By H. Alan Tansson
Previous Installments of Captions:
Should you want to think about a queen this day or that — I might suggest Queen Rina Cristina is the one for you. The one you want to think about, that is.
This is the story of Rina Cristina and René Descartes, the Philosopher.
Rina lived in Sweden in the 1640’s and isn’t around any more today. She was very liberated, even though it was so long ago. I will tell you shortly how liberated she was, but first I must explain that she had private philosophy classes at 5 am in the morning. Why in the world she’d want to be up and getting ready for philosophy classes at that hour, unless it was her way of calming down and repenting for whatever came before, at 2 and 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning. As I said, she was a very liberated queen — with no husband at all. But what we know is that at 5 o’clock it was philosophy. The real stuff, too.
She was a queen and she figured she could have René Descartes come over and teach her at that ungodly hour. René Descartes was the man to have if you wanted a philosopher during the early Enlightenment. Especially that early.
Now Sweden in the winter doesn’t look much different at 5 am in the morning than it does at 3 pm in the afternoon. So to be fair to queen, maybe she didn’t realize it was 5 am. Unfortunately, after all that, René (the philosopher, not Rina the Queena) caught the ague or the grippe, and died. Probably from cold and lack of sleep. And so that’s the story of Rina and René.
When I was a little boy I had a white leather-bound volume on the philosophy of love, written in Italian and hand-stamped on the binding in red and green hearts and flowers. It was from 1680 and was written by Rina Cristina.
I thought it was a pretty dumb thing to have for a prized possession — but there was no denying it was from 1680 and my Ont Ruth gave it to me to go with my illustrated book on medical electro-shock therapy and a children’s tour guide to the Columbian Exposition of 1892. What bothered me was why anyone, especially a queen, would write about the arts of love back in those olden days before they hardly knew about anything.
Many many years later — like last week in fact — I found out Rina Xteena was an early outspoken lesbian. Which explains why she would write a tome on love. She was probably trying to figure out why she didn’t love men when she wrote that book on love. And Rina thought enough to drag Descartes up to her castle for a daily lecture on figuring these things out, so we must give her credit.
Unfortunately I never got to check out what she wrote, since my copy of “The Art of Love” got filled with water by a firehose in 1976 and gave birth to 300 years of collected spores — in vibrant oranges, greens, purples, reds, pinks, and steely grey. It became indistinguishable from some vintage ice hockey skates which ended their productive years together with the book in a landfill. And now that they are there and I know more about the queen, I’m anxious to see what she had to say, because I think about these things very much.
For this very reason, in honor of Rina and René and their logical triste at 5 o’clock in the morning, that I have developed two very thoughtful discoveries in their names — “The Cartesian Corollary,” and “Rina’s Dream Representation Remedy,” otherwise to be known as “Rina’s Remedy.”
I will first tell you about the Cartesian Corollary.
In English, Descartes’s famous phrase “I think therefore I am” is open to grief and childish comments, in fact. It may work better in Latin, because you can say it in three words: “Cogito ergo sum.” But as any smart sophomore high school student will tell you, it hardly works in English or in Latin.
My corollary works in any language, LaGuardian, for instance. It is a logical gem, cut from the great rock of experience. But first, you must sample another example of truth — in order to appreciate the massive precipice on which I’ve pegged the Cartesian Corollary, and so that you, the eagle-eyed reader can pluck its juicy liver from the belly of forever.[i] So to start, I want you to consider a random sample of truth drawn from that ever-faithful tome, Turkish Proverbs translated into English by the Armenian Monastery of St. Lazarus, a little paperback published in 1844 during the media blitz leading up to the Crimean War. And so here is the first of many other such truths:
Every sheep is hung up by its foot.
And here is another:
He who speaks through his nose
is as unfortunate as him who has not.
I would dare say, that after that, you are ready for the Cartesian Corollary, circa 5 am, Stockholm time:
I dream, therefore I doubt
This states what every child since time immemorial has confronted. The basis of a most real phenomenon — doubt. It is the simplest statement of an experience we all have had at one time or another. It keeps us from all becoming pig-headed red-necked businessman who trust everything they think. But even they must accept a fundamental distrust of the sensations which make for reality. Self-doubt is basic to us, and a human GIVEN.
The cogito business simply explains the flip-side — which is why we have such faith in ourselves. But it avoids the void of waking up.
Sleep isn’t very logical. You may take sleep for granted after all these years — but I’ve known a number of independent truck-drivers who don’t believe in it at all.
Turning off and going into a nether world is not like turning off your video camera and charging up the batteries! It’s not even like pulling into the parking lot or loading dock and turning off the engine. No sirreee! We’re still driving — and put in the clutch, pull out of gear, and dream! Not only that, but when we dream, we can’t hide much from ourselves.
Which is what the Rina’s Dream Representation Remedy is about. First, the Cartesian Corollary says because we dream, we learn to have doubts. Rina’s Remedy says that more importantly — dreams teach us, force us, to symbolize.
I am not talking about the Freud stuff — nor the Jacob and Pharaoh stuff neither — but the fact that dreams force us to make symbols, to represent our associations, to try to figure out what it was that just happened to us in the dream, for babies and puppies and other dreaming beings are very distraught when they wake up to find out they are not nursing.
So here is Rina’s Remedy:
We must strive to derive meaning from the muddle, and make our symbols from the stuff of dreams.
Perhaps these Turkish Proverbs translated from the Armenian by the monks of St. Lazarus in 1844 will show you what I mean:
Kiss ardently the hands
which you cannot cut off.
One person came last evening and another fell from a window in the roof.
Do not buy a red-haired person. DO not sell one either. If you have any in the house drive them away.
If this isn’t the logical stuff of dreams, I don’t know what is. But when we are faced with those alternate realities that happen to us in dreams, and the way we get over-wrought about this nonsense — the only way to bridge the nagging feeling that something REALLY DID HAPPEN TO US during that exciting, or sweaty/scary time asleep, is that it MEANT something. Especially when it is vivid and ferociously heartfelt and stressful. Alternate realities which were sweaty and scary and made sleeping people jump and scream in their slumber, or made them mumble and their belly convulse, happened to people long before books were ever written or myths were ever made up.
But when they woke up and realized that all that energy and emotion was wasted in sleep, and that they were still alive and nothing had changed in the ol’ cave since the night before — well, you’d get to wondering what all those emotions and wasted energy was about, wouldn’t you? That is the conscious effort. That is what I made up Rina’s Dream Remedy to explain. “We must strive to derive meaning from the muddle, and make our symbols from the stuff of dreams.”
It takes a conscious effort to do what Joseph did for Pharaoh and what Freud and Jung did for several generations of believers. “Conscious” is the important, impertinent term here. That is, we become consciously aware of our invention of symbols and relationships that convey MEANING of some sort.
The “cogito” (that special consciousness we claim for our own) only comes from the struggle to invest things with meaning. This is so central to life, that it goes on and on in us — when we are awake, and even more, when we are asleep.
Perhaps Rina and René knew this when they chose 5 am to muddle out the meaning of things. She was like every student, actually sleeping through the lectures, as René suggested the truth to her.
[i] For such is the fruit of truth–and what becomes of those who bring the fires of truth to warm mankind.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 283
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 13 June 2019
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