Rendered Fat Content


Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville:
Artist admiring his work.
Jerome Paturot a la recherche d'une position sociale
[Jerome Paturot is looking for a social position] 1846

"It's an unfair trade …"

Any profession diligently practiced eventually leads its practitioner back into a state of KnowingNuthingness. Any iteration of knowing action ultimately leads to fracturing understanding. One morning, or one late evening, our protagonist will experience KnowingNuthingness, just as if he was forever before merely faking facility as if he'd never actually known a blesséd thing. He will feel embarrassed recognizing the scores of stories he'd previously and irrevocably published, tales with gross errors embedded within them, each of which quietly disclosed just what an idiot he was, how filled with presumption he had been, how he had been masquerading while probably only successfully deceiving himself. The scales fall from his eyes in that brilliant moment, and he experiences his profession's peak sensation: Nuthingness again. He knows only in that memorable moment that he never knew Nuthing, that all of his passionate strivings had successfully guided him back to zero again. Again!

The wise ones insist that these sorts of experiences benefit the professional.
To truly inhabit the upper echelons of any profession, one must occasionally crash and burn into Nuthingness again. Only public humiliation properly cleanses a professional's soul. Only midcareer cluelessness ever begets requisite wisdom. What our hero does then defines his success or failure, persistence or resistance. He could disappear, slip under the carpet in embarrassment and decide that whatever he pursued could not be worth his effort. He's perfectly free, as is everybody, to quit before reaching his goal. He could leave the field on his terms, albeit significantly reduced, and avoid the otherwise unavoidable rebuild. He starts from zero again and might thereby successfully sidestep every precedent. He might succeed, but only if he can face try, try, trying again, starting over from Nuthing again.

I probably overstate the situation. I just discovered something I hadn't before suspected, which might mean I finally managed to learn something. But learning brings a cost, the certain knowledge of prior ignorance. How many times had I demonstrated my ignorance before finally gaining that knowledge? The number's beyond counting, well within and beyond humiliation and into utter degradation. It's suddenly certain that pretty much everybody knew me as a phony, as a pretender to my own modest throne, and nobody but my uncaring critics ever said anything. Instead, they saw me strutting as if I knew something while demonstrating just how little I actually knew. It might have been that they couldn't find the words they believed I could hear to deliver the message. "Stop performing! You're making an absolute fool of yourself."

I am learning that everyone occasionally catches themself KnowingNuthingness. The question then transforms from, "How do I demonstrate my competence? into "How might I humbly perform my practice?" The former screams a neediness as if the practitioner could not possibly afford to make mistakes in the practice. The latter accepts some underlying fallibility, a kind of knowing about incomplete knowing that might delineate the difference between a wannabe and an authentic practitioner. I tell myself this lesson while licking my latest set of self-inflicted wounds. I might never become smart enough to properly practice my profession, but I might, instead, sometimes experience flashes of brilliance. It's an unfair trade and probably a stupid way to engage in a life's work, to strive for mastery of one's chosen profession only to achieve, again and again, KnowingNuthingness again.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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