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Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!

From what, if not the subterranean relations he carries on with his confusion, does the philosopher’s noble uniqueness derive? Here disavowal is the rule: you must deny you’re confused, flaunt a confident knowing with calculated flamboyance. If you feel you can get away with it, affect to know more. Pose as an authority. Put on airs. Forcefully exercise your persuasive gifts. In this ancient game of smoke and mirrors, the height of brazenness has sometimes even been known to hazard the ultimate bluff: omniscience.

An unfortunately unfruitful pretense, in most cases concealing an intellectual complacency of near scandalous dimensions. And our philosopher? At first glance, to be sure, his complacency seems to rival, if not exceed, his peers’. Observe the facility with which he performs the mandatory abjuration of confusion, the cavalier air with which he dissociates himself from his mind’s first and most faithful companion. To round off the illusion, his disciples appear on the scene and declare in stentorian tones on his behalf that, being a stranger to the perplexity which goes hand in glove with mortality, he enjoys a placidness of certitude unparalleled in human experience. But before you jump to any conclusions, remember: he has an image to maintain. And, anyway, just because his disciples are convinced he’s cornered the market of truth, does that mean he is too? In fact he oscillates in secret, filled with a terrible doubt he can’t confess. Which is what sets him apart from your average fraud.

How many tears he has noticed in the fabric of his mind! And even after years of patient sewing with the needle and thread of presumed knowledge, they’re still all too conspicuous. Since Philosophy can’t mend them, and they can’t be expected to mend themselves, they continue to reveal the void which his system was meant to fill, and so, in the end, it is he who is filled—with dread. Granted, aside from Pascal, no philosopher has been sincere enough, or indiscreet enough, to confess his intimacy with the abyss; but let us not be so innocent as to suppose he was the only one. The abyss does not belong to Pascal alone—even if, in some ways, he is the worthiest of her suitors. Were the abyss an affluent suburban neighborhood (the analogy is not gratuitous), it would be one where every philosopher owned a certain amount of real estate; nor are the deeds missing: they’re just locked away in some drawer, hidden from the worlds’ prying eyes and, more importantly, disciples’. Surely, though, the odd exception must exist? The one who declared the real the rational and the rational the real: crouching behind scholastic fortifications, was he not shielded from these horrors? Did he not soar, invulnerable and serene, above everything dark and uncertain? To insist that the abyss was breathing down Hegel’s neck day and night might be a little bold. But had he not been a trembling mass of unassuagable bewilderment in the shape of a man, how could he have begotten a thing so monstrous, and so marvelous, as the Phenomenology?

Because he can’t ignore, but won’t yield to, this great confusion within himself which he refuses to acknowledge is there, though he feels it incessantly, the philosopher is driven to milk it, to massage it, to tease out its maximum potential, instead of allowing it to lie fallow like the rest of us do. Meticulously and with great care he organizes and glues together its various elements as he discovers them in his mind, and creates therefrom a fantastic chimerical form such as the world has never seen. The philosopher has in him, perhaps, something of the junk sculptor. But this is a junk sculptor deranged by logic, drunk with syllogisms, enflamed by metaphysics, or by a metaphysical opposition to the same.  And to his finished works, therefore, a certain amount of intellectual prestige much attach.

Like Macbeth, forced to rely on the imperfect clairvoyance vouchsafed him by the weird sisters and the apparitions in their service, the philosopher, when he gazes on the wonderful creature he has fathered, sees darkly its fate. First he sees, among the hostile critics and recoiling skeptics who put up such a stout resistance, a few unfortified minds buckling at last. Then, after much protest is voiced, many unfavorable comparisons with predecessors made, and a series of battles in the halls of learning waged, resulting in a veritable ocean of blood being spilt, he sees the humiliation of reluctant toleration transformed into the glory of victory. He sees empire won. He sees the firebrand that was previously forbidden entrance to the kingdom recast in the role of a purple-robed scepter-wielder waving with a paternal smile from the palace steps. He sees the critics who scorned it approve it, the schools which excluded it accord it a seat of honor, and he sees a vast multitude of obeisant scholars kneel down in admiration before it as before a shining monument to its creator’s unrivaled mental dexterity. Whence he concludes it would be nothing short of criminal to allow it to languish in obscurity. And so, christening his chimera an INTERNALLY COHERENT SYSTEM, he sets the crown of truth upon its head and pushes it out into the world, where it is destined to enjoy a fleeting career of great mischief before being hurled to its doom by a fell blow struck by an unsuspected hand.