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On the Way to the Forum

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

― T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

On the Way to the Forum
a gory allegory

First we need a hook.

That’s the prevailing wisdom anyway.

Awful conceit when you think about. So why think about it? Right?

I think it comes from show business. The conceit, that is. Maybe from the movie business. It’s cynical and manipulative and belongs to the movie business whether it originated there or not. What’s more, the movie business has steadily infected the reading and writing business. So today writers write cinematically for readers who read cinematically for writers and nobody can read Henry James anymore.

Here a quick word on the “we” is in order, I think. That was not the Royal We, needless to say. I’m an American. Hell, we’re all American today, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not. And it was not the impersonal Editorial We, either. I represent no viewpoint but my own and my aim from the outset is to get personal. No, by “we” I in fact meant “you”— and lest there be the slightest misunderstanding on this score let’s remove the scare quotes at once and state for the record that by “we” I meant you.

You need a hook.

That’s the first thing.

The second thing— no! Without a hook, what is the good of going on to the second thing? A clear conscience? What is that?

A list of desiderata in this matter, were it drawn up on the authority of Aristotle himself, would be but a vanity, in the old sense, in the biblical sense of the word, unless it be read, unless it be readable. The first desideratum in writing is being read, and the first desideratum in reading— well, that’s been covered already. No need to rant about this.

And now it occurs to me that perhaps the use of the word desideratum here is ill-advised? And then there's the subjunctive mood of those verbs?

I'm not sure.

Anyway the point is clear enough, I think: it is no longer enough that boy meet girl. Boy and girl must “meet cute.”

That’s entertainment! Am I right or am I right?

But why must they meet at all? That’s what I’d like to know. And is that entertainment too? Or is that something else? Something more? Edification perhaps? There’s another suspect word.

Or even something less? There’s always that possibility, I suppose. And is there something than which there is nothing less?

Did you get that? Something...than which...there is nothing less?

What does that even mean? No matter. We want a hook. That’s the point after all. That’s been the point all along. That’s the matter in a nutshell. The kernel. The seed. That sounds obscene. But let's not get carried away here.

We want entertainment.

There, I’ve said it. Let the cat out of the bag, as they say. Curious expression, that. Figurative, we read, of course, or rather, which is more likely, as a lexical entry, abbreviated, fig., were we to look it up, readers that we are. But then there’s this, to read, that is, were we to look it up: of obscure or unknown origin. Apocrypha follow. The cat-o’-nine-tails. The pig in a poke. Academic rubbish. Whereas any grounded, down-to-earth real person whether he reads or not knows that cats, especially in the form of kittens, were customarily stuffed into gunny sacks and tossed into creeks, to drown. The academic puts the cart before the horse, looks for the origin by way of current meaning, which as noted is figurative. That’s like looking for the origin of the expression to put the cart before the horse by way of its current figurative meaning rather than by way of its literal provenance. That is, looking for something out of order when something in order should be looked for.

But what does all this have to do with reading and writing? Or with entertainment for that matter, which we seemed to connect with reading and writing obscenely? I mean, connect obscenely with reading and writing. Or have I, as feared, gotten carried away? The word apocrypha certainly suggests as much.

Boy and girl must meet after all.

But must they? I think I asked that question before, but I could be wrong. I might’ve thought of asking the question but then not have actually asked it. I do that sometimes. I think of saying something but don’t actually say it and later recall the thought of saying as the saying itself. Most of the time I can’t recall whether I said it or only thought of saying it. Then again sometimes I say something and later forget saying it or even thinking it. Thankfully, that’s rare. But why thankfully? What a queer thing to say. Thankfully. But then this is a queer sort of business, speech. And the business of thought right behind it!

There, I’ve made a pun. Nice.

Relieves the tension.

Now, to get back to the boy and the girl and the necessity of their meeting at all, to say nothing of their “meeting cute” or the necessity thereof, the question, as I recall, whether expressed or not, reduced at once to the question, whether expressed or not, of whether there is or can be said to be something more than entertainment or something less than entertainment involved in the necessity (of their meeting at all, that is, rather than their “meeting cute”)—a reductive series of questions or thoughts or thoughts and questions culminating, if that’s the right word, in the call for, so to speak, something...than which...there is nothing less.

Sounds a bit like Anselm to me. Are we in the way of an ontological proof perhaps?

As we have nothing to speak of in mind, let x stand for it. (The ellipses, in case you haven't figured it out, are intended as reading aids, to the proper reading of the proposition, cinematic readers that we are.)

X is that…than which…nothing is less.

You know the rest.


Do you feel the tension in your brow relaxing? Your blurred vision clearing up? Humor is a gift from the gods. Remember the laughter of Wotan and company striding across that rainbow bridge into Valhalla?


Think of glances. His turns slowly to the right; hers rises slowly up from under. His and her glances. They come in a wide variety of colors, a whole range of browns, blues, greens, grays and hazels, which may be mixed and matched to please the most jaded and cynical taste.

Why slowly?

All right, quickly then.

As long as the eyes meet. That's essential.

There’s a whole chapter in Being and Nothingness on this. Were we looking for an answer to “meeting cute,” we need look no further than Sartre. Nothing could be more apt. That is to say, more antithetical.

But were we looking for an answer to “meeting cute”? I don’t remember.

Let’s say glances then, and let the chips fall where they may. He looks around. She looks up. Wham!

Something happens.

Or rather, something else happens. Yes, their eyes meet. That happens, to be sure. That much is clear, readers that we are. But something else has happened as well, or else we have been very much mistaken in our assumptions throughout these prolegomenaries.

Is that a word?.

It is now.



But seriously, folks...

Adjectives have always done duty as nouns. The percussive sting was necessary as the audience appears to be asleep. The laughter was canned.

Something else happens, you say. Why not something more. What are you afraid of?

Here I suppose I should point out that by “you” I mean I. I mean me. I’m addressing myself. Not an uncommon practice, I am told. I tell myself.

But of course there is more at stake here than meets the eye! Cue Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, better known outside of Germany and the 18th century as “Sleepers Awake!” We don’t need this one explained, do we, readers that we are! No rimshot. No canned laughter. Is this what they mean by “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response”? I doubt it.

I do not say “something more” because saying “something more” would beg the question, and the current misunderstanding and misuse of the idiom is alarming to me. Of begging the question, that is. Not that I am afraid to beg the question. I’d just prefer not to. Like Bartleby. Oh, that’s good! Oh, the humanity!

Now it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. That’s our homework for the weekend.

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