December 26th, 2004



On the 3rd of April, 2002, Michael receives an anonymous email. The woman feels awkward writing to him. She couldn’t help being curious about him. He is very active on the net. His writing is quite sharp. So there it is. She starts out by writing the first email to him. No, he did not know her, and she was not a fan of his. But Michael must trust her that there is no bad intention here. She is not as knowledgeable as Michael, but the curiosity has led her far in the path of life. And the experience of pain and joy made her even more curious. She likes the Samuel Beckett quote stuck under each of Michael’s Usenet posts ― “All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” She is not interested in discussing deep theories based on books. She wonders how Michael thinks about the simple questions. What does he think or like about life? Is he happy? Is chasing happiness the purpose of life? Is he in love now? How much does it mean to him to love and to be loved? She has a restless mind. Too much thought and too much feeling has exhausted her. She is not sure whether following the flow equals giving up or being wise. Is Michael just as lost as everyone? Is life a drama full of sorrow?
    Michael is not in love at this time. Much of his own lasting puzzlement is due to trust misplaced in the wake of failed romance. All the same, he stakes his chances on the risk of personal betrayal, even when safety lies in petty mistrust. As Beckett says, repeat failure is a given; the challenge is to fail better each time. His problem with settling is that routine wear and tear make daily failure ever worse. So following the flow is not his strong suit. He is not sure whether to count himself as happy, but a lasting sense of integrity allows him to defer this question past the span of his petty sorrows. As the Greeks said, let no man be called happy in his lifetime. Maybe the legacy of his finest failure will suffice as the final answer.
    Michael would like to continue this conversation. He asks the woman to tell him about her curious experiences.

Georges de La Tour, Woman Catching Fleas, 1630s
Oil on canvas, Musée Historique, Nancy, France

under the mask

Descartes’ magical motto, larvatus prodeo, resonates with reason of classical antiquity. Eubulides of Megara, the contemporary opponent of Aristotle, and very likely the most accomplished inventor of puzzles in the history of logic, bequeathed to him the philosophical concept of the larvatus: Though I know my father, though he is the masked man, I still may fail to know the masked man, I still may fail to know my father as the masked man. Their schools disagreed on the way of solving this paradox. Both the peripatetics and the Megarians understood that all knowledge referred to universals. But the former insisted further that such universals were both physically and logically inseparable from the concrete particulars that exemplified them. By contrast, the latter posited an unbridgeable chasm between the real thing and its ideal representation. Eubulides pointed out that the true object of my knowledge is my father’s representation, or his eidos. In so representing, the eidos enjoys no physical link with the material presence of its representandum, the object being represented. Thus it it need not manifest itself coevally and contemporaneously with the representandum. Aristotle maintained that all corporeal presentation necessarily coincides with cognitive representation by every universal exemplified in the representandum so presented. For him, therefore, the failure of my father’s palpable presence to guarantee my recognition of his person, was an acute embarrassment. Collapse )