#publicwritingassignments / by Cliff McCormick

Beating Dead Horses, Beyond Shadows of Doubt:
In Retrospective Summation


“Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.”

- Shakespeare
Hamlet II, 2.

Doubt is a rite of the human condition, and a fundamental aspect of the experience of living. All descriptions of measureable phenomenon are predicated upon ultimately doubtful theses. This contention is perhaps most explicitly illustrated in Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle,” which is the notion that our ability to measure phenomenon, and therefore accurately represent it, has certain fundamental limitations that have to do with things we observe with respect to what Niels Bohr sometimes refers to as “quantum of action;” physical activity at very small scales, atomic scales, quantum scales; more specifically, Heisenberg’s Principle states that the more precisely we seek to define and measure the specific position of a “particle/phenomenon” in space/time, the less certain we are of its momentum and vice versa (velocity is a close approximation of momentum, though specifically momentum = mass x velocity), this principle rises in part out of the consequences of the “duality” of light; light expresses both (discrete) particle and (continuous) wave behavior depending on circumstance. This illustrates some small measure of the limitations of our present ability to accurately determine what is and is not so. Nothing is ever so certain.

I wrote a diagram upon a time, and on the top left I put Doubt and Sister A and Sister James and Father Flynn and Child Donald and Mother of Donald. On the top right was Young Goodman Brown and “Faith” (his wife; her ribbon), “The Devil (/temptation(?)/suspicion/the “lesser angels” of our nature?), and some scribbling nigh that on general disposition, like grittily graying grout.

At the center was “doubt”

And off to the left was a True War Story with a preface about “rarely true” and “voices in the mist” (Opera and laughing, and parties, and talking, and mothers mothering and children sleeping while dawn wakes up the farther sky breaking into morning.) –I remember the haunting eyes of the “water-buffalo,” I remember it was breathing,.. I remember vivid shadows, limned silver; Lemon stepped from shadows into light, young, alive, Kerouac mad, and smiling – and then he was in the tree, and the men picked him; singing.


Should one eschew decorum and expectation of comportment?
Is it human not to? Is one taught to? Ought one ever ought to?

I often like thinking about the thoughts of others with respect to my estimation of who they are; I try to account for my error, and I ascertain as best I may, then I seek to foster most that which I see in them. ( Perhaps that “light” that sages often reference?) I love that I think. I love art. I think of Arthur Rimbaud, I’ve walked a similar “way” a awhile as many, mayhap most, will do. Embracing the immediacy of myriad Kerouac nights, those instances of vibrant abandon, often when breaths plume like fog, and somewhere, neon lights begin to flicker in defiance of the gathering gloaming. Rimbaud made of his soul a canvas, upon which he embraced the examination of the Nietzschean abyss that lies in abandon to the starkness of dregs, to the fragility of humanity, to night things and the passionate dark. I’d venture a comparison to Van Gogh, and though, while kindred of spirit, they are hardly alike except perhaps with respect to their torture? As can likely be ventured with respect to any who display(ed) great endeavor? HA…Rimbaud ended up finishing saying what he had to say by the time he was around twenty-eight or so, though he’d largely written what he’d be remembered for by the time he was twenty three. He ended up living in Africa doing freelance trade-work, or so I fallibly recall. Arthur Rimbaud was mad and undaunted. I’d love to hear his words on doubt. –
Once again I find myself making mental note to read more Rimbaud…sparingly of course, these are after all the works of one destructively indulgent instance of a Langston Hughesian “genius child.”

I could at this point wax lengthily on the merits of various translations, as French is known to be notoriously difficult to translate well without a sort of translatorial exposition leaching in, to influence the text, perhaps this stems from the passionate responses the work invokes, and incidentally is often expressly striven for in works tied in some measure to the notions expressed in classical Romanticism. But that would not only be unnecessarily erudite, it would also be even further afield than I intend to wend, while laying this yellow-brick narrative—
I highly recommend Narcissus & Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. I once lived with an ex-nun in the desert, and she’s gifted me books on Christmas – I’ve thought to recommend this book to her. I’d ask her; who do you think is who? *grin* Have you read it Professor? Hermann Hesse examined doubt masterfully in his work. I think one of his most ambitious approaches to themes of doubt can be found in “Klingsor’s Last Summer” entire, though, I found the last three pages of “Klein and Wagner” to be astounding in their richness. Hesse’s ability to be explicit in his articulation of abstraction is something special, this coupled with his particular balance of poetry and prose; the form never suffering for want of the visceral – and therein lies why some may call him a master, that wonderful balance of a poetic aesthetic, a seeking to not only convey a notion but to invoke a feeling. His work like Picasso, and Van Gogh and Kerouac and Lao Tzu, and Socrates, ad nauseum, escapes into that rarified ether in which a work can no longer be considered with respect to a single frame of reference, but rather strives for a more comprehensive existence beyond singular definition and intention.


On the bottom I list Lottery. – victim, victimizer (?SisterA? Flynn? Donald? But not that) doubt? Or certainty? It almost seems like it would be a twisted certainty that leads people to willingly agree to stone a neighbor to death, but perhaps there is much, much more to the tale. Though that does seem largely to be the case in general doesn’t it?
And last to the right I’ve got Trifles and “reasonable doubt,” though that is never really the question. Both women seem to believe she did it, but they believe that perhaps there was justice in her having done so. I love how this entire “meta-narrative” is suggested/implanted in our minds and the author never comes out and says it. There really is a wonderful mastery at play in Trifles. We are invited to know all three of these women far beyond what is spoken aloud in the text – I think it says much about the author’s view of women in her time, and the fact that women are obviously far more than meet the eye. Some of the most resonant language was her use of the “stillness” and “the quiet”…that was…brilliant and visceral. I also really liked the remark that went something like ‘we all go through the same thing in different ways.’
Ambiguity, ambiguity, ambiguity – I’ve heard it’s good for the brain.
Can’t ever appear too coherent!
*wink* HA!

When Young Goodman Brown ceased to doubt that people might not all walk at midnight with strangers, he became miserable. Sister Aloysius has perhaps learned to doubt. Maybe she wasn’t miserable, maybe if she was, she won’t be anymore, maybe Meryl Streep is pretty good at what she does, though from what I’ve read of the authors work his authorial merit cannot be discounted. The True War Story emphasizes that some things can’t be believed, that in order to even understand a “true” war story there has to be elements of the incredulous to “set the stage” for the “truth” such as it can be said to exist – what with picking people you knew from branches and watching rivers. The Lottery is creepy maybe because there isn’t enough doubt. People don’t doubt there, they do. Trifles…I doubt that I can stay awake to keep typing, cause its 4:43 AM and if I never actually “wake-up” this morning, the coffee won’t taste right.