either Rollins or Heidegger, I think they'd all disagree.

Only one of them can play the sax.

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