The Ouroboros and the Tree of Life, Ancient woodcut
" … consider cluelessness to be the absolutely necessary precursor to learning …"

I don't think of myself as a snake and I most certainly do not possess a tail, but SelfExamination tends to leave me feeling like a snake who's eating his own tail, Ouroboros. I finished re-re-reviewing a manuscript this morning—those repeat offender readers might remember it as my CluelessSummer project from two summers ago—and I finished reading the danged thing feeling like Ouroboros again. The manuscript seemed to end just where it had begun, having resolved nothing, not really, the initiating mystery preserved through ninety or so reflections upon it. The ancients believed life worked like this, featuring unresolving cycles destined to endlessly repeat, inquiry not definitively resolving, but perhaps only animating the universal fate. Progress, or the certain notion of it, separates us from the Ancients, for we believe in the eternal possibility of progress. We want to have arrived somewhere by the end of it, for resolution to have become the reward for paying the price of admission and the cost of subsuming attention toward the performance. We genuinely believe that we're owed release by the end, that we'll come to know that the butler did it (again).

But I don't write like that. I couldn't come to a conclusion if kidnapped, tied up, and ditched at the intersection of Over and Donewith.
I seem capable of stirring pots without ever getting around to actually serving dinner. In this aspect, at least, my work more closely resembles ancient texts. I do not write to achieve or affect omniscience. I cannot provide any final word. I can consider, sometimes deeply, the conditions affecting me, but my conclusions seem tenaciously tentative, summing to something resembling 'I don't know (yet)'. So why bother, I wondered to myself most of the way through this thorough SelfExamination? Could I not have at least drummed up a halfway decent conclusion if only for form's sake?

When I set out to write about Cluelessness, I though I might prove myself capable of shining some light on the subject, but more deeply considering the topic, I fairly quickly caught myself concluding that definitively resolving the 'issue,' if, indeed, Cluelessness qualifies as an 'issue', would only definitively elude me, however I might choose to pursue that end. What could qualify anyone to definitively resolve cluelessness? One's own certification as Clueless? Is there an international body dedicated to certifying the utterly clueless as Utterly Clueless? An august university bestowing doctorate degrees in it? A trade school handing out certificates suitable for framing on the shop wall? I think not. I think nobody could ever be qualified to set this matter to rest, so I put myself to the test, resulting in another Ouroboros SelfExamination of the result.

How utterly unsatisfying from within the frame of finally resolving the game where we endlessly chew on each other for their utter cluelessness. Smart people, really, really smart people, could not possibly understand the nature of this beast, for they continually eschew cluelessness. They might pass judgement upon another without catching the cluelessness inherent in passing any judgement, for none of us ever become omniscient, however many honorifics we append to our name. I guess the best that I could do after chewing on the subject for an entire summer was to conclude that not even I, a budding, dedicated student of the subject, would ever get a pass. I started clueless and concluded hardly less so, only a little more appreciative of where such inquiries always seem to go, a phenomenon well-known to most any Ancient, but which we might have more recently forgotten. Our efforts, though, do not seem entirely misbegotten, for an understanding might accompany irresolution, a knowing not encapsulated within any dismissive meme. Not necessarily a learning or a knowing, or even a conclusive understanding, but perhaps a deeper form of appreciating instead.

I more often catch myself critically labeling another as clueless now, seemingly unable to divorce myself from those I harshly criticize. While it seems unarguably true that you certainly sometimes seem utterly clueless to me, I cannot always see the cluelessness that you so easily see in me. We seem unavoidably recursive in this sense. Whatever I might perceive in you might mirror what I cannot see in myself. Some wise philosopher once suggested that this whole world might exist only as a mirror for our own experiences, that whatever we perceive out there probably also exists in here. It's a scary proposition, and one also seemingly eating its own tail, for it brings more reverberation that resolution. We hold no high ground. While it's undeniably true that some seem more clueless about some critical subjects than we ever seem to be, we dare not merely discount them with an exhortation roughly equivalent to 'pull yourself up by your own bootstraps' or 'get with the program.' Let those without cluelessness cast the first stone.

Can any of us ever hope to help another overcome a cluelessness? Criticism seems the least likely path toward that end. We each might need to befriend the clueless to ever do them any good. We might more readily admit our own shortcoming in the form of an introduction rather than standing atop our ever-wise high horses. A step backwards and down might more deeply influence than could ever any lofty lording over. I might conclude that cluelessness amounts to an original sin, or human nature, and that there's likely no reasonable end to it. Ever! I can take solace in this humbling acknowledgment or beat myself up about it without materially affecting the net volume of cluelessness surrounding me or emanating from me. I'm still learning. You probably are too, and if I learned anything from my SelfExamination of my writing about this apparently unresolvable topic, learning demands a certain initiating cluelessness. I might usefully consider cluelessness to be the absolutely necessary precursor to learning anything, which, of course, resolves nothing.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus