The Ontological Boy

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Leaves of Grass. 1900.

WHOEVER you are, holding me now in hand,
Without one thing, all will be useless,
I give you fair warning, before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.
Who is he that would become my follower? 5
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?
The way is suspicious—the result uncertain, perhaps destructive;
You would have to give up all else—I alone would expect to be your God, sole and exclusive,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life, and all conformity to the lives around you, would have to be abandon’d; 10
Therefore release me now, before troubling yourself any further—Let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down, and depart on your way.
Or else, by stealth, in some wood, for trial,
Or back of a rock, in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not—nor in company, 15
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill—first watching lest any person, for miles around, approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea, or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss, or the new husband’s kiss, 20
For I am the new husband, and I am the comrade.
Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best, 25
And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.
But these leaves conning, you con at peril,
For these leaves, and me, you will not understand,
They will elude you at first, and still more afterward—I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold! 30
Already you see I have escaped from you.
For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me, and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love, (unless at most a very few,) prove victorious, 35
Nor will my poems do good only—they will do just as much evil, perhaps more;
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit—that which I hinted at;
Therefore release me, and depart on your way.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012



6052  I’m going to try and show you just where ontology breaks down, or at least one alluring place.  The first division we must make is between ontological things and ordinary things.  That last is the everyday, commonsense world, but it is also the strange, sometimes twisted world of fantasy and quantum physics.  It is even the realm of the gods and myth.  So you see it is about everything.  Then there are the otherworldly things of ontological analysis, things talked about only by ontologists, most of whom don’t believe in them as anything more than ad hoc ways of understanding.  Therefore, I’m going to jump to ontology.

There are certain classical philosophical, metaphysical, ontological things, widely known and handily and clumsily discussed by thousands of would-be thinkers.  Hundreds of thousands, I among them.  Being, the Platonic Forms, matter, relations, the One, Beauty, participation, substance, essence, and on and on.  There are also bare particulars and universals and connectors of all kinds.  This list is protean.  If that list crashes it’s more from being top-heavy and cumbersome than logical evaporation.  I want to talk about yet a “deeper” list.

Consider a bare particular and a universal and a nexus.  Also a set and a fact and actuality.  I will call them entities.  Then there are the sub-entities: bareness and particularity and even bare-particularity, the nature of the universal (eg. the redness of the universal Red) as something different from its universality and its being that particular universal.  Then there are difference and existence and simplicity (or complexity) and the “way” those sub-things (subsistents?) pervade the higher things.  Is setness a universal property of sets?  What individuates sets and what is the connector between a set and the elements of "their" set and do the elements have the property of being elements and what is that connector and is it one or many?  How do actuality and potentiality hook up into (ooze through) some things (facts) and not others and what or who sets the proper ordering?  And what about facticity and things that are potentially actual?  I think you see how much of an entanglement this is becoming.  There are two traditional ways out.

To stop the philosophical head-swimming we could follow Wittgenstein and say that these ontological things show themselves but we cannot speak them, in which case everything I just wrote is philosophical, meaningless nonsense and we should stop it with moral force.  Or we could say that only the individual, ordinary things exist and everything else is mental, linguistic abstraction, sometimes useful, often not.

When philosophy crashes it finds itself in a lurid jungle, a squalid circus, a noisy slum, a bad dream, in head-spinning love around the god of enchantment.  Halfway between ontology and the ordinary, a sort of divine incarnation.  And I have written it up with perfect syntax.

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