Why don't you come out of the shadows? What do you really look like? You're afraid of something aren't you? What is it you're afraid of?
Beyond the figure in the shadows is the glass door. Chris is behind it, motioning me to open it. He's older now, but his face still has a pleading expression. "What do I do now? "he wants to know. "What do I do next? " He's waiting for my instructions.
It's time to act.
I study the figure in the shadows. It's not as omnipotent as it once seemed. "Who are you? " I ask.
"By what right is that door closed?"
Still no answer. The figure is silent, but it is also cowering. It's afraid! Of me.
"There are worse things than hiding in the shadows. Is that it? Is that why you don't speak? "
It seems to be quivering, retreating, as though sensing what I am about to do.
I wait, and then move closer to it. Loathsome, dark, evil thing. Closer, looking not at it but at the glass door, so as not to warn it. I pause again, brace myself and then lunge!
My hands sink into something soft where its neck should be. It writhes, and I tighten the grip, as one holds a serpent. And now holding it tighter and tighter we'll get it into the light. Here it comes! NOW WE'LL SEE ITS FACE!
"Dad! " I hear Chris's voice through the door?
Yes! The first time! "Dad! Dad! "
"Dad! Dad!" Chris tugs on my shirt. "Dad! Wake up! Dad!"
He's crying, sobbing now. "Stop, Dad! Wake up!"
"It's all right, Chris."
"Dad! Wake up!"
"I'm awake." I can just barely make out his face in the dawn light. We're in trees somewhere outside. There's a motorcycle here. I think we're in Oregon somewhere.
"I'm all right, it was just a nightmare."
He continues to cry and I sit quietly with him for a while. "It's all right," I say, but he doesn't stop. He's badly frightened.
So am I.
What were you dreaming about?"
"I was trying to see someone's face."
"You shouted you were going to kill me."
"No, not you."
"The person in the dream."
"Who was it?"
"I'm not sure."
Chris's crying stops, but he continues to shake from the cold. "Did you see the face?"
"What did it look like?"
"It was my own face, Chris, that's when I shouted. -- It was just a bad dream." I tell him he's shivering and should get back into the sleeping bag.
He does this. "It's so cold," he says.
"Yes." By the dawn light I can see the vapor from our breaths. Then he crawls under the cover of the sleeping bag and I can see only my own.
I don't sleep.
The dreamer isn't me at all.
He's waking up.
A mind divided against itself -- me -- I'm the evil figure in the shadows. I'm the loathsome one. --
I always knew he would come back. --
It's a matter now of preparing for it. --
The sky under the trees looks so grey and hopeless.
The despair grows now.
Like one of those movie dissolves in which you know you're not in the real world but it seems that way anyway.
It's a cold, snowless November day. The wind blows dirt through the cracks of the windows of an old car with soot on the windows, and Chris, six, sits beside him, with sweaters on because the heater doesn't work, and through the dirty windows of the windblown car they see that they move forward toward a grey snowless sky between walls of grey and greyish-brown buildings with brick fronts, with broken glass between the brick fronts and debris in the streets.
"Where are we?" Chris says, and Phædrus says, "I don't know," and he really doesn't, his mind is all but gone. He is lost, drifting through the grey streets.
"Where are we going?" says Phædrus.
"To the bunk-bedders," says Chris.
"Where are they?" asks Phædrus.
"I don't know," says Chris. "Maybe if we just keep going we'll see them."
And so the two drive and drive through the endless streets looking for the bunk-bedders. Phædrus wants to stop and put his head on the steering wheel and just rest. The soot and the grey have penetrated his eyes and all but blotted cognizance from his brain. One street sign is like another. One grey-brown building is like the next. On and on they drive, looking for the bunk-bedders. But the bunk-bedders, Phædrus knows, he will never find.
Chris begins to realize slowly and by degrees that something is strange, that the person guiding the car is no longer really guiding it, that the captain is dead and the car is pilotless and he doesn't know this but only feels it and says stop and Phædrus stops.
A car behind honks, but Phædrus does not move. Other cars honk, and then others, and Chris in panic says, "GO!" and Phædrus slowly with agony pushes his foot on the clutch and puts the car in gear. Slowly, in dream-motion, the car moves in low through the streets.
"Where do we live?" Phædrus asks a frightened Chris.
Chris remembers an address, but doesn't know how to get there, but reasons that if he asks enough people he will find the way and so says, "Stop the car," and gets out and asks directions and leads a demented Phædrus through the endless walls of brick and broken glass.
Hours later they arrive and the mother is furious that they are so late. She cannot understand why they have not found the bunk-bedders. Chris says, "We looked everywhere," but looks at Phædrus with a quick glance of fright, of terror at something unknown. That, for Chris, is where it started.
It won't happen again. --
I think what I'll do is head down for San Francisco, and put Chris on a bus for home, and then sell the cycle and check in at a hospital -- or that last seems so pointless -- I don't know what I'll do.
The trip won't have been entirely wasted. At least he'll have some good memories of me as he grows up. That takes away some of the anxiety a little. That's a good thought to hold on to. I'll hold on to that.
Meanwhile, just continue on a normal trip and hope something improves. Don't throw anything away. Never, never throw anything away.
Cold out! Feels like winter! Where are we, that it should get this cold? We must be at a high altitude. I look out of the sleeping bag and this time see frost on the motorcycle. On the chrome of the gas tank it's sparkling in the early sunlight. On the black frame where the sunlight hits it it's partly turned to beads of water that will soon run down to the wheel. It's too cold to lie around.
I remember the dust under the pine needles and put my boots on carefully to avoid stirring it up. At the motorcycle I unpack everything, get out the long underwear and put it on, then clothes, then sweater, then jacket. I'm still cold.
I step through the spongy dust onto the dirt road that has brought us here and sprint down it through the pines for a hundred feet or so, then settle down to an even run and then finally stop. That feels better. Not a sound. The frost is in little patches on the road too, but melting and dark wet tan between the patches where the early sun's rays strike it. It's so white and lacy and untouched. It's on the trees too. I walk back softly down the road as if not to disturb the sunrise. Early autumn feeling.
Chris is still asleep and we won't be able to go anywhere until the air warms up. Good time to get the cycle tuned. I work loose the knob on the side cover over the air filter, and underneath the filter withdraw a worn and dirty roll of field tools. My hands are stiff with the cold and the backs of them are wrinkled. Those wrinkles aren't from the cold though. At forty that's old age coming on. I lay the roll on the seat and spread it open . . . there they are -- like seeing old friends again.
I hear Chris, glance over the seat and see that he's stirring but doesn't get up. He's evidently just rolling in his sleep. After a while the sun gets warmer and my hands aren't as stiff as they were.
I was going to talk about some of the lore of cycle repair, the hundreds of things you learn as you go along, which enrich what you're doing not only practically but esthetically. But that seems too trivial now, though I shouldn't say that.
But now I want to shift into another direction, which completes his story. I never really completed it because I didn't think it would be necessary. But now I think it would be a good time to do that in what time remains.
The metal of these wrenches is so cold it hurts the hands. But it's a good hurt. It's real, not imaginary, and it's here, absolutely, in my hand.
-- When you travel a path and note that another path breaks away to one side at, say, a 30-degree angle, and then later another path branches away to the same side at a broader angle, say 45 degrees, and another path later at 90 degrees, you begin to understand that there's some point over there that all the paths lead to and that a lot of people have found it worthwhile to go that way, and you begin to wonder out of curiosity if perhaps that isn't the way you should go too.
In his pursuit of a concept of Quality, Phædrus kept seeing again and again little paths all leading toward some point off to one side. He thought he already knew about the general area they led to, ancient Greece, but now he wondered if he had overlooked something there.
He had asked Sarah, who long before had come by with her watering pot and put the idea of Quality in his head, where in English literature quality, as a subject, was taught.
"Good heavens, I don't know, I'm not an English scholar," she had said. "I'm a classics scholar. My field is Greek."
"Is quality a part of Greek thought?" he had asked.
"Quality is every part of Greek thought," she had said, and he had thought about this. Sometimes under her old-ladyish way of speaking he thought he detected a secret canniness, as though like a Delphic oracle she said things with hidden meanings, but he could never be sure.
Ancient Greece. Strange that for them Quality should be everything while today it sounds odd to even say quality is real. What unseen changes could have taken place?
A second path to ancient Greece was indicated by the sudden way the whole question, What is quality?, had been jolted into systematic philosophy. He had thought he was done with that field. But "quality" had opened it all up again.
Systematic philosophy is Greek. The ancient Greeks invented it and, in so doing, put their permanent stamp on it. Whitehead's statement that all philosophy is nothing but "footnotes to Plato" can be well supported. The confusion about the reality of Quality had to start back there sometime.
A third path appeared when he decided to move on from Bozeman toward the Ph.D. degree he needed to continue University teaching. He wanted to pursue the enquiry into the meaning of Quality that his English teaching had started. But where? And in which discipline?
It was apparent that the term "Quality" was not within any one discipline unless that discipline was philosophy. And he knew from his experience with philosophy that further study there was unlikely to uncover anything concerning an apparently mystic term in English composition.
He became more and more aware of the possibility that there was no program available where he might study Quality in terms resembling those in which he understood it. Quality lay not only outside any academic discipline, it lay outside the grasp of the methods of the entire Church of Reason. It would take quite a University to accept a doctoral thesis in which the candidate refused to define his central term.
He looked through the catalogs for a long time before he discovered what he hoped he was looking for. There was one University, the University of Chicago, where there existed an interdisciplinary program in "Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods." The examining committee included a professor of English, a professor of philosophy, a professor of Chinese, and the Chairman, who was a professor of ancient Greek! That one rang bells.
On the machine now everything is done except the oil change. I wake Chris and we pack and go. He's still sleepy but the cold air on the road wakes him up.
The piney road goes upward, and there's not so much traffic this morning. The rocks among the pines are dark and volcanic. I wonder if that was volcanic dust we slept in. Is there such a thing as volcanic dust? Chris says he's hungry and I am too.
At La Pine we stop. I tell Chris to order me ham and eggs for breakfast while I stay outside to change the oil.
At a filling station next to the restaurant I pick up a quart of oil, and in a gravelly lot back of the restaurant remove the drain plug, let the oil drain, replace the plug, add the new oil, and when I'm done the new oil on the dipstick shines in the sunlight almost as clear and colorless as water. Ahhhhh!
I repack the wrench, enter the restaurant and see Chris and, on the table, my breakfast. I head into the washroom, clean up and return.
"Am I hungry!" he says.
"It was a cold night," I say. "We burned up a lot of food just staying alive."
The eggs are good. The ham too. Chris talks about the dream and how it frightened him and then that's done with. He looks as though he's about to ask a question, then doesn't, then stares out the window into the pines for a while, then comes back with it.
"Why are we doing this?"
"Just riding all the time."
"Just to see the country -- vacation."
The answer doesn't seem to satisfy him. But he can't seem to say what's wrong with it.
A sudden despair wave hits, like that at dawn. I lie to him. That's what's wrong.
"We just keep going and going," he says.
"Sure. What would you rather do?"
He has no answer.
I don't either.
On the road an answer comes that we're doing the highest Quality thing I can think of right now, but that wouldn't satisfy him any more than what I told him. I don't know what else I could have said. Sooner or later, before we say goodbye, if that's how it goes, we'll have to do some talking. Shielding him like this from the past may be doing him more harm than good. He'll have to hear about Phædrus, although there's much he can never know. Particularly the end.
Phædrus arrived at the University of Chicago already in a world of thought so different from the one you or I understand, it would be difficult to relate, even if I fully remembered everything. I know that the acting chairman admitted him during the Chairman's absence on the basis of his teaching experience and apparent ability to converse intelligently. What he actually said is lost. Afterward he waited for a number of weeks for the Chairman to return in hopes of obtaining a scholarship, but when the Chairman did appear an interview took place which consisted essentially of one question and no answer.
The Chairman said, "What is your substantive field?"
Phædrus said, "English composition."
The Chairman bellowed, "That is a methodological field!" And for all practical purposes that was the end of the interview. After some inconsequential conversation Phædrus stumbled, hesitated and excused himself, then went back to the mountains. This was the characteristic of his that had failed him out of the University before. He had gotten stuck on a question and hadn't been able to think about anything else, while the classes moved on without him. This time, however, he had all summer to think about why his field should be substantive or methodological, and all that summer that is what he did.
In the forests near the timberline he ate Swiss cheese, slept on pine-bough beds, drank mountain stream water and thought about Quality and substantive and methodological fields.
Substance doesn't change. Method contains no permanence. Substance relates to the form of the atom. Method relates to what the atom does. In technical composition a similar distinction exists between physical description and functional description. A complex assembly is best described first in terms of its substances: its subassemblies and parts. Then, next, it is described in terms of its methods: its functions as they occur in sequence. If you confuse physical and functional description, substance and method, you get all tangled up and so does the reader.
But to apply these classifications to a whole field of knowledge such as English composition seemed arbitrary and impractical. No academic discipline is without both substantive and methodological aspects. And Quality had no connection that he could see with either one of them. Quality isn't a substance. Neither is it a method. It's outside of both. If one builds a house using the plumb-line and spirit-level methods he does so because a straight vertical wall is less likely to collapse and thus has higher Quality than a crooked one. Quality isn't method. It's the goal toward which method is aimed.
"Substance" and "substantive" really corresponded to "object" and "objectivity," which he'd rejected in order to arrive at a nondualistic concept of Quality. When everything is divided up into substance and method, just as when everything's divided up into subject and object, there's really no room for Quality at all. His thesis not be a part of a substantive field, because to accept a split into substantive and methodological was to deny the existence of Quality. If Quality was going to stay, the concept of substance and method would have to go. That would mean a quarrel with the committee, something he had no desire for at all. But he was angry that they should destroy the entire meaning of what he was saying with the very first question. Substantive field? What kind of Procrustean bed were they trying to shove him into? he wondered.
He decided to examine more closely the background of the committee and did some library digging for this purpose. He felt this committee was off into some entirely alien pattern of thought. He didn't see where this pattern and the large pattern of his own thought joined together.
He was especially disturbed by the quality of the explanations of the committee's purpose. They seemed extremely confusing. The entire description of the committee's work was a strange pattern of ordinary enough words put together in a most unordinary way, so that the explanation seemed far more complex than the thing he was trying to have explained. This wasn't the bells ringing he'd heard before.
He studied everything he could find that the Chairman had written and here again was found the strange pattern of language seen in the confusing description of the committee. It was a puzzling style because it was completely different from what he'd seen of the Chairman himself. The Chairman, in a brief interview, had impressed him with great quickness of mind, and an equally swift temper. And yet here was one of the most ambiguous, inscrutable styles Phædrus had ever read. Here were encyclopedic sentences that left subject and predicate completely out of shouting distance. Parenthetic elements were unexplainably inserted inside other parenthetic elements, equally unexplainably inserted into sentences whose relevance to the preceding sentences in the reader's mind was dead and buried and decayed long before the arrival of the period.
But most remarkable of all were the wondrous and unexplained proliferations of abstract categories that seemed freighted with special meanings that never got stated and whose content could only be guessed at; these piled one after another so fast and so close that Phædrus knew he had no possible way of understanding what was before him, much less take issue with it.
At first Phædrus presumed the reason for the difficulty was that all this was over his head. The articles assumed a certain basic learning which he didn't have. Then, however, he noticed that some of the articles were written for audiences that couldn't possibly have this background, and this hypothesis was weakened.
His second hypothesis was that the Chairman was a "technician," a phrase he used for a writer so deeply involved in his field that he'd lost the ability to communicate with people outside. But if this wereso, why was the committee given such a general, nontechnical title as "Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods"? And the Chairman didn't have the personality of a technician. So that hypothesis was weak too.
In time, Phædrus abandoned the labor of pounding his head against the Chairman's rhetoric and tried to discover more about the background of the committee, hoping that would explain what this was all about. This, it turned out, was the correct approach. He began to see what his trouble was.
The Chairman's statements were guarded...guarded by enormous, labyrinthine fortifications that went on and on with such complexity and massiveness it was almost impossible to discover what in the world it was inside them he was guarding. The inscrutability of all this was the kind of inscrutability you have when you suddenly enter a room where a furious argument has just ended. Everyone is quiet. No one is talking.
I have one tiny fragment of Phædrus standing in the stone corridor of a building, evidently within the University of Chicago, addressing the assistant chairman of the committee, like a detective at the end of a movie, saying: "In your description of the committee, you have omitted one important name."
"Yes?" says the assistant chairman.
"Yes," says Phædrus omnisciently, " -- Aristotle -- "
The assistant chairman is shocked for a moment, then, almost like a culprit who has been discovered but feels no guilt, laughs loud and long.
"Oh, I see," he says. "You didn't know -- anything about. -- " Then he thinks better of what he is going to say and decides not to say anything more.
We arrive at the turnoff to Crater Lake and go up a neat road into the National Park...clean, tidy and preserved. It really shouldn't be any other way, but this doesn't win any prizes for Quality either. It turns it into a museum. This is how it was before the white man came...beautiful lava flows, and scrawny trees, and not a beer can anywhere...but now that the white man is here, it looks fake. Maybe the National Park Service should set just one pile of beer cans in the middle of all that lava and then it would come to life. The absence of beer cans is distracting.
At the lake we stop and stretch and mingle affably with the small crowd of tourists holding cameras and children yelling, "Don't go too close!" and see cars and campers with all different license plates, and see the Crater Lake with a feeling of "Well, there it is," just as the pictures show. I watch the other tourists, all of whom seem to have out-of-place looks too. I have no resentment at all this, just a feeling that it's all unreal and that the quality of the lake is smothered by the fact that it's so pointed to. You point to something as having Quality and the Quality tends to go away. Quality is what you see out of the corner of your eye, and so I look at the lake below but feel the peculiar quality from the chill, almost frigid sunlight behind me, and the almost motionless wind.
"Why did we come here?" Chris says.
"To see the lake."
He doesn't like this. He senses falseness and frowns deep, trying to find the right question to expose it. "I just hate this," he says.
A tourist lady looks at him with surprise, then resentment.
"Well, what can we do, Chris?" I ask. "We just have to keep going until we find out what's wrong or find out why we don't know what's wrong. Do you see that?"
He doesn't answer. The lady pretends not to be listening, but her motionlessness reveals that she is. We walk toward the motorcycle, and I try to think of something, but nothing comes. I see he's crying a little and now looks away to prevent me from seeing it.
We wind down out of the park to the south.
I said the assistant chairman for the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods was shocked. What he was so shocked about was that Phædrus didn't know he was at the locus of what is probably the most famous academic controversy of the century, what a California university president described as the last attempt in history to change the course of an entire university.
Phædrus' reading turned up a brief history of that famous revolt against empirical education that had taken place in the early thirties. The Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods was a vestige of that attempt. The leaders of the revolt were Robert Maynard Hutchins, who had become president of the University of Chicago; Mortimer Adler, whose work on the psychological background of the law of evidence was somewhat similar to work being done at Yale by Hutchins; Scott Buchanan, a philosopher and mathematician; and most important of all for Phædrus, the present chairman of the committee, who was then a Columbia University Spinozist and medievalist.
Adler's study of evidence, cross-fertilized by a reading of classics of the Western world, resulted in a conviction that human wisdom had advanced relatively little in recent times. He consistently harked back to St. Thomas Aquinas, who had taken Plato and Aristotle and made them part of his medieval synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian faith. The work of Aquinas and of the Greeks, as interpreted by Aquinas, was to Adler the capstone of the Western intellectual heritage. Therefore they provided a measuring rod for anyone seeking the good books.
In the Aristotelian tradition as interpreted by the medieval scholastics, man is counted a rational animal, capable of seeking and defining the good life and achieving it. When this "first principle" about the nature of man was accepted by the president of the University of Chicago, it was inevitable that it would have educational repercussions. The famous University of Chicago Great Books program and the reorganization of the University structure along Aristotelian lines and the establishment of the "College," in which a reading of classics was initiated in fifteen-year-old students, were some of the results.
Hutchins had rejected the idea that an empirical scientific education could automatically produce a "good" education. Science is "value free." The inability of science to grasp Quality, as an object of enquiry, makes it impossible for science to provide a scale of values.
Adler and Hutchins were concerned fundamentally with the "oughts" of life, with values, with Quality and with the foundations of Quality in theoretical philosophy. Thus they had apparently been traveling in the same direction as Phædrus but had somehow ended with Aristotle and stopped there.
There was a clash.
Even those who were willing to admit Hutchins' preoccupation with Quality were unwilling to grant the final authority to the Aristotelian tradition to define values. They insisted that no values can be fixed, and that a valid modern philosophy need not reckon with ideas as they are expressed in the books of ancient and medieval times. The whole business seemed to many of them merely a new and pretentious jargon of weasel concepts.
Phædrus didn't know quite what to make of this clash. But it certainly seemed to be close to the area he wished to work in. He also felt that no values can be fixed but that this is no reason why values should be ignored or that values do not exist as reality. He also felt antagonistic to the Aristotelian tradition as a definer of values, but he didn't feel this tradition should be left unreckoned with. The answer to all this was somehow deeply enmeshed in it and he wanted to know more.
Of the four who had created such a furor, the present chairman of the committee was the only one now left. Perhaps because of this reduction in rank, perhaps for other reasons, his reputation among persons Phædrus talked to wasn't one of geniality. His geniality was confirmed by none and sharply refuted by two, one the head of a major University department who described him as a "holy terror" and another who held a graduate degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago who said the chairman was well known for graduating only carbon copies of himself. Neither of these advisers was by nature vindictive and Phædrus felt what they said was true. This was further confirmed by a discovery made at the department office. He wanted to talk to two graduates of the committee to find out more of what it was about, and had been told that the committee had granted only two Ph.D.'s in its history. Apparently to find room in the sun for a reality of Quality he would have to fight and overcome the head of his own committee, whose Aristotelian outlook made it impossible even to get started and whose temperament appeared to be extremely intolerant of opposing ideas. It all added up to a very gloomy picture.
He then sat down and penned, to the Chairman of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Methods at the University of Chicago, a letter which can only be described as a provocation to dismissal, in which the writer refuses to skulk quietly out the back door but instead creates a scene of such proportions the opposition is forced to throw him out the front door, thus giving weight to the provocation it didn't formerly have. Afterward he picks himself up out of the street and, after making sure the door is completely closed, shakes his fist at it, dusts himself off and says, "Oh well, I tried," and in this way absolves his conscience.
Phædrus' provocation informed the Chairman that his substantive field was now philosophy, not English composition. However, he said, the division of study into substantive and methodological fields was an outgrowth of the Aristotelian dichotomy of form and substance, which nondualists had little use for, the two being identical.
He said he wasn't sure, but the thesis on Quality appeared to turn into an anti-Aristotelian thesis. If this was true he had chosen an appropriate place to present it. Great Universities proceeded in a Hegelian fashion and any school which could not accept a thesis contradicting its fundamental tenets was in a rut. This, Phædrus claimed, was the thesis the University of Chicago was waiting for.
He admitted the claim was grandiose and that value judgments were actually impossible for him to make since no person could be an impartial judge of his own cause. But if someone else were to produce a thesis which purported to be a major breakthrough between Eastern and Western philosophy, between religious mysticism and scientific positivism, he would think it of major historic importance, a thesis which would place the University miles ahead. In any event, he said, no one was really accepted in Chicago until he'd rubbed someone out. It was time Aristotle got his.
And not just provocation to dismissal either. What comes through even more strongly is megalomania, delusions of grandeur, of complete loss of ability to understand the effect of what he was saying on others. He had become so caught up in his own world of Quality metaphysics he couldn't see outside it anymore, and since no one else understood this world, he was already done for.
I think he must have felt at the time that what he was saying was true and it didn't matter if his manner or presentation was outrageous or not. There was so much to it he didn't have time for prettying it up. If the University of Chicago was interested in the esthetics of what he was saying rather than the rational content, they were failing their fundamental purpose as a University.
This was it. He really believed. It wasn't just another interesting idea to be tested by existing rational methods. It was a modification of the existing rational methods themselves. Normally when you have a new idea to present in an academic environment you're supposed to be objective and disinterested in it. But this idea of Quality took issue with that very supposition...of objectivity and disinterestedness. These were mannerisms appropriate only to dualistic reason. Dualistic excellence is achieved by objectivity, but creative excellence is not.
He had the faith that he had solved a huge riddle of the universe, cut a Gordian knot of dualistic thought with one word, Quality, and he wasn't about to let anyone tie that word down again. And in believing, he couldn't see how outrageously megalomaniacal his words sounded to others. Or if he saw it, didn't care. What he said was megalomaniacal, but suppose it was true? If he was wrong, who would care? But suppose he was right? To be right and throw it away in order to please the predilections of his teachers, that would be the monstrosity!
And so he just did not care how he sounded to others. It was a totally fanatic thing. He lived in a solitary universe of discourse in those days. No one understood him. And the more people showed how they failed to understand him and disliked what they did understand, the more fanatic and unlikable he became.
His provocation to dismissal was given an expected reception. Since his substantive field was philosophy, he should apply to the philosophy department, not the committee.
Phædrus dutifully did this, then he and his family loaded their car and trailer with all they owned and said goodbye to their friends and were about to start. Just as he locked the doors of the house for the last time the mailman appeared with a letter. It was from the University of Chicago. It said he was not admitted there. Nothing more.
Obviously the Chairman of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods had influenced the decision.
Phædrus borrowed some stationery from the neighbors and wrote back to the Chairman that since he had already been admitted to the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods he would have to remain there. This was a rather legalistic maneuver, but Phædrus by this time had developed a kind of combative canniness. This deviousness, the quick shuffle out the philosophy door seemed to indicate that the Chairman for some reason was unable to throw him out the front door of the committee, even with that outrageous letter in hand, and that gave Phædrus some confidence. No side doors, please. They were going to have to throw him out the front door or not at all. Maybe they wouldn't be able to. Good. He wanted this thesis not to owe anyone anything.
We travel down the eastern shore of Klamath Lake on a three-lane highway that contains a lot of nineteen- twenties feeling. That's when these three-laners were all made. We pull in for lunch at a roadhouse which belongs to this era too. Wooden frame badly in need of paint, neon beer signs in the window, gravel and engine drippings for a front lawn.
Inside, the toilet seat is cracked and the washbowl is covered with grease streaks, but on my way back to our booth I take a second look at the owner behind the bar. A nineteen-twenties face. Uncomplicated, uncool and unbowed. This is his castle. We're his guests. And if we don't like his hamburgers we'd better shut up.
When they arrive, the hamburgers, with giant raw onions, are tasty and the bottle beer is fine. A whole meal for a lot less than you'd pay at one of those old-ladies places with plastic flowers in the window. As we eat I see on the map we've taken a wrong turn way back and could have gotten to the ocean much quicker by another route. It's hot now, a West Coast sticky hotness which after the Western Desert hotness is very depressing. Really, this is just transported East, all of this scene, and I'd like to get to the ocean where it's cool as soon as possible.
I think about this all around the southern shore of Klamath Lake. Sticky hotness and nineteen-twenties funk. -- That was the feeling of Chicago that summer.
When Phædrus and his family arrived in Chicago, he took up residence near the University and, since he had no scholarship, began full-time teaching of rhetoric at the University of Illinois, which was then downtown at Navy Pier, sticking out into the lake, funky and hot.
Classes were different from those in Montana. The top high-school students had been skimmed off to the Champaign and Urbana campuses and almost all the students he taught were a solid monotonous C. When their papers were judged in class for Quality it was hard to distinguish among them. Phædrus, in other circumstances, probably would have invented something to get around this, but now this was just bread-and-butter work for which he couldn't spare creative energy. His interest lay to the south at the other University.
He entered the University of Chicago registration lineup, announced his name to the registering Professor of Philosophy and noticed a slight setting of the eyes. The Professor of Philosophy said, Oh, yes, the Chairman had asked that he be registered in an Ideas and Methods course which the Chairman himself was teaching, and give him the schedule of the course. Phædrus noted that the time set for the class conflicted with his schedule at Navy Pier and chose instead another one, Ideas and Methods 251, Rhetoric. Since rhetoric was his own field, he felt a little more at home here. And the lecturer wasn't the Chairman. The lecturer was the Professor of Philosophy now registering him. The Professor of Philosophy's eyes, formerly set, now became wide.
Phædrus returned to his teaching at Navy Pier and his reading for his first class. It was now absolutely necessary that he study as he had never studied before to learn the thought of Classic Greece in general and of one Classic Greek in particular...Aristotle.
Of all the thousands of students at the University of Chicago who had studied the ancient classics it's doubtful that there was ever a more dedicated one. The main struggle of the University's Great Books program was against the modern belief that the classics had nothing of any real importance to say to a twentieth-century society. To be sure, the majority of students taking the courses must have played the game of nice manners with their teachers, and accepted, for purposes of understanding, the prerequisite belief that the ancients had something meaningful to say. But Phædrus, playing no games at all, didn't just accept this idea. He passionately and fanatically knew it. He came to hate them vehemently, and to assail them with every kind of invective he could think of, not because they were irrelevant but for exactly the opposite reason. The more he studied, the more convinced he became that no one had yet told the damage to this world that had resulted from our unconscious acceptance of their thought.
Around the southern shore of Klamath Lake we pass through some suburban-type development, and then leave the lake to the west, toward the coast. The road goes up now into the forests of huge trees not at all like the rain-starved forests we've been through. Huge Douglas firs are on either side of the road. On the cycle we can look up along their trunks, straight up, for hundreds of feet as we pass between them. Chris wants to stop and walk among them and so we stop.
While he goes for a walk I lean my back as carefully as possible against a big slab of Douglas fir bark and look up and try to remember. --
The details of what he learned are lost now, but from events that occurred later I know he absorbed tremendous quantities of information. He was capable of doing this on a near-photographic basis. To understand how he arrived at his condemnation of the Classic Greeks it's necessary to review in summary form the "mythos over logos" argument, which is well known to scholars of Greek and is often a cause of fascination with that area of study.
The term logos, the root word of "logic," refers to the sum total of our rational understanding of the world. Mythos is the sum total of the early historic and prehistoric myths which preceded the logos. The mythos includes not only the Greek myths but the Old Testament, the Vedic Hymns and the early legends of all cultures which have contributed to our present world understanding. The mythos-over-logos argument states that our rationality is shaped by these legends, that our knowledge today is in relation to these legends as a tree is in relation to the little shrub it once was. One can gain great insights into the complex overall structure of the tree by studying the much simpler shape of the shrub. There's no difference in kind or even difference in identity, only a difference in size.
Thus, in cultures whose ancestry includes ancient Greece, one invariably finds a strong subject-object differentiation because the grammar of the old Greek mythos presumed a sharp natural division of subjects and predicates. In cultures such as the Chinese, where subject-predicate relationships are not rigidly defined by grammar, one finds a corresponding absence of rigid subject-object philosophy. One finds that in the Judeo-Christian culture in which the Old Testament "Word" had an intrinsic sacredness of its own, men are willing to sacrifice and live by and die for words. In this culture, a court of law can ask a witness to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God," and expect the truth to be told. But one can transport this court to India, as did the British, with no real success on the matter of perjury because the Indian mythos is different and this sacredness of words is not felt in the same way. Similar problems have occurred in this country among minority groups with different cultural backgrounds. There are endless examples of how mythos differences direct behavior differences and they're all fascinating.
The mythos-over-logos argument points to the fact that each child is born as ignorant as any caveman. What keeps the world from reverting to the Neanderthal with each generation is the continuing, ongoing mythos, transformed into logos but still mythos, the huge body of common knowledge that unites our minds as cells are united in the body of man. To feel that one is not so united, that one can accept or discard this mythos as one pleases, is not to understand what the mythos is.
There is only one kind of person, Phædrus said, who accepts or rejects the mythos in which he lives. And the definition of that person, when he has rejected the mythos, Phædrus said, is "insane." To go outside the mythos is to become insane. --
My God, that just came to me now. I never knew that before.
He knew! He must have known what was about to happen. It's starting to open up.
You have all these fragments, like pieces of a puzzle, and you can place them together into large groups, but the groups don't go together no matter how you try, and then suddenly you get one fragment and it fits two different groups and then suddenly the two great groups are one. The relation of the mythos to insanity. That's a key fragment. I doubt whether anyone ever said that before. Insanity is the terra incognita surrounding the mythos. And he knew! He knew the Quality he talked about lay outside the mythos.
Now it comes! Because Quality is the generator of the mythos. That's it. That's what he meant when he said, "Quality is the continuing stimulus which causes us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it." Religion isn't invented by man. Men are invented by religion. Men invent responses to Quality, and among these responses is an understanding of what they themselves are. You know something and then the Quality stimulus hits and then you try to define the Quality stimulus, but to define it all you've got to work with is what you know. So your definition is made up of what you know. It's an analogue to what you already know. It has to be. It can't be anything else. And the mythos grows this way. By analogies to what is known before. The mythos is a building of analogues upon analogues upon analogues. These fill the collective consciousness of all communicating mankind. Every last bit of it. The Quality is the track that directs the train. What is outside the train, to either side...that is the terra incognita of the insane. He knew that to understand Quality he would have to leave the mythos. That's why he felt that slippage. He knew something was about to happen.
I see Chris returning through the trees now. He looks relaxed and happy. He shows me a piece of bark and asks if he can save it as a souvenir. I haven't been fond of loading the cycle with these bits and pieces he finds and will probably throw away when he gets home, but this time say okay anyway.
After a few minutes the road reaches a summit and then drops steeply into a valley that becomes more exquisite as we descend. I never thought I would call a valley that...exquisite...but there's something about this whole coastal country so different from any other mountainous region in America that it brings out the word. Here, a little farther south, is where all our good wine comes from. The hills are somehow tucked and folded differently...exquisitely. The road twists and banks and curlecues and descends and we and the cycle smoothly roll with it, following it in a separate grace of our own, almost touching the waxen leaves of shrubs and overhanging boughs of trees. The firs and rocks of the higher country are behind us now and around us are soft hills and vines and purple and red flowers, fragrance mixed with woodsmoke up from the distant fog along the valley floor and from beyond that, unseen...a vague scent of ocean. --
-- How can I love all this so much and be insane? --
-- I don't believe it!
The mythos. The mythos is insane. That's what he believed. The mythos that says the forms of this world are real but the Quality of this world is unreal, that is insane!
And in Aristotle and the ancient Greeks he believed he had found the villains who had so shaped the mythos as to cause us to accept this insanity as reality.
That. That now. That ties it all together. It feels relieving when that happens. It's so hard sometimes to conjure all this up, a strange sort of exhaustion follows. Sometimes I think I'm just making it up myself. Sometimes I'm not sure. And sometimes I know I'm not. But the mythos and insanity, and the centrality of this...this I'm sure is from him.
When we're through the folded hills we come to Medford and a freeway leading to Grants Pass and it's almost evening. A heavy head wind keeps us just up with traffic on upgrades, even with the throttle wide open. Coming into Grants Pass we hear a frightening, loud, clanking noise and stop to discover that the chain guard has become caught in the chain somehow and now is all torn up. Not too serious, but enough to lay us up for a while to get it replaced. Foolish to replace it, perhaps, when the cycle will be sold in a few days.
Grants Pass looks like a big enough town to have a motorcycle place open the next morning and when we arrive I look for a motel.
We haven't seen a bed since Bozeman, Montana.
We find one with color TV, heated swimming pool, a coffee maker for the next morning, soap, white towels, a shower all tiled and clean beds.
We lie down on the clean beds and Chris just bounces on his for a while. Bouncing on beds, I remember from childhood, is a great depression reliever.
Tomorrow, somehow, all this can be worked out, maybe. Not now. Chris goes down for a heated swim while I lie quietly on the clean bed and put everything out of mind.
In the process of taking stuff out of the saddlebags and cramming it back ever since Bozeman, and doing the same with the backpacks, we've acquired some exceptionally beat-up gear. Spread out all over the floor in the morning light it looks a mess. The plastic bag with the oily stuff in it has broken and oil has gotten onto the roll of toilet paper. The clothes have been so squashed they look as if they have permanent, built-in wrinkles. The soft metal tube of sunburn ointment has burst, leaving white crud all over the machete scabbard and a fragrant smell everywhere. The tube of ignition grease has burst too. What a mess. In my shirt-pocket notebook I write down: "Buy tackle box for squeezed stuff" and then add "Do laundry." Then, "Buy toenail scissors, sunburn cream, ignition grease, chain guard, toilet paper." This is a lot of things to do before checkout time, so I wake up Chris and tell him to get up. We have to do the laundry.
At the Laundromat I instruct Chris on how to operate the drier, start the washing machines and take off for the other items.
I get everything but a chain guard. The parts man says they don't have one and don't expect to get one. I think about riding without the chain guard for what little time is left but that will throw crud all over and could be dangerous. Also, I don't want to do things with that presumption. That commits me to it.
Down the street I find a welder's sign and enter.
Cleanest welding place I've ever seen. Great high trees and deep grass line an open space in back, giving a kind of village-smithy appearance. All the tools are hung up with care, everything tidy, but no one is home. I'll come back later.
I wheel back and stop for Chris, check the laundry he's put in the drier and putt along through the cheerful streets looking for a restaurant. Traffic everywhere, alert, well-maintained cars, most of them. West Coast. Hazy clean sunlight of a town out of the range of the coal vendors.
At the edge of town we find a restaurant and sit and wait at a red and white tableclothed table. Chris unfolds a copy of Motorcycle News, which I bought at the cycle shop, and reads out loud who has won all the races, and an item about cross-country cycling. The waitress looks at him, a little curiously, and then at me, then at my cycle boots, then jots down our order. She goes back into the kitchen and comes out again and looks at us. I guess that she's paying so much attention to us because we're alone here. While we wait she puts some coins in the jukebox and when breakfast comes...waffles, syrup and sausages, ah...we have music with it. Chris and I talk about what he sees in Motorcycle News and we are talking over the noise of the record in the relaxed way people talk who have been many days on the road together and out of the corner of my eye I see that this is watched with a steady gaze. After a while Chris has to ask me some questions a second time because that gaze kind of beats on me, and it's hard to think of what he's saying. The record is a country western about a truck driver. -- I finish the conversation with Chris.
As we leave and go out and start up the cycle, there she is in the door watching us. Lonely. She probably doesn't understand that with a look like that she isn't going to be lonely long. I kick the starter and gun the engine too hard, frustrated by something, and as we ride for the welder again, it takes a while to snap out.
The welder is in, an old man in his sixties or seventies, and he looks at me disdainfully...a complete reversal from the waitress. I explain about the chain guard and after a while he says, "I'm not taking it off for you. You'll have to take it off."
I do this and show it to him, and he says, "It's full of grease."
I find a stick out in back under the spreading chestnut tree and scrape all the grease into a trash barrel. From a distance he says, "There's some solvent in that pan over there." I see the flat pan and get out the remaining grease with some leaves and the solvent.
When I show it to him he nods and slowly goes over and sets the regulators for his gas torch. Then he looks at the tip and selects another one. Absolutely no hurry. He picks up a steel filler rod and I wonder if he's actually going to try to weld that thin metal. Sheet metal I don't weld. I braze it with a brass rod. When I try to weld it I punch holes in it and then have to patch them up with huge blobs of filler rod. "Aren't you going to braze it?" I ask.
"No," he says. Talkative fellow.
He sparks the torch, and sets a tiny little blue flame and then, it's hard to describe, actually dances the torch and the rod in separate little rhythms over the thin sheet metal, the whole spot a uniform luminous orange-yellow, dropping the torch and filler rod down at the exact right moment and then removing them. No holes. You can hardly see the weld. "That's beautiful," I say.
"One dollar," he says, without smiling. Then I catch a funny quizzical look within his glance. Does he wonder if he's overcharged? No, something else -- lonely, same as the waitress. Probably he thinks I'm bullshitting him. Who appreciates work like this anymore?
We're packed and out of the motel at just about check-out time and are soon into the coastal redwood forest, across out of Oregon into California. The traffic is so heavy we don't have time to look up. It's turning cold and grey and we stop and put on sweaters and jackets. It's still cold, somewhere in the low fifties, and we think winter thoughts.
Lonely people back in town. I saw it in the supermarket and at the Laundromat and when we checked out from the motel. These pickup campers through the redwoods, full of lonely retired people looking at trees on their way to look at the ocean. You catch it in the first fraction of a glance from a new face...that searching look...then it's gone.
We see much more of this loneliness now. It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much.
The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It's psychic distance, and in Montana and Idaho the physical distances are big but the psychic distances between people are small, and here it's reversed.
It's the primary America we're in. It hit the night before last in Prineville Junction and it's been with us ever since. There's this primary America of freeways and jet flights and TV and movie spectaculars. And people caught up in this primary America seem to go through huge portions of their lives without much consciousness of what's immediately around them. The media have convinced them that what's right around them is unimportant. And that's why they're lonely. You see it in their faces. First the little flicker of searching, and then when they look at you, you're just a kind of an object. You don't count. You're not what they're looking for. You're not on TV.
But in the secondary America we've been through, of back roads, and Chinaman's ditches, and Appaloosa horses, and sweeping mountain ranges, and meditative thoughts, and kids with pinecones and bumblebees and open sky above us mile after mile after mile, all through that, what was real, what was around us dominated. And so there wasn't much feeling of loneliness. That's the way it must have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Hardly any people and hardly any loneliness. I'm undoubtedly over-generalizing, but if the proper qualifications were introduced it would be true.
Technology is blamed for a lot of this loneliness, since the loneliness is certainly associated with the newer technological devices...TV, jets, freeways and so on...but I hope it's been made plain that the real evil isn't the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity. It's the objectivity, the dualistic way of looking at things underlying technology, that produces the evil. That's why I went to so much trouble to show how technology could be used to destroy the evil. A person who knows how to fix motorcycles...with Quality...is less likely to run short of friends than one who doesn't. And they aren't going to see him as some kind of object either. Quality destroys objectivity every time.
Or if he takes whatever dull job he's stuck with...and they are all, sooner or later, dull...and, just to keep himself amused, starts to look for options of Quality, and secretly pursues these options, just for their own sake, thus making an art out of what he is doing, he's likely to discover that he becomes a much more interesting person and much less of an object to the people around him because his Quality decisions change him too. And not only the job and him, but others too because the Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn't think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.
My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that's all. God, I don't want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There's a place for them but they've got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We've had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it's just about depleted. Everyone's just about out of gumption. And I think it's about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource...individual worth. There are political reactionaries who've been saying something close to this for years. I'm not one of them, but to the extent they're talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they're right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do. I hope that in this Chautauqua some directions have been pointed to.
Phædrus went a different path from the idea of individual, personal Quality decisions. I think it was a wrong one, but perhaps if I were in his circumstances I would go his way too. He felt that the solution started with a new philosophy, or he saw it as even broader than that...a new spiritual rationality...in which the ugliness and the loneliness and the spiritual blankness of dualistic technological reason would become illogical. Reason was no longer to be "value free." Reason was to be subordinate, logically, to Quality, and he was sure he would find the cause of its not being so back among the ancient Greeks, whose mythos had endowed our culture with the tendency underlying all the evil of our technology, the tendency to do what is "reasonable" even when it isn't any good. That was the root of the whole thing. Right there. I said a long time ago that he was in pursuit of the ghost of reason. This is what I meant. Reason and Quality had become separated and in conflict with each other and Quality had been forced under and reason made supreme somewhere back then.
It's begun to rain a little. Not so much we have to stop though. Just the faint beginnings of a drizzle.
The road leads out of the tall forests now and into open grey skies. Along the road are many billboards. Schenley's in warm-painted colors goes on forever, but one gets the feeling that Irma's gives tired, mediocre permanents because of the way the paint is cracking on her sign.
I have since read Aristotle again, looking for the massive evil that appears in the fragments from Phædrus, but have not found it there. What I find in Aristotle is mainly a quite dull collection of generalizations, many of which seem impossible to justify in the light of modern knowledge, whose organization appears extremely poor, and which seems primitive in the way old Greek pottery in the museums seems primitive. I'm sure if I knew a lot more about it I would see a lot more and not find it primitive at all. But without knowing all that I can't see that it lives up either to the raves of the Great Books group or the rages of Phædrus. I certainly don't see Aristotle's works as a major source of either positive or negative values. But the raves of the Great Books group are well known and published. Phædrus' rages aren't, and it becomes part of my obligation to dwell on these.
Rhetoric is an art, Aristotle began, because it can be reduced to a rational system of order.
That just left Phædrus aghast. Stopped. He'd been prepared to decode messages of great subtlety, systems of great complexity in order to understand the deeper inner meaning of Aristotle, claimed by many to be the greatest philosopher of all time. And then to get hit, right off, straight in the face, with an asshole statement like that! It really shook him.
He read on:
Rhetoric can be subdivided into particular proofs and topics on the one hand and common proofs on the other. The particular proofs can be subdivided into methods of proof and kinds of proof. The methods of proofs are the artificial proofs and the inartificial proofs. Of the artificial proofs there are ethical proofs, emotional proofs and logical proofs. Of the ethical proofs there are practical wisdom, virtue and good will. The particular methods employing artificial proofs of the ethical kind involving good will require a knowledge of the emotions, and for those who have forgotten what these are, Aristotle provides a list. They are anger, slight (subdivisible into contempt, spite and insolence), mildness, love or friendship, fear, confidence, shame, shamelessness, favor, benevolence, pity, virtuous indignation, envy, emulation and contempt.
Remember the description of the motorcycle given way back in South Dakota? The one which carefully enumerated all the motorcycle parts and functions? Recognize the similarity? Here, Phædrus was convinced, was the originator of that style of discourse. For page after page Aristotle went on like this. Like some third-rate technical instructor, naming everything, showing the relationships among the things named, cleverly inventing an occasional new relationship among the things named, and then waiting for the bell so he can get on to repeat the lecture for the next class.
Between the lines Phædrus read no doubts, no sense of awe, only the eternal smugness of the professional academician. Did Aristotle really think his students would be better rhetoricians for having learned all these endless names and relationships? And if not, did he really think he was teaching rhetoric? Phædrus thought that he really did. There was nothing in his style to indicate that Aristotle was ever one to doubt Aristotle. Phædrus saw Aristotle as tremendously satisfied with this neat little stunt of naming and classifying everything. His world began and ended with this stunt. The reason why, if he were not more than two thousand years dead, he would have gladly rubbed him out is that he saw him as a prototype for the many millions of self-satisfied and truly ignorant teachers throughout history who have smugly and callously killed the creative spirit of their students with this dumb ritual of analysis, this blind, rote, eternal naming of things. Walk into any of a hundred thousand classrooms today and hear the teachers divide and subdivide and interrelate and establish "principles" and study "methods" and what you will hear is the ghost of Aristotle speaking down through the centuries...the desiccating lifeless voice of dualistic reason.
The sessions on Aristotle were round an enormous wooden round table in a dreary room across the street from a hospital, where the late-afternoon sun from over the hospital roof hardly penetrated the window dirt and polluted city air beyond. Wan and pale and depressing. During the middle of the hour he noticed that this enormous table had a huge crack that ran right across it near the middle. It looked as though it had been there for years, but that no one had thought to repair it. Too busy, no doubt, with more important things. At the end of the hour he finally asked, "May questions about Aristotle's rhetoric be asked?"
"If you have read the material," he was told. He noticed in the eye of the Professor of Philosophy the same set he had seen the first day of registration. He took warning from it that he had better read the material very thoroughly, and did so.
The rain comes down more heavily now and we stop to snap on the face mask to the helmet. Then we go again at moderate speed. I watch for chuckholes, sand and grease slicks.
The next week Phædrus had read the material and was prepared to take apart the statement that rhetoric is an art because it can be reduced to a rational system of order. By this criterion General Motors produced pure art, whereas Picasso did not. If there were deeper meanings to Aristotle than met the eye this would be as good a place as any to make them visible.
But the question never got raised. Phædrus put up his hand to do so, caught a microsecond flash of malice from the teacher's eye, but then another student said, almost as an interruption, "I think there are some very dubious statements here."
That was all he got out.
"Sir, we are not here to learn what you think!" hissed the Professor of Philosophy. Like acid. "We are here to learn what Aristotle thinks!" Straight in the face. "When we wish to learn what you think we will assign a course in the subject!"
Silence. The student is stunned. So is everyone else.
But the Professor of Philosophy is not done. He points his finger at the student and demands, "According to Aristotle: What are the three kinds of particular rhetoric according to subject matter discussed?"
More silence. The student doesn't know. "Then you haven't read it, have you?"
And now, with a gleam that indicates he has intended this all along, the Professor of Philosophy swings his finger around and points it at Phædrus.
"You, sir, what are the three kinds of particular rhetoric according to subject matter discussed?"
But Phædrus is prepared. "Forensic, deliberative and epideictic," he answers calmly.
"What are the epideictic techniques?"
"The technique of identifying likenesses, the technique of praise, that of encomium and that of amplification."
"Yaaas -- " says the Professor of Philosophy slowly. Then all is silent.
The other students looked shocked. They wonder what has happened. Only Phædrus knows, and perhaps the Professor of Philosophy. An innocent student has caught blows intended for him.
Now everyone's face becomes carefully composed in defense against more of this sort of questioning. The Professor of Philosophy has made a mistake. He's wasted his disciplinary authority on an innocent student while Phædrus, the guilty one, the hostile one, is still at large. And getting larger and larger. Since he has asked no questions there is now no way to cut him down. And now that he sees how the questions will be answered he's certainly not about to ask them.
The innocent student stares down at the table, face red, hands shrouding his eyes. His shame becomes Phædrus' anger. In all his classes he never once talked to a student like that. So that's how they teach classics at the University of Chicago. Phædrus knows the Professor of Philosophy now. But the Professor of Philosophy doesn't know Phædrus.
The grey rainy skies and sign-strewn road descend to Crescent City, California, grey and cold and wet, and Chris and I look and see the water, the ocean, in the distance beyond piers and grey buildings. I remember this was our great goal all these days. We enter a restaurant with a fancy red carpet and fancy menus with extremely high prices. We are the only people here. We eat silently, pay and are on the road again, south now, cold and misty.
In the next sessions the shamed student is no longer present. No surprise. The class is completely frozen, as is inevitable when an incident like that has taken place. Each session, just one person does all the talking, the Professor of Philosophy, and he talks and talks and talks to faces that have turned into masks of neutrality.
The Professor of Philosophy seems quite aware of what has happened. His previous little eye-flick of malice toward Phædrus has turned to a little eye-flick of fear. He seems to understand that within the present classroom situation, when the time comes, he can get exactly the same treatment he gave, and there will be no sympathy from any of the faces before him. He's thrown away his right to courtesy. There's no way to prevent retaliation now except to keep covered.
But to keep covered he must work hard, and say things exactly right. Phædrus understands this too. By remaining silent he can now learn under what are very advantageous circumstances.
Phædrus studied hard during this period, and learned extremely fast, and kept his mouth shut, but it would be wrong to give the least impression that he was any sort of good student. A good student seeks knowledge fairly and impartially. Phædrus did not. He had an axe to grind and all he sought were those things that helped him grind it, and the means of knocking down anything which prevented him from grinding it. He had no time for or interest in other people's Great Books. He was there solely to write a Great Book of his own. His attitude toward Aristotle was grossly unfair for the same reason Aristotle was unfair to his predecessors. They fouled up what he wanted to say.
Aristotle fouled up what Phædrus wanted to say by placing rhetoric in an outrageously minor category in his hierarchic order of things. It was a branch of Practical Science, a kind of shirttail relation to the other category, Theoretical Science, which Aristotle was mainly involved in. As a branch of Practical Science it was isolated from any concern with Truth or Good or Beauty, except as devices to throw into an argument. Thus Quality, in Aristotle's system, is totally divorced from rhetoric. This contempt for rhetoric, combined with Aristotle's own atrocious quality of rhetoric, so completely alienated Phædrus he couldn't read anything Aristotle said without seeking ways to despise it and attack it.
This was no problem. Aristotle has always been eminently attackable and eminently attacked throughout history, and shooting down Aristotle's patent absurdities, like shooting fish in a barrel, didn't afford much satisfaction. If he hadn't been so partial Phædrus might have learned some valuable Aristotelian techniques of bootstrapping oneself into new areas of knowledge, which was what the committee was really set up for. But if he hadn't been so partial in his search for a place to launch his work on Quality, he wouldn't have been there in the first place, so it really didn't have any chance to work out at all.
The Professor of Philosophy lectured, and Phædrus listened to both the classic form and romantic surface of what was said. The Professor of Philosophy seemed most ill at ease on the subject of "dialectic." Although Phædrus couldn't figure out why in terms of classic form, his growing romantic sensitivity told him he was on the scent of something...a quarry.
Aristotle's book had begun with it, in a most mystifying way. Rhetoric is a counterpart of dialectic, it had said, as if this were of the greatest importance, yet why this was so important was never explained. It was followed with a number of other disjointed statements, which gave the impression that a great deal had been left out, or the material had been assembled wrongly, or the printer had left something out, because no matter how many times he read it nothing jelled. The only thing that was clear was that Aristotle was very much concerned about the relation of rhetoric to dialectic. To Phædrus' ear, the same ill ease he had observed in the Professor of Philosophy appeared here.
The Professor of Philosophy had defined dialectic, and Phædrus had listened carefully, but it was in one ear and out the other, a characteristic that philosophic statements often have when something is left out. In a later class another student who seemed to be having the same trouble asked the Professor of Philosophy to redefine dialectic and this time the Professor had glanced at Phædrus with another quick flicker of fear and become very edgy. Phædrus began to wonder if "dialectic" had some special meaning that made it a fulcrum word...one that can shift the balance of an argument, depending on how it's placed. It was.
Dialectic generally means "of the nature of the dialogue," which is a conversation between two persons. Nowadays it means logical argumentation. It involves a technique of cross-examination, by which truth is arrived at. It's the mode of discourse of Socrates in the Dialogues of Plato. Plato believed the dialectic was the sole method by which the truth was arrived at. The only one.
That's why it's a fulcrum word. Aristotle attacked this belief, saying that the dialectic was only suitable for some purposes...to enquire into men's beliefs, to arrive at truths about eternal forms of things, known as Ideas, which were fixed and unchanging and constituted reality for Plato. Aristotle said there is also the method of science, or "physical" method, which observes physical facts and arrives at truths about substances, which undergo change. This duality of form and substance and the scientific method of arriving at facts about substances were central to Aristotle's philosophy. Thus the dethronement of dialectic from what Socrates and Plato held it to be was absolutely essential for Aristotle, and "dialectic" was and still is a fulcrum word.
Phædrus guessed that Aristotle's diminution of dialectic, from Plato's sole method of arriving at truth to a "counterpart of rhetoric," might be as infuriating to modern Platonists as it would have been to Plato. Since the Professor of Philosophy didn't know what Phædrus' "position" was, this was what was making him edgy. He might be afraid that Phædrus the Platonist was going to jump him. If so, he certainly had nothing to worry about. Phædrus wasn't insulted that dialectic had been brought down to the level of rhetoric. He was outraged that rhetoric had been brought down to the level of dialectic. Such was the confusion at the time.
The person to clear all this up, of course, was Plato, and fortunately he was the next to appear at the round table with the crack running across the middle in the dim dreary room across from the hospital building in South Chicago.
We follow the coast now, cold, wet and depressed. The rain has let up, temporarily, but the sky shows no hope. At one point I see a beach and some people walking on it in the wet sand. I'm tired and so I stop.
As he gets off, Chris says, "What are we stopping for?"
"I'm tired," I say. The wind blows cold off the ocean and where it has formed dunes, now wet and dark from the rain that must just have ended here, I find a place to lie down, and this makes me a little warmer.
I don't sleep though. A little girl appears over the top of the dune looking as though she wants me to come and play. After a while she goes away.
In time Chris comes back and wants to go. He says he has found some funny plants out on the rocks that have feelers which pull in when you touch them. I go with him and see between rises of waves on the rocks that they are sea anemones, which are not plants but animals. I tell him the tentacles can paralyze small fish. The tide must be all the way out or we wouldn't see these, I say. From the corner of my eye I see the little girl on the other side of the rocks has picked up a starfish. Her parents are carrying some starfish too.
We get on the motorcycle and move south. Sometimes the rain gets heavy and I snap on the bubble so it doesn't sting my face, but I don't like this and take it off when the rain dies away. We should reach Arcata before dark but I don't want to go too fast on this wet road.
I think it was Coleridge who said everyone is either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. People who can't stand Aristotle's endless specificity of detail are natural lovers of Plato's soaring generalities. People who can't stand the eternal lofty idealism of Plato welcome the down-to-earth facts of Aristotle. Plato is the essential Buddha-seeker who appears again and again in each generation, moving onward and upward toward the "one." Aristotle is the eternal motorcycle mechanic who prefers the "many." I myself am pretty much Aristotelian in this sense, preferring to find the Buddha in the quality of the facts around me, but Phædrus was clearly a Platonist by temperament and when the classes shifted to Plato he was greatly relieved. His Quality and Plato's Good were so similar that if it hadn't been for some notes Phædrus left I might have thought they were identical. But he denied it, and in time I came to see how important this denial was.
The course in the Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods was not concerned with Plato's notion of the Good, however; it was concerned with Plato's notion of rhetoric. Rhetoric, Plato spells out very clearly, is in no way connected with the Good; rhetoric is "the Bad." The people Plato hates most, next to tyrants, are rhetoricians.
The first of the Platonic Dialogues assigned is the Gorgias, and Phædrus has a sense of having arrived. This at last is where he wants to be.
All along he has had a feeling of being swept forward by forces he doesn't understand...Messianic forces. October has come and gone. Days have become phantasmal and incoherent, except in terms of Quality. Nothing matters except that he has a new and shattering and world-shaking truth about to be born, and like it or not, the world is morally obligated to accept it.
In the dialogue, Gorgias is the name of a Sophist whom Socrates cross-examines. Socrates knows very well what Gorgias does for a living and how he does it, but he starts his Twenty Questions dialectic by asking Gorgias with what rhetoric is concerned. Gorgias answers that it is concerned with discourse. In answer to another question he says that its end is to persuade. In answer to another question he says its place is in the law courts and other assemblies. And in answer to still another question he says its subject is the just and the unjust. All this, which is simply Gorgias' description of what people called Sophists have tended to do, now becomes subtly rendered by Socrates' dialectic into something else. Rhetoric has become an object, and as an object has parts. And the parts have relationships to one another and these relations are immutable. One sees quite clearly in this dialogue how the analytic knife of Socrates hacks Gorgias' art into pieces. What is even more important, one sees that the pieces are the basis of Aristotle's art of rhetoric.
Socrates had been one of Phædrus' childhood heroes and it shocked and angered him to see this dialogue taking place. He filled the margins of the text with answers of his own. These must have frustrated him greatly, because there was no way of knowing how the dialogue would have gone if these answers had been made. At one place Socrates asks to what class of things do the words which Rhetoric uses relate. Gorgias answers, "The Greatest and the Best." Phædrus, no doubt recognizing Quality in this answer, has written "True!" in the margin. But Socrates responds that this answer is ambiguous. He is still in the dark. "Liar!" writes Phædrus in the margin, and he cross-references a page in another dialogue where Socrates makes it clear he could not have been "in the dark."
Socrates is not using dialectic to understand rhetoric, he is using it to destroy it, or at least to bring it into disrepute, and so his questions are not real questions at all...they are just word-traps which Gorgias and his fellow rhetoricians fall into. Phædrus is quite incensed by all this and wishes he were there.
In class, the Professor of Philosophy, noting Phædrus' apparent good behavior and diligence, has decided he may not be such a bad student after all. This is a second mistake. He has decided to play a little game with Phædrus by asking him what he thinks of cookery. Socrates has demonstrated to Gorgias that both rhetoric and cooking are branches of pandering...pimping...because they appeal to the emotions rather than true knowledge.
In response to the Professor's question, Phædrus gives Socrates' answer that cookery is a branch of pandering.
There's a titter from one of the women in the class which displeases Phædrus because he knows the Professor is trying for a dialectical hold on him similar to the kind Socrates gets on his opponents, and his answer is not intended to be funny but simply to throw off the dialectical hold the Professor is trying to get. Phædrus is quite ready to recite in detail the exact arguments Socrates uses to establish this view.
But that isn't what the Professor wants. He wants to have a dialectical discussion in class in which he, Phædrus, is the rhetorician and is thrown by the force of dialectic. The Professor frowns and tries again. "No. I mean, do you really think that a well-cooked meal served in the best of restaurants is really something that we should turn down?"
Phædrus asks, "You mean my personal opinion?" For months now, since the innocent student disappeared, there have been no personal opinions ventured in this class.
"Yaaas," the Professor says.
Phædrus is silent and tries to work out an answer. Everyone is waiting. His thoughts move up to lightning speed, winnowing through the dialectic, playing one argumentative chess opening after another, seeing that each one loses, and moving to the next one, faster and faster...but all the class witnesses is silence. Finally, in embarrassment, the Professor drops the question and begins the lecture.
But Phædrus doesn't hear the lecture. His mind races on and on, through the permutations of the dialectic, on and on, hitting things, finding new branches and sub-branches, exploding with anger at each new discovery of the viciousness and meanness and lowness of this "art" called dialectic. The Professor, looking at his expression, becomes quite alarmed, and continues the lecture in a kind of panic. Phædrus' mind races on and on and then on further, seeing now at last a kind of evil thing, an evil deeply entrenched in himself, which pretends to try to understand love and beauty and truth and wisdom but whose real purpose is never to understand them, whose real purpose is always to usurp them and enthrone itself. Dialectic...the usurper. That is what he sees. The parvenu, muscling in on all that is Good and seeking to contain it and control it. Evil. The Professor calls the lecture to an early end and leaves the room hurriedly.
After the students have filed out silently Phædrus sits alone at the huge round table until the sun through the sooty air beyond the window disappears and the room becomes grey and then dark.
The next day he is at the library waiting for it to open and when it does he begins to read furiously, back behind Plato for the first time, into what little is known of those rhetoricians he so despised. And what he discovers begins to confirm what he has already intuited from his thoughts the evening before.
Plato's condemnation of the Sophists is one which many scholars have already taken with great misgivings. The Chairman of the committee himself has suggested that critics who are not certain what Plato meant should be equally uncertain of what Socrates' antagonists in the dialogues meant. When it is known that Plato put his own words in Socrates' mouth (Aristotle says this) there should be no reason to doubt that he could have put his own words into other mouths too.
Fragments by other ancients seemed to lead to other evaluations of the Sophists. Many of the older Sophists were selected as "ambassadors" of their cities, certainly no office of disrespect. The name Sophist was even applied without disparagement to Socrates and Plato themselves. It has even been suggested by some later historians that the reason Plato hated the Sophists so was that they could not compare with his master, Socrates, who was in actuality the greatest Sophist of them all. This last explanation is interesting, Phædrus thinks, but unsatisfactory. You don't abhor a school of which your master is a member. What was Plato's real purpose in this? Phædrus reads further and further into pre-Socratic Greek thought to find out, and eventually comes to the view that Plato's hatred of the rhetoricians was part of a much larger struggle in which the reality of the Good, represented by the Sophists, and the reality of the True, represented by the dialecticians, were engaged in a huge struggle for the future mind of man. Truth won, the Good lost, and that is why today we have so little difficulty accepting the reality of truth and so much difficulty accepting the reality of Quality, even though there is no more agreement in one area than in the other.
To understand how Phædrus arrives at this requires some explanation:
One must first get over the idea that the time span between the last caveman and the first Greek philosophers was short. The absence of any history for this period sometimes gives this illusion. But before the Greek philosophers arrived on the scene, for a period of at least five times all our recorded history since the Greek philosophers, there existed civilizations in an advanced state of development. They had villages and cities, vehicles, houses, marketplaces, bounded fields, agricultural implements and domestic animals, and led a life quite as rich and varied as that in most rural areas of the world today. And like people in those areas today they saw no reason to write it all down, or if they did, they wrote it on materials that have never been found. Thus we know nothing about them. The "Dark Ages" were merely the resumption of a natural way of life that had been momentarily interrupted by the Greeks.
Early Greek philosophy represented the first conscious search for what was imperishable in the affairs of men. Up to then what was imperishable was within the domain of the Gods, the myths. But now, as a result of the growing impartiality of the Greeks to the world around them, there was an increasing power of abstraction which permitted them to regard the old Greek mythos not as revealed truth but as imaginative creations of art. This consciousness, which had never existed anywhere before in the world, spelled a whole new level of transcendence for the Greek civilization.
But the mythos goes on, and that which destroys the old mythos becomes the new mythos, and the new mythos under the first Ionian philosophers became transmuted into philosophy, which enshrined permanence in a new way. Permanence was no longer the exclusive domain of the Immortal Gods. It was also to be found within Immortal Principles, of which our current law of gravity has become one.
The Immortal Principle was first called water by Thales. Anaximenes called it air. The Pythagoreans called it number and were thus the first to see the Immortal Principle as something nonmaterial. Heraclitus called the Immortal Principle fire and introduced change as part of the Principle. He said the world exists as a conflict and tension of opposites. He said there is a One and there is a Many and the One is the universal law which is immanent in all things. Anaxagoras was the first to identify the One as nous, meaning "mind."
Parmenides made it clear for the first time that the Immortal Principle, the One, Truth, God, is separate from appearance and from opinion, and the importance of this separation and its effect upon subsequent history cannot be overstated. It's here that the classic mind, for the first time, took leave of its romantic origins and said, "The Good and the True are not necessarily the same," and goes its separate way. Anaxagoras and Parmenides had a listener named Socrates who carried their ideas into full fruition.
What is essential to understand at this point is that until now there was no such thing as mind and matter, subject and object, form and substance. Those divisions are just dialectical inventions that came later. The modern mind sometimes tends to balk at the thought of these dichotomies being inventions and says, "Well, the divisions were there for the Greeks to discover," and you have to say, "Where were they? Point to them!" And the modern mind gets a little confused and wonders what this is all about anyway, and still believes the divisions were there.
But they weren't, as Phædrus said. They are just ghosts, immortal gods of the modern mythos which appear to us to be real because we are in that mythos. But in reality they are just as much an artistic creation as the anthropomorphic Gods they replaced.
The pre-Socratic philosophers mentioned so far all sought to establish a universal Immortal Principle in the external world they found around them. Their common effort united them into a group that may be called Cosmologists. They all agreed that such a principle existed but their disagreements as to what it was seemed irresolvable. The followers of Heraclitus insisted the Immortal Principle was change and motion. But Parmenides' disciple, Zeno, proved through a series of paradoxes that any perception of motion and change is illusory. Reality had to be motionless.
The resolution of the arguments of the Cosmologists came from a new direction entirely, from a group Phædrus seemed to feel were early humanists. They were teachers, but what they sought to teach was not principles, but beliefs of men. Their object was not any single absolute truth, but the improvement of men. All principles, all truths, are relative, they said. "Man is the measure of all things." These were the famous teachers of "wisdom," the Sophists of ancient Greece.
To Phædrus, this backlight from the conflict between the Sophists and the Cosmologists adds an entirely new dimension to the Dialogues of Plato. Socrates is not just expounding noble ideas in a vacuum. He is in the middle of a war between those who think truth is absolute and those who think truth is relative. He is fighting that war with everything he has. The Sophists are the enemy.
Now Plato's hatred of the Sophists makes sense. He and Socrates are defending the Immortal Principle of the Cosmologists against what they consider to be the decadence of the Sophists. Truth. Knowledge. That which is independent of what anyone thinks about it. The ideal that Socrates died for. The ideal that Greece alone possesses for the first time in the history of the world. It is still a very fragile thing. It can disappear completely. Plato abhors and damns the Sophists without restraint, not because they are low and immoral people...there are obviously much lower and more immoral people in Greece he completely ignores. He damns them because they threaten mankind's first beginning grasp of the idea of truth. That's what it is all about.
The results of Socrates' martyrdom and Plato's unexcelled prose that followed are nothing less than the whole world of Western man as we know it. If the idea of truth had been allowed to perish unrediscovered by the Renaissance it's unlikely that we would be much beyond the level of prehistoric man today. The ideas of science and technology and other systematically organized efforts of man are dead-centered on it. It is the nucleus of it all.
And yet, Phædrus understands, what he is saying about Quality is somehow opposed to all this. It seems to agree much more closely with the Sophists.
"Man is the measure of all things." Yes, that's what he is saying about Quality. Man is not the source of all things, as the subjective idealists would say. Nor is he the passive observer of all things, as the objective idealists and materialists would say. The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things. The measure of all things...it fits. And they taught rhetoric...that fits.
The one thing that doesn't fit what he says and what Plato said about the Sophists is their profession of teaching virtue. All accounts indicate this was absolutely central to their teaching, but how are you going to teach virtue if you teach the relativity of all ethical ideas? Virtue, if it implies anything at all, implies an ethical absolute. A person whose idea of what is proper varies from day to day can be admired for his broadmindedness, but not for his virtue. Not, at least, as Phædrus understands the word. And how could they get virtue out of rhetoric? This is never explained anywhere. Something is missing.
His search for it takes him through a number of histories of ancient Greece, which as usual he reads detective style, looking only for facts that may help him and discarding all those that don't fit. And he is reading H. D. F. Kitto's The Greeks, a blue and white paperback which he has bought for fifty cents, and he has reached a passage that describes "the very soul of the Homeric hero," the legendary figure of predecadent, pre-Socratic Greece. The flash of illumination that follows these pages is so intense the heroes are never erased and I can see them with little effort of recall.
The Iliad is the story of the siege of Troy, which will fall in the dust, and of its defenders who will be killed in battle. The wife of Hector, the leader, says to him: "Your strength will be your destruction; and you have no pity either for your infant son or for your unhappy wife who will soon be your widow. For soon the Acheans will set upon you and kill you; and if I lose you it would be better for me to die."
Her husband replies:
"Well do I know this, and I am sure of it: that day is coming when the holy city of Troy will perish, and Priam and the people of wealthy Priam. But my grief is not so much for the Trojans, nor for Hecuba herself, nor for Priam the King, nor for my many noble brothers, who will be slain by the foe and will lie in the dust, as for you, when one of the bronze-clad Acheans will carry you away in tears and end your days of freedom. Then you may live in Argos, and work at the loom in another woman's house, or perhaps carry water for a woman of Messene or Hyperia, sore against your will: but hard compulsion will lie upon you. And then a man will say as he sees you weeping, `This was the wife of Hector, who was the noblest in battle of the horse-taming Trojans, when they were fighting around Ilion.' This is what they will say: and it will be fresh grief for you, to fight against slavery bereft of a husband like that. But may I be dead, may the earth be heaped over my grave before I hear your cries, and of the violence done to you."
So spake shining Hector and held out his arms to his son. But the child screamed and shrank back into the bosom of the well-girdled nurse, for he took fright at the sight of his dear father...at the bronze and the crest of the horsehair which he saw swaying terribly from the top of the helmet. His father laughed aloud, and his lady mother too. At once shining Hector took the helmet off his head and laid it on the ground, and when he had kissed his dear son and dandled him in his arms, he prayed to Zeus and to the other Gods: Zeus and ye other Gods, grant that this my son may be, as I am, most glorious among the Trojans and a man of might, and greatly rule in Ilion. And may they say, as he returns from war, `He is far better than his father.'
"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it...duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate `virtue' but is in Greek areté, `excellence' -- we shall have much to say about areté. It runs through Greek life."
There, Phædrus thinks, is a definition of Quality that had existed a thousand years before the dialecticians ever thought to put it to word-traps. Anyone who cannot understand this meaning without logical definiens and definendum and differentia is either lying or so out of touch with the common lot of humanity as to be unworthy of receiving any reply whatsoever. Phædrus is fascinated too by the description of the motive of "duty toward self " which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the "one" of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the ancient Greeks be identical?
Then Phædrus feels a tugging to read the passage again, and he does so and then -- what's this?! -- "That which we translate `virtue ' but is in Greek `excellence."'
Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching! Not ethical relativism. Not pristine "virtue." But areté. Excellence. Dharma! Before the Church of Reason. Before substance. Before form. Before mind and matter. Before dialectic itself. Quality had been absolute. Those first teachers of the Western world were teaching Quality, and the medium they had chosen was that of rhetoric. He has been doing it right all along.
The rain has lifted enough so that we can see the horizon now, a sharp line demarking the light grey of the sky and the darker grey of the water.
Kitto had more to say about this areté of the ancient Greeks. "When we meet areté in Plato," he said, "we translate it `virtue' and consequently miss all the flavour of it. `Virtue,' at least in modern English, is almost entirely a moral word; areté, on the other hand, is used indifferently in all the categories, and simply means excellence."
Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youthat boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté.
Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency...or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.
Phædrus remembered a line from Thoreau: "You never gain something but that you lose something." And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth...but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.
One can acquire some peace of mind from just watching that horizon. It's a geometer's line -- completely flat, steady and known. Perhaps it's the original line that gave rise to Euclid's understanding of lineness; a reference line from which was derived the original calculations of the first astronomers that charted the stars.
Phædrus knew, with the same mathematical assurance Poincaré had felt when he resolved the Fuchsian equations, that this Greek areté was the missing piece that completed the pattern, but he read on now for completion.
The halo around the heads of Plato and Socrates is now gone. He sees that they consistently are doing exactly that which they accuse the Sophists of doing...using emotionally persuasive language for the ulterior purpose of making the weaker argument, the case for dialectic, appear the stronger. We always condemn most in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves.
But why? Phædrus wondered. Why destroy areté? And no sooner had he asked the question than the answer came to him. Plato hadn't tried to destroy areté. He had encapsulated it; made a permanent, fixed Idea out of it; had converted it to a rigid, immobile Immortal Truth. He made areté the Good, the highest form, the highest Idea of all. It was subordinate only to Truth itself, in a synthesis of all that had gone before.
That was why the Quality that Phædrus had arrived at in the classroom had seemed so close to Plato's Good. Plato's Good was taken from the rhetoricians. Phædrus searched, but could find no previous cosmologists who had talked about the Good. That was from the Sophists. The difference was that Plato's Good was a fixed and eternal and unmoving Idea, whereas for the rhetoricians it was not an Idea at all. The Good was not a form of reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, ultimately unknowable in any kind of fixed, rigid way.
Why had Plato done this? Phædrus saw Plato's philosophy as a result of two syntheses.
The first synthesis tried to resolve differences between the Heraclitans and the followers of Parmenides. Both Cosmological schools upheld Immortal Truth. In order to win the battle for Truth in which areté is subordinate, against his enemies who would teach areté in which truth is subordinate, Plato must first resolve the internal conflict among the Truth-believers. To do this he says that Immortal Truth is not just change, as the followers of Heraclitus said. It is not just changeless being, as the followers of Parmenides said. Both these Immortal Truths coexist as Ideas, which are changeless, and Appearance, which changes. This is why Plato finds it necessary to separate, for example, "horseness" from "horse" and say that horseness is real and fixed and true and unmoving, while the horse is a mere, unimportant, transitory phenomenon. Horseness is pure Idea. The horse that one sees is a collection of changing Appearances, a horse that can flux and move around all it wants to and even die on the spot without disturbing horseness, which is the Immortal Principle and can go on forever in the path of the Gods of old.
Plato's second synthesis is the incorporation of the Sophists' areté into this dichotomy of Ideas and Appearance. He gives it the position of highest honor, subordinate only to Truth itself and the method by which Truth is arrived at, the dialectic. But in his attempt to unite the Good and the True by making the Good the highest Idea of all, Plato is nevertheless usurping areté's place with dialectically determined truth. Once the Good has been contained as a dialectical idea it is no trouble for another philosopher to come along and show by dialectical methods that areté, the Good, can be more advantageously demoted to a lower position within a "true" order of things, more compatible with the inner workings of dialectic. Such a philosopher was not long in coming. His name was Aristotle.
Aristotle felt that the mortal horse of Appearance which ate grass and took people places and gave birth to little horses deserved far more attention than Plato was giving it. He said that the horse is not mere Appearance. The Appearances cling to something which is independent of them and which, like Ideas, is unchanging. The "something" that Appearances cling to he named "substance." And at that moment, and not until that moment, our modern scientific understanding of reality was born.
Under Aristotle the "Reader," whose knowledge of Trojan areté seems conspicuously absent, forms and substances dominate all. The Good is a relatively minor branch of knowledge called ethics; reason, logic, knowledge are his primary concerns. Areté is dead and science, logic and the University as we know it today have been given their founding charter: to find and invent an endless proliferation of forms about the substantive elements of the world and call these forms knowledge, and transmit these forms to future generations. As "the system."
And rhetoric. Poor rhetoric, once "learning" itself, now becomes reduced to the teaching of mannerisms and forms, Aristotelian forms, for writing, as if these mattered. Five spelling errors, Phædrus remembered, or one error of sentence completeness, or three misplaced modifiers, or -- it went on and on. Any of these was sufficient to inform a student that he did not know rhetoric. After all, that's what rhetoric is, isn't it? Of course there's "empty rhetoric," that is, rhetoric that has emotional appeal without proper subservience to dialectical truth, but we don't want any of that, do we? That would make us like those liars and cheats and defilers of ancient Greece, the Sophists...remember them? We'll learn the Truth in our other academic courses, and then learn a little rhetoric so that we can write it nicely and impress our bosses who will advance us to higher positions.
Forms and mannerisms...hated by the best, loved by the worst. Year after year, decade after decade of little front-row "readers," mimics with pretty smiles and neat pens, out to get their Aristotelian A's while those who possess the real areté sit silently in back of them wondering what is wrong with themselves that they cannot like this subject.
And today in those few Universities that bother to teach classic ethics anymore, students, following the lead of Aristotle and Plato, endlessly play around with the question that in ancient Greece never needed to be asked: "What is the Good? And how do we define it? Since different people have defined it differently, how can we know there is any good? Some say the good is found in happiness, but how do we know what happiness is? And how can happiness be defined? Happiness and good are not objective terms. We cannot deal with them scientifically. And since they aren't objective they just exist in your mind. So if you want to be happy just change your mind. Ha-ha, ha-ha."
Aristotelian ethics, Aristotelian definitions, Aristotelian logic, Aristotelian forms, Aristotelian substances, Aristotelian rhetoric, Aristotelian laughter -- ha-ha, ha-ha.
And the bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall and Macedonia through its decline and fall. Through the decline and death of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and the modern states...buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction and such evil that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done. --
The road has become so dark I have to turn on my headlight now to follow it through these mists and rain.
At Arcata we enter a small diner, cold and wet, and eat chili and beans and drink coffee.
Then we are back on the road again, freeway now, fast and wet. We'll go to within an easy day's distance from San Francisco and then stop.
The freeway picks up strange reflections in the rain from oncoming lights across the median. The rain hits like pellets against the bubble, which refracts the lights in strange circular and then semicircular waves as they go by. Twentieth century. It's all around us now, this twentieth century. Time to finish this twentieth-century odyssey of Phædrus and be done with it.
The next time the class in Ideas and Methods 251, Rhetoric, met at the large round table in South Chicago, a department secretary announced that the Professor of Philosophy was ill. The following week he was still ill. The somewhat bewildered remnants of the class, which had dwindled to a third of its size, went on their own across the street for coffee.
At the coffee table a student whom Phædrus had marked as bright but intellectually snobbish said, "I consider this one of the most unpleasant classes I have ever been in." He seemed to look down on Phædrus with womanish peevishness as a spoiler of what should have been a nice experience.
"I thoroughly agree," Phædrus said. He waited for some sort of attack, but it didn't come.
The other students seemed to sense that Phædrus was the cause of all this but they had nothing to go on. Then an older woman at the other end of the coffee table asked why he was attending the class.
"I'm in the process of trying to discover that," Phædrus said.
"Do you attend full-time?" she asked.
"No, I teach full-time at Navy Pier."
"What do you teach?"
She stopped talking and everyone at the table looked at him and became silent.
November wore on. The leaves, which had turned a beautiful sunlit orange in October, fell from the trees, leaving barren branches to meet the cold winds from the north. A first snow fell, then melted, and a drab city waited for winter to come.
In the Professor of Philosophy's absence, another Platonic dialogue had been assigned. Its title was Phædrus, which meant nothing to our Phædrus since he didn't call himself by that name. The Greek Phædrus is not a Sophist but a young orator who is a foil for Socrates in this dialogue, which is about the nature of love and the possibility of philosophic rhetoric. Phædrus doesn't appear to be very bright, and has an awful sense of rhetorical quality, since he quotes from memory a really bad speech by the orator Lysias. But one soon learns that this bad speech is simply a setup, an easy act for Socrates to follow with a much better speech of his own, and following that with a still better speech, one of the finest in all the Dialogues of Plato.
Beyond that, the only remarkable thing about Phædrus is his personality. Plato often names Socrates' foils for characteristics of their personality. A young, overtalkative, innocent and good-natured foil in the Gorgias is named Polus, which is Greek for "colt." Phædrus' personality is different from this. He is unallied to any particular group. He prefers the solitude of the country to the city. He is aggressive to the point of being dangerous. At one point he threatens Socrates with violence. Phædrus, in Greek, means "wolf." In this dialogue he is carried away by Socrates' discourse on love and is tamed.
Our Phædrus reads the dialogue and is tremendously impressed by the magnificent poetic imagery. But he's not tamed by it because he also smells in it a faint odor of hypocrisy. The speech is not an end in itself, but is being used to condemn that same affective domain of understanding it makes its rhetorical appeal to. The passions are characterized as the destroyer of understanding, and Phædrus wonders if this is where the condemnation of the passions so deeply buried in Western thought got its start. Probably not. The tension between ancient Greek thought and emotion is described elsewhere as basic to Greek makeup and culture. Interesting though.
The next week the Professor of Philosophy again does not appear, and Phædrus uses the time to catch up on his work at the University of Illinois.
The next week, in the University of Chicago bookstore across the street from where he is about to attend class, Phædrus sees two dark eyes that stare at him steadily through a shelf of books. When the face appears he recognizes it as the face of the innocent student who had been verbally beaten up earlier in the quarter and had disappeared. The face looks as though the student knows something Phædrus doesn't know. Phædrus walks over to talk, but the face retreats and goes out the door, leaving Phædrus puzzled. And on edge. Perhaps he's just fatigued and jumpy. The exhaustion of teaching at Navy Pier on top of the effort to outflank the whole body of Western academic thought at the University of Chicago is forcing him to work and study twenty hours a day with inadequate attention to food or exercise. It could be just fatigue that makes him think something is odd about that face.
But when he walks across the street to the class, the face follows about twenty paces behind. Something is up.
Phædrus enters the classroom and waits. Soon, there comes the student again, back into the room after all these weeks. He can't expect to get credit now. The student looks at Phædrus with a half-smile. He's smiling at something, all right.
At the doorway there are some footsteps, and then Phædrus suddenly knows...and his legs turn rubbery and his hands start to shake. Smiling benignly in the doorway, stands none other than the Chairman for the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods at the University of Chicago. He is taking over the class.
This is it. This is where they throw Phædrus out the front door.
Courtly, grand, with imperial magnanimity the Chairman stands in the doorway for a moment, then talks to a student who seems to know him. He smiles, while looking away from the student, around the classroom, as if to find another face that is familiar to him, nods and then chuckles a little, waiting for the bell to ring.
That's why that kid is here. They've explained to him why they accidentally beat him up, and just to show what good guys they are they're going to let him have a ringside seat while they beat up Phædrus.
How are they going to do it? Phædrus already knows. First they are going to destroy his status dialectically in front of the class by showing how little he knows about Plato and Aristotle. That won't be any trouble. Obviously they know a hundred times more about Plato and Aristotle than he ever will. They've been at it all their lives.
Then, when they have thoroughly cut him up dialectically, they will suggest that he either shape up or get out. Then they are going to ask some more questions, and he won't know the answers to those either. Then they are going to suggest that his performance is so abominable that he not bother to attend, but leave the class right now. There are variations possible but this is the basic format. It's so easy.
Well, he has learned a lot, which is what he has come for. He can do his thesis in some other way. With that thought the rubbery feeling leaves him and he calms down.
Phædrus has grown a beard since the Chairman last saw him, and so is still unidentified. No long advantage. The Chairman will locate him soon enough.
The Chairman lays his coat down carefully, takes a chair on the opposite side of the large round table, sits, and then brings out an old pipe and stuffs it for what must be nearly a half a minute. One can see he has done this many times before.
In a moment of attention to the class he studies faces with a smiling hypnotic gaze, sensing the mood, but feeling it is not just right. He stuffs the pipe some more, but without hurry.
Soon the moment arrives, he lights the pipe, and before long there is in the classroom an odor of smoke.
At last he speaks:
"It is my understanding," he says, "that today we are to begin discussion of the immortal Phædrus." He looks at each student separately. "Is that correct?"
Members of the class assure him timidly that it is. His persona is overwhelming.
The Chairman then apologizes for the absence of the previous Professor, and describes the format of what will follow. Since he already knows the dialogue himself he will elicit from the class answers that will show how well they have studied it.
That's the best way to do it, Phædrus thinks. That way one can learn to know the individual students. Fortunately Phædrus has studied the dialogue so carefully it is almost memorized.
The Chairman is right. It is an immortal dialogue, strange and puzzling at first, but then hitting you harder and harder, like truth itself. What Phædrus has been talking about as Quality, Socrates appears to have described as the soul, self-moving, the source of all things. There is no contradiction. There never really can be between the core terms of monistic philosophies. The One in India has got to be the same as the One in Greece. If it's not, you've got two. The only disagreements among the monists concern the attributes of the One, not the One itself. Since the One is the source of all things and includes all things in it, it cannot be defined in terms of those things, since no matter what thing you use to define it, the thing will always describe something less than the One itself. The One can only be described allegorically, through the use of analogy, of figures of imagination and speech. Socrates chooses a heaven-and-earth analogy, showing how individuals are drawn toward the One by a chariot drawn by two horses. --
But the Chairman now directs a question to the student next to Phædrus. He is baiting him a little, provoking him to attack.
The student, whose identity is mistaken, doesn't attack, and the Chairman with great disgust and frustration finally dismisses him with a rebuke that he should have read the material better.
Phædrus' turn. He has calmed down tremendously. He must now explain the dialogue.
"If I may be permitted to begin again in my own way," he says, partly to conceal the fact that he didn't hear what the previous student said.
The Chairman, seeing this as a further rebuke to the student next to him, smiles and says contemptuously it is certainly a good idea.
Phædrus proceeds. "I believe that in this dialogue the person of Phædrus is characterized as a wolf. "
He has delivered this quite loudly, with a flash of anger, and the Chairman almost jumps. Score!
"Yes," the Chairman says, and a gleam in his eye shows he now recognizes who his bearded assailant is. "Phædrus in Greek does mean `wolf.' That's a very acute observation." He begins to recover his composure. "Proceed."
"Phædrus meets Socrates, who knows only the ways of the city, and leads him into the country, whereupon he begins to recite a speech of the orator, Lysias, whom he admires. Socrates asks him to read it and Phædrus does."
"Stop!" says the Chairman, who has now completely recovered his composure. "You are giving us the plot, not the dialogue." He calls on the next student.
None of the students seems to know to the Chairman's satisfaction what the dialogue is about. And so with mock sadness he says they must all read more thoroughly but this time he will help them by taking on the burden of explaining the dialogue himself. This provides an overwhelming relief to the tension he has so carefully built up and the entire class is in the palm of his hand.
The Chairman proceeds to reveal the meaning of the dialogue with complete attention. Phædrus listens with deep engagement.
After a time something begins to disengage him a little. A false note of some kind has crept in. At first he doesn't see what it is, but then he becomes aware that the Chairman has completely bypassed Socrates' description of the One and has jumped ahead to the allegory of the chariot and the horses.
In this allegory the seeker, trying to reach the One,
is drawn by two horses, one white and noble and temperate, and the other surly, stubborn, passionate and black. The one is forever aiding him in his upward journey to the portals of heaven, the other is forever confounding him. The Chairman has not stated it yet, but he is at the point at which he must now announce that the white horse is temperate reason, the black horse is dark passion, emotion. He is at the point at which these must be described, but the false note suddenly becomes a chorus.
He backs up and restates that "Now Socrates has sworn to the Gods that he is telling the Truth. He has taken an oath to speak the Truth, and if what follows is not the Truth he has forfeited his own soul."
TRAP! He's using the dialogue to prove the holiness of reason! Once that's established he can move down into enquiries of what reason is, and then, lo and behold, there we are in Aristotle's domain again!
Phædrus raises his hand, palm flat out, elbow on the table. Where before this hand was shaking, it is now deadly calm. Phædrus senses that he now is formally signing his own death warrant here, but knows he will sign another kind of death warrant if he takes his hand down.
The Chairman sees the hand, is surprised and disturbed by it, but acknowledges it. Then the message is delivered.
Phædrus says, "All this is just an analogy."
Silence. And then confusion appears on the Chairman's face. "What?" he says. The spell of his performance is broken.
"This entire description of the chariot and horses is just an analogy."
"What?" he says again, then loudly, "It is the truth! Socrates has sworn to the Gods that it is the truth!"
Phædrus replies, "Socrates himself says it is an analogy."
"If you will read the dialogue you will find that Socrates specifically states it is the Truth!"
"Yes, but prior to that -- in, I believe, two paragraphs -- he has stated that it is an analogy."
The text is on the table to consult but the Chairman has enough sense not to consult it. If he does and Phædrus is right, his classroom face is completely demolished. He has told the class no one has read the book thoroughly.
Rhetoric, 1; Dialectic, 0.
Fantastic, Phædrus thinks, that he should have remembered that. It just demolishes the whole dialectical position. That may just be the whole show right there. Of course it's an analogy. Everything is an analogy. But the dialecticians don't know that. That's why the Chairman missed that statement of Socrates. Phædrus has caught it and remembered it, because if Socrates hadn't stated it he wouldn't have been telling the "Truth."
No one sees it yet, but they will soon enough. The Chairman of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods has just been shot down in his own classroom.
Now he is speechless. He can't think of a word to say. The silence which so built his image at the beginning of the class is now destroying it. He doesn't understand from where the shot has come. He has never confronted a living Sophist. Only dead ones.
Now he tries to grasp onto something, but there is nothing to grasp onto. His own momentum carries him forward into the abyss, and when he finally finds words they are the words of another kind of person; a schoolboy who has forgotten his lesson, has gotten it wrong, but would like our indulgence anyway.
He tries to bluff the class with the statement he made before that no one has studied very well, but the student to Phædrus' right shakes his head at him. Obviously someone has.
The Chairman falters and hesitates, acts afraid of his class and does not really engage them. Phædrus wonders what the consequences of this will be.
Then he sees a bad thing happen. The beat-up innocent student who has watched him earlier now is no longer so innocent. He is sneering at the Chairman and asking him sarcastic and insinuating questions. The Chairman, already crippled, is now being killed -- but then Phædrus realizes this was what was intended for himself.
He can't feel sorry, just disgusted. When a shepherd goes to kill a wolf, and takes his dog to see the sport, he should take care to avoid mistakes. The dog has certain relationships to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten.
A girl rescues the Chairman by asking easy questions. He receives the questions with gratitude, answers each at great length and slowly recovers himself.
Then the question is asked him, "What is dialectic?"
He thinks about it, and then, by God, turns to Phædrus and asks if he would care to answer.
"You mean my personal opinion?" Phædrus asks.
"No -- let us say, Aristotle's opinion."
No subtleties now. He is just going to get Phædrus on his own territory and let him have it.
"As best I know -- " Phædrus says, and pauses.
"Yes?" The Chairman is all smiles. Everything is all set.
"As best I know, Aristotle's opinion is that dialectic comes before everything else."
The Chairman's expression goes from unction to shock to rage in one-half second flat. It does! his face shouts, but he never says it. The trapper trapped again. He can't kill Phædrus on a statement taken from his own article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Rhetoric, 2; Dialectic, 0.
"And from the dialectic come the forms," Phædrus continues, "and from. -- " But the Chairman cuts it off. He sees it cannot go his way and dismisses it.
He shouldn't have cut it off, Phædrus thinks to himself. Were he a real Truth-seeker and not a propagandist for a particular point of view he would not. He might learn something. Once it's stated that "the dialectic comes before anything else," this statement itself becomes a dialectical entity, subject to dialectical question.
Phædrus would have asked, What evidence do we have that the dialectical question-and-answer method of arriving at truth comes before anything else? We have none whatsoever. And when the statement is isolated and itself subject to scrutiny it becomes patently ridiculous. Here is this dialectic, like Newton's law of gravity, just sitting by itself in the middle of nowhere, giving birth to the universe, hey? It's asinine.
Dialectic, which is the parent of logic, came itself from rhetoric. Rhetoric is in turn the child of the myths and poetry of ancient Greece. That is so historically, and that is so by any application of common sense. The poetry and the myths are the response of a prehistoric people to the universe around them made on the basis of Quality. It is Quality, not dialectic, which is the generator of everything we know.
The class ends, the Chairman stands by the door answering questions, and Phædrus almost goes up to say something but does not. A lifetime of blows tends to make a person unenthusiastic about any unnecessary interchange that might lead to more. Nothing friendly has been said or even hinted at and much hostility has been shown.
Phædrus the wolf. It fits. Walking back to his apartment with light steps he sees it fits more and more. He wouldn't be happy if they were overjoyed with the thesis. Hostility is really his element. It really is. Phædrus the wolf, yes, down from the mountains to prey upon the poor innocent citizens of this intellectual community. It fits all right.
The Church of Reason, like all institutions of the System, is based not on individual strength but upon individual weakness. What's really demanded in the Church of Reason is not ability, but inability. Then you are considered teachable. A truly able person is always a threat. Phædrus sees that he has thrown away a chance to integrate himself into the organization by submitting to whatever Aristotelian thing he is supposed to submit to. But that kind of opportunity seems hardly worth the bowing and scraping and intellectual prostration necessary to maintain it. It is a low-quality form of life.
For him Quality is better seen up at the timberline than here obscured by smoky windows and oceans of words, and he sees that what he is talking about can never really be accepted here because to see it one has to be free from social authority and this is an institution of social authority. Quality for sheep is what the shepherd says. And if you take a sheep and put it up at the timberline at night when the wind is roaring, that sheep will be panicked half to death and will call and call until the shepherd comes, or comes the wolf.
He makes one last attempt somehow to be nice at the next session of the class but the Chairman isn't having any. Phædrus asks him to explain a point, saying he hasn't been able to understand it. He has, but thinks it would be nice to defer a little.
The answer is "Maybe you got tired!" delivered as scathingly as possible; but it doesn't scathe. The Chairman is simply condemning in Phædrus that which he most fears in himself. As the class goes on Phædrus sits staring out the window feeling sorry for this old shepherd and his classroom sheep and dogs and sorry for himself that he will never be one of them. Then, when the bell rings, he leaves forever.
The classes at Navy Pier by contrast are going like wildfire, the students now listening intently to this strange, bearded figure from the mountains who is telling them there was such a thing as Quality in this universe and they know what it is. They don't know what to make of it, are unsure, some of them afraid of him. They can see he is somehow dangerous, but all are fascinated and want to hear more.
But Phædrus is no shepherd either and the strain of behaving like one is killing him. A strange thing that has always occurred in classes occurs again, when the unruly and wild students in the back rows have always empathized with him and been his favorites, while the more sheepish and obedient students in the front rows have always been terrorized by him and are because of this objects of his contempt, even though in the end the sheep have passed and his unruly friends in the back rows have not. And Phædrus sees, though he does not want to admit it to himself even now, he sees intuitively nevertheless that his days as a shepherd are coming to an end too. And he wonders more and more what is going to happen next.
He has always feared the silence in the classroom, the sort that has destroyed the Chairman. It is not his nature to talk and talk and talk for hours on end and it exhausts him to do this, and now, having nothing left to turn upon, he turns upon this fear.
He comes to the classroom, the bell rings, and Phædrus sits there and does not talk. For the entire hour he is silent. Some of the students challenge him a little to wake him up, but then are silent. Others are going straight out of their minds with internal panic. At the end of the hour the whole class literally breaks and runs for the door. Then he goes to his next class and the same thing happens. And the next class, and the next. Then Phædrus goes home. And he wonders more and more what is going to happen next.
His four hours of sleep have dwindled down to two and then to nothing. It is all over. He will not be going back to the study of Aristotelian rhetoric. Neither will he return to the teaching of that subject. It is over. He begins to walk the streets, his mind spinning.
The city closes in on him now, and in his strange perspective it becomes the antithesis of what he believes. The citadel not of Quality, the citadel of form and substance. Substance in the form of steel sheets and girders, substance in the form of concrete piers and roads, in the form of brick, of asphalt, of auto parts, old radios, and rails, dead carcasses of animals that once grazed the prairies. Form and substance without Quality. That is the soul of this place. Blind, huge, sinister and inhuman: seen by the light of fire flaring upward in the night from the blast furnaces in the south, through heavy coal smoke deeper and denser into the neon of BEER and PIZZA and LAUNDROMAT signs and unknown and meaningless signs along meaningless straight streets going off into other straight streets forever.
If it was all bricks and concrete, pure forms of substance, clearly and openly, he might survive. It is the little, pathetic attempts at Quality that kill. The plaster false fireplace in the apartment, shaped and waiting to contain a flame that can never exist. Or the hedge in front of the apartment building with a few square feet of grass behind it. A few square feet of grass, after Montana. If they just left out the hedge and grass it would be all right. Now it serves only to draw attention to what has been lost.
Along the streets that lead away from the apartment he can never see anything through the concrete and brick and neon but he knows that buried within it are grotesque, twisted souls forever trying the manners that will convince themselves they possess Quality, learning strange poses of style and glamour vended by dream magazines and other mass media, and paid for by the vendors of substance. He thinks of them at night alone with their advertised glamorous shoes and stockings and underclothes off, staring through the sooty windows at the grotesque shells revealed beyond them, when the poses weaken and the truth creeps in, the only truth that exists here, crying to heaven, God, there is nothing here but dead neon and cement and brick.
His time consciousness begins to go. Sometimes his thoughts race on and on at a speed seeming to approach that of light. But when he tries to make decisions relating to his surroundings, it seems to take whole minutes for a single thought to emerge. A single thought begins to grow in his mind, extracted from something he read in the dialogue Phædrus.
"And what is written well and what is written badly...need we ask Lysias or any other poet or orator who ever wrote or will write either a political or other work, in meter or out of meter, poet or prose writer, to teach us this?"
What is good, Phædrus, and what is not good...need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
It is what he was saying months before in the classroom in Montana, a message Plato and every dialectician since him had missed, since they all sought to define the Good in its intellectual relation to things. But what he sees now is how far he has come from that. He is doing the same bad things himself. His original goal was to keep Quality undefined, but in the process of battling against the dialecticians he has made statements, and each statement has been a brick in a wall of definition he himself has been building around Quality. Any attempt to develop an organized reason around an undefined quality defeats its own purpose. The organization of the reason itself defeats the quality. Everything he has been doing has been a fool's mission to begin with.
On the third day he turns a corner at an intersection of unknown streets and his vision blanks out. When it returns he is lying on the sidewalk, people moving around him as if he were not there. He gets up wearily and mercilessly drives his thoughts to remember the way back to the apartment. They are slowing down. Slowing down. This is about the time he and Chris try to find the sellers of bunk beds for the children to sleep in. After that he does not leave the apartment.
He stares at the wall in a cross-legged position upon a quilted blanket on the floor of a bedless bedroom. All bridges have been burned. There is no way back. And now there is no way forward either.
For three days and three nights, Phædrus stares at the wall of the bedroom, his thoughts moving neither forward nor backward, staying only at the instant. His wife asks if he is sick, and he does not answer. His wife becomes angry, but Phædrus listens without responding. He is aware of what she says but is no longer able to feel any urgency about it. Not only are his thoughts slowing down, but his desires too. And they slow and slow, as if gaining an imponderable mass. So heavy, so tired, but no sleep comes. He feels like a giant, a million miles tall. He feels himself extending into the universe with no limit.
He begins to discard things, encumbrances that he has carried with him all his life. He tells his wife to leave with the children, to consider themselves separated. Fear of loathsomeness and shame disappear when his urine flows not deliberately but naturally on the floor of the room. Fear of pain, the pain of the martyrs is overcome when cigarettes burn not deliberately but naturally down into his fingers until they are extinguished by blisters formed by their own heat. His wife sees his injured hands and the urine on the floor and calls for help.
But before help comes, slowly, imperceptibly at first, the entire consciousness of Phædrus begins to come apart -- to dissolve and fade away. Then gradually he no longer wonders what will happen next. He knows what will happen next, and tears flow for his family and for himself and for this world. A fragment comes and lingers from an old Christian hymn, "You've got to cross that lonesome valley." It carries him forward. "You've got to cross it by yourself." It seems a Western hymn that belongs out in Montana.
"No one else can cross it for you," it says. It seems to suggest something beyond. "You've got to cross it by yourself."
He crosses a lonesome valley, out of the mythos, and emerges as if from a dream, seeing that his whole consciousness, the mythos, has been a dream and no one's dream but his own, a dream he must now sustain of his own efforts. Then even "he" disappears and only the dream of himself remains with himself in it.
And the Quality, the areté he has fought so hard for, has sacrificed for, has never betrayed, but in all that time has never once understood, now makes itself clear to him and his soul is at rest.
The cars are thinned out to almost none, and the road is so black it seems as though the headlight can barely fight its way through the rain to reach it. Murderous. Anything can happen...a sudden rut, an oil slick, a dead animal. -- But if you go too slow they'll kill you from behind. I don't know why we still go on in this. We should have stopped long ago. I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I was looking for some sign of a motel, I guess, but not thinking about it and missing them. If we keep on like this they'll all close.
We take the next exit from the freeway, hoping it will lead somewhere, and soon are on bumpy blacktop with ruts and loose gravel. I go slowly. Streetlamps overhead throw swinging arcs of sodium light through the sheets of rain. We pass from light into shadow into light into shadow again without a single sign of welcome anywhere. A sign announces "STOP" to our left, but does not tell which way to turn. One way looks as dark as the other. We could go endlessly through these streets and not find anything, and now not even find the freeway again.
"Where are we?" Chris shouts.
"I don't know." My mind has become tired and slow. I can't seem to think of the right answer -- or what to do next.
Now I see ahead a white glow and bright sign of a filling station far down the street.
It's open. We pull up and go inside. The attendant, who looks Chris's age, watches us strangely. He doesn't know of any motel. I go to the telephone directory, find some and tell him the street addresses, and he tries to give directions but they're poor. I call the motel he says is closest, make a reservation and confirm the directions.
In the rain and the dark streets, even with directions, we almost miss it. They have turned the light out, and when I register nothing is said.
The room is a remnant of the bleakness of the thirties, sordid, homemade by a person who didn't know carpentry, but it's dry and has a heater and beds and that's all we want. I turn on the heater and we sit before it and soon the chills and shivers and damp start to leave our bones.
Chris doesn't look up, just stares into the grille of the wall heater. Then, after a while, he says, "When are we going back home?"
"When we get to San Francisco," I say. "Why?"
"I'm so tired of just sitting and -- " His voice has trailed off.
"And -- I don't know. Just sitting -- like we're not really going anyplace."
"Where should we go?"
"I don't know. How should I know?"
"I don't know either," I say.
"Well, why don't you!" he says. He begins to cry.
He doesn't answer. Then he puts his head in his hands and rocks back and forth. The way he does it gives me an eerie feeling. After a while he stops and says, "When I was little it was different."
"I don't know. We always did things. That I wanted to do. Now I don't want to do anything."
He continues to rock back and forth in that eerie way, with his face in his hands, and I don't know what to do. It's a strange, unworldly rocking motion, a fetal self-enclosure that seems to shut me out, to shut everything out. A return to somewhere that I don't know about -- the bottom of the ocean.
Now I know where I have seen it before, on the floor of the hospital.
I don't know of anything to do.
After a while we get in our beds and I try to sleep.
Then I ask Chris, "Was it better before we left Chicago?"
"How? What do you remember?"
"That was fun."
"Yes," he says, and is quiet. Then he says, "Remember the time we went to look for beds?"
"That was fun? "
"Sure," he says, and is quiet for a long time. Then he says, "Don't you remember? You made me find all the directions home. -- You used to play games with us. You used to tell us all kinds of stories and we'd go on rides to do things and now you don't do anything."
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't! You just sit and stare and you don't do anything!" I hear him crying again.
Outside the rain comes in gusts against the window, and I feel a kind of heavy pressure bear down on me. He's crying for him. It's him he misses. That's what the dream is about. In the dream. --
For what seems like a long time I continue to listen to the cricking sound of the wall heater and the wind and the rain against the roof and window. Then the rain dies away and there is nothing left but a few drops of water from the trees moving in an occasional gust of wind.
In the morning I am stopped by the appearence of a green slug slug on the ground. It's about six inches long, three-quarters inch wide and soft and almost rubbery and covered with slime like some internal organ of an animal.
All around me it's damp and wet and foggy and cold, but clear enough to see that the motel we have stopped in is on a slope with apple trees down below and grass and small weeds under them covered with dew or just rain that hasn't run off. I see another slug and then another...my God, the place is crawling with them.
When Chris comes out I show one to him. It moves slowly like a snail across a leaf. He has no comment.
We leave and breakfast in a town off the road called Weott, where I see he's still in a distant mood. It's a kind of looking-away mood and a not-talking mood, and I leave him alone.
Farther on at Leggett we see a tourist duck pond and we buy Cracker Jacks and throw them to the ducks and he does this in the most unhappy way I have ever seen. Then we pass into some of the twisting coastal range road and suddenly enter heavy fog. Then the temperature drops and I know we're back at the ocean again.
When the fog lifts we can see the ocean from a high cliff, far out and so blue and so distant. As we ride I become colder, deep cold.
We stop and I get out the jacket and put it on. I see Chris go very close to the edge of the cliff. It's at least one hundred feet to the rocks below. Way too close!
"CHRIS!" I holler. He doesn't answer.
I go up, swiftly grab his shirt and pull him back. "Don't do that," I say.
He looks at me with a strange squint.
I get out extra clothes for him and hand them to him. He takes them but he dawdles and doesn't put them on.
There's no sense hurrying him. In this mood if he wants to wait, he can.
He waits and waits. Ten minutes, then fifteen minutes pass.
We're going to have a waiting contest.
After thirty minutes of cold winds off the ocean he asks, "Which way are we going?"
"South, now, along the coast."
"Let's go back."
"To where it's warmer."
That would add another hundred miles. "We have to go south now," I say.
"Because it would add too many miles going back."
"Let's go back."
"No. Get your warm clothes on."
He doesn't and just sits there on the ground.
After another fifteen minutes he says, "Let's go back."
"Chris, you're not running the cycle. I'm running it. We're going south."
"Because it's too far and because I've said so."
"Well, why don't we just go back?"
Anger reaches me. "You don't really want to know, do you?"
"I want to go back. Just tell me why we can't go back."
I'm hanging on to my temper now. "What you really want isn't to go back. What you really want is just to get me angry, Chris. If you keep it up you'll succeed!"
Flash of fear. That's what he wanted. He wants to hate me. Because I'm not him.
He looks down at the ground bitterly, and puts his warm clothes on. Then we're back on the machine and moving down the coast again.
I can imitate the father he's supposed to have, but subconsciously, at the Quality level, he sees through it and knows his real father isn't here. In all this Chautauqua talk there's been more than a touch of hypocrisy. Advice is given again and again to eliminate subject-object duality, when the biggest duality of all, the duality between me and him, remains unfaced. A mind divided against itself.
But who did it? I didn't do it. And there's no way now of undoing it. -- I keep wondering how far it is to the bottom of that ocean out there. --
What I am is a heretic who's recanted, and thereby in everyone's eyes saved his soul. Everyone's eyes but one, who knows deep down inside that all he has saved is his skin.
I survive mainly by pleasing others. You do that to get out. To get out you figure out what they want you to say and then you say it with as much skill and originality as possible and then, if they're convinced, you get out. If I hadn't turned on him I'd still be there, but he was true to what he believed right to the end. That's the difference between us, and Chris knows it. And that's the reason why sometimes I feel he's the reality and I'm the ghost.
We're on the Mendocino County coast now, and it's all wild and beautiful and open here. The hills are mostly but in the lee of rocks and folds in the hills are strange flowing shrubs sculptured by the upsweep of winds from the ocean. We pass some old wooden fences, weathered grey. In the distance is an old weathered and grey farmhouse. How could anyone farm here? The fence is broken in many places. Poor.
Where the road drops down from the high cliffs to the beach we stop to rest. When I turn the engine off Chris says, "What are we stopping here for?"
"Well, I'm not. Let's keep going."
He's angry still. I'm angry too.
"Just go over on the beach there and run around in circles until I'm done resting," I say.
"Let's keep going," he says, but I walk away and ignore it. He sits on the curb by the motorcycle.
The ocean smell of rotting organic matter is heavy here and the cold wind doesn't allow much rest. But I find a large cluster of grey rocks where the wind is still and the heat of the sun can still be felt and enjoyed. I concentrate on the warmth of the sunlight and am grateful for what little there is.
We ride again and what comes to me now is the realization that he's another Phædrus, thinking the way he used to and acting the same way he used to, looking for trouble, being driven by forces he's only dimly aware of and doesn't understand. The questions -- the same questions -- he's got to know everything.
And if he doesn't get the answer he just drives and drives until he gets one and that leads to another question and he drives and drives for the answer to that -- endlessly pursuing questions, never seeing, never understanding that the questions will never end. Something is missing and he knows it and will kill himself trying to find it.
We round a sharp turn up an overhanging cliff. The ocean stretches forever, cold and blue out there, and produces a strange sense of despair. Coastal people never really know what the ocean symbolizes to landlocked inland people...what a great distant dream it is, present but unseen in the deepest levels of subconsciousness, and when they arrive at the ocean and the conscious images are compared with the subconscious dream there is a sense of defeat at having come so far to be so stopped by a mystery that can never be fathomed. The source of it all.
A long time later we come to a town where a luminous haze which has seemed so natural over the ocean is now seen in the streets of the town, giving them a certain aura, a hazy sunny radiance that makes everything look nostalgic, as if remembered from years before.
We stop in a crowded restaurant and find the last remaining empty table by a window overlooking the radiant street. Chris looks down and doesn't talk. Maybe, in some way, he senses that we haven't much farther to go.
"I'm not hungry," he says.
"You don't mind waiting while I eat?"
"Let's keep going. I'm not hungry."
"Well, I am."
"Well, I'm not. My stomach hurts." The old symptom.
I eat my lunch amid the conversation and clink of plates and spoons from the other tables and out the window watch a bicycle and rider go by. I feel like somehow we have arrived at the end of the world.
I look up and see Chris is crying.
"Now what?" I say.
"My stomach. It's hurting."
"Is that all?"
"No. I just hate everything -- I'm sorry I came -- I hate this trip -- I thought this was going to be fun, and it isn't any fun -- I'm sorry I came." He is a truth-teller, like Phædrus. And like Phædrus he looks at me now with more and more hatred. The time has come.
"I've been thinking, Chris, of putting you on the bus here with a ticket for home."
His face has no expression on it, then surprise mixed with dismay.
I add, "I'll go on myself with the motorcycle and see you in a week or two. There's no sense forcing you to continue on a vacation you hate."
Now it's my turn to be surprised. His expression isn't relieved at all. The dismay gets worse and he looks down and says nothing.
He seems caught off balance now, and frightened.
He looks up. "Where would I stay?"
"Well, you can't stay at our house now, because other people are there. You can stay with Grandma and Grandpa."
"I don't want to stay with them."
"You can stay with your aunt."
"She doesn't like me. I don't like her."
"You can stay with your other grandma and grandpa."
"I don't want to stay there either."
I name some others but he shakes his head.
"Well, who then?"
"I don't know."
"Chris, I think you can see for yourself what the problem is. You don't want to be on this trip. You hate it. Yet you don't want to stay with anyone or go anywhere else. All these people I've mentioned you either don't like or they don't like you."
He's silent but tears now form.
A woman at another table is looking at me angrily. She opens her mouth as if about to say something. I turn a heavy gaze on her for a long time until she closes her mouth and goes back to eating.
Now Chris is crying hard and others look over from the other tables.
"Let's go for a walk," I say, and get up without waiting for the check.
At the cash register the waitress says, "I'm sorry the boy isn't feeling good." I nod, pay, and we're outside.
I look for a bench somewhere in the luminous haze but there is none. Instead we climb on the cycle and go slowly south looking for a restful place to pull off.
The road leads out to the ocean again where it climbs to a high point that apparently juts out into the ocean but now is surrounded by banks of fog. For a moment I see a distant break in the fog where some people rest in the sand, but soon the fog rolls in and the people are obscured.
I look at Chris and see a puzzled, empty look in his eyes, but as soon as I ask him to sit down some of the anger and hatred of this morning reappear.
"Why?" he asks.
"I think it's time we should talk."
"Well, talk," he says. All the old belligerence is back. It's the "kind father" image he can't stand. He knows the "niceness" is false.
"What about the future?" I say. Stupid thing to ask.
"What about it?" he says.
"I was going to ask what you planned to do about the future."
"I'm going to let it be." Contempt shows now.
The fog opens for a moment, revealing the cliff we are on, then closes again, and a sense of inevitability about what is happening comes over me. I'm being pushed toward something and the objects in the corner of the eye and the objects in the center of the vision are all of equal intensity now, all together in one, and I say, "Chris, I think it's time to talk about some things you don't know about."
He listens a little. He senses something is coming.
"Chris, you're looking at a father who was insane for a long time, and is close to it again."
And not just close anymore. It's here. The bottom of the ocean.
"I'm sending you home not because I'm angry with you but because I'm afraid of what can happen if I continue to take responsibility for you."
His face doesn't show any change of expression. He doesn't understand yet what I'm saying.
"So this is going to be good-bye, Chris, and I'm not sure we'll see each other anymore."
That's it. It's done. And now the rest will follow naturally.
He looks at me so strangely. I think he still doesn't understand. That gaze -- I've seen it somewhere -- somewhere -- somewhere. --
In the fog of an early morning in the marshes there was a small duck, a teal that gazed like this. -- I'd winged it and now it couldn't fly and I'd run up on it and seized it by the neck and before killing it had stopped and from some sense of the mystery of the universe had stared into its eyes, and they gazed like this -- so calm and uncomprehending -- and yet so aware. Then I closed my hands around its eyes and twisted the neck until it broke and I felt the snap between my fingers.
Then I opened my hand. The eyes still gazed at me but they stared into nothing and no longer followed my movements.
"Chris, they're saying it about you."
He gazes at me.
"That all these troubles are in your mind."
He shakes his head no.
"They seem real and feel real but they aren't."
His eyes become wide. He continues to shake his head no, but comprehension overtakes him.
"Things have gone from bad to worse. Trouble in school, trouble with the neighbors, trouble with your family, trouble with your friends -- trouble everywhere you turn. Chris, I was the only one holding them all back, saying, `He's all right,' and now there won't be anyone. Do you understand?"
He stares stunned. His eyes still track but they begin to falter. I'm not giving him strength. I never have been. I'm killing him.
"It's not your fault, Chris. It never has been. Please understand that."
His gaze fails in a sudden inward flash. Then his eyes close and a strange cry comes from his mouth, a wail like the sound of something far away. He turns and stumbles on the ground then falls, doubles up and kneels and rocks back and forth, head on the ground. A faint misty wind blows in the grass around him. A seagull alights nearby.
Through the fog I hear the whine of gears of a truck and am terrified by it.
"You have to get up, Chris."
The wail is high-pitched and inhuman, like a siren in the distance.
"You must get up!"
He continues to rock and wail on the ground.
I don't know what to do now. I have no idea what to do. It's all over. I want to run for the cliff, but fight that. I have to get him on the bus, and then the cliff will be all right.
Everything is all right now, Chris.
That's not my voice.
l haven't forgotten you.
Chris's rocking stops.
How could I forget you?
Chris raises his head and looks at me. A film he has always looked through at me disappears for a moment and then returns.
We'll be together now.
The whine of the truck is upon us.
Now get up!
Chris slowly sits up and stares at me. The truck arrives, stops, and the driver looks out to see if we need a ride. I shake my head no and wave him on. He nods, puts the truck in gear, and it whines off through the mist again and there is only Chris and me.
I put my jacket around him. His head is buried again between his knees and he cries now, but it is a low-pitched human wail, not the strange cry of before. My hands are wet and I feel that my forehead is wet too.
After a while he wails, "Why did you leave us?"
"At the hospital!"
There was no choice. The police prevented it.
"Wouldn't they let you out?"
"Well then, why wouldn't you open the door?"
"The glass door!"
A kind of slow electric shock passes through me. What glass door is he talking about?
"Don't you remember?" he says. "We were standing on one side and you were on the other side and Mom was crying."
I've never told him about that dream. How could he know about that? Oh, no
We're in another dream. That's why my voice sounds so strange.
I couldn't open that door. They told me not to open it. I had to do everything they said.
"I thought you didn't want to see us," Chris says. He looks down.
The looks of terror in his eyes all these years.
Now I see the door. It is in a hospital.
This is the last time I will see them. I am Phædrus, that is who I am, and they are going to destroy me for speaking the Truth.
It has all come together.
Chris cries softly now. Cries and cries and cries. The wind from the ocean blows through the tall stems of grass all around us and the fog begins to lift.
"Don't cry, Chris. Crying is just for children."
After a long time I give him a rag to wipe his face with. We gather up our stuff and pack it on the motorcycle. Now the fog suddenly lifts and I see the sun on his face makes his expression open in a way I've never seen it before. He puts on his helmet, tightens the strap, then looks up.
"Were you really insane?"
Why should he ask that?
Astonishment hits. But Chris's eyes sparkle.
"I knew it," he says.
Then he climbs on the cycle and we are off.
As we ride now through coastal manzanita and waxen- leafed shrubs, Chris's expression comes to mind. "I knew it," he said.
The cycle swings into each curve effortlessly, banking so that our weight is always down through the machine no matter what its angle is with the ground. The way is full of flowers and surprise views, tight turns one after another so that the whole world rolls and pirouettes and rises and falls away.
"I knew it," he said. It comes back now as one of those little facts tugging at the end of a line, saying it's not as small as I think it is. It's been in his mind for a long time. Years. All the problems he's given become more understandable. "I knew it," he said.
He must have heard something long ago, and in his childish misunderstanding gotten it all mixed up. That's what Phædrus always said...I always said...years ago, and Chris must have believed it, and kept it hidden inside ever since.
We're related to each other in ways we never fully understand, maybe hardly understand at all. He was always the real reason for coming out of the hospital. To have let him grow up alone would have been really wrong. In the dream too he was the one who was always trying to open the door.
I haven't been carrying him at all. He's been carrying me!
"I knew it," he said. It keeps tugging on the line, saying my big problem may not be as big as I think it is, because the answer is right in front of me. For God's sake relieve him of his burden! Be one person again!
Rich air and strange perfumes from the flowers of the trees and shrubs enshroud us. Inland now the chill is gone and the heat is upon us again. It soaks through my jacket and clothes and dries out the dampness inside. The gloves which have been dark-wet have started to turn light again. It seems like I've been bone-chilled by that ocean damp for so long I've forgotten what heat is like. I begin to feel drowsy and in a small ravine ahead I see a turnoff and a picnic table. When we get to it I cut the engine and stop.
"I'm sleepy," I tell Chris. "I'm going to take a nap."
"Me too," he says.
We sleep and when we wake up I feel very rested, more rested than for a long time. I take Chris's jacket and mine and tuck them under the elastic cables holding down the pack on the cycle.
It's so hot I feel like leaving this helmet off. I remember that in this state they're not required. I fasten it around one of the cables.
"Put mine there too," Chris says.
"You need it for safety."
"You're not wearing yours."
"All right," I agree, and stow his too.
The road continues to twist and wind through the trees. It upswings around hairpins and glides into new scenes one after another around and through brush and then out into open spaces where we can see canyons stretch away below.
"Beautiful!" I holler to Chris.
"You don't need to shout," he says.
"Oh," I say, and laugh. When the helmets are off you can talk in a conversational voice. After all these days!
"Well, it's beautiful, anyway," I say.
More trees and shrubs and groves. It's getting warmer. Chris hangs onto my shoulders now and I turn a little and see that he stands up on the foot pegs.
"That's a little dangerous," I say.
"No, it isn't. I can tell."
He probably can. "Be careful anyway," I say.
After a while when we cut sharp into a hairpin under some overhanging trees he says, "Oh," and then later on, "Ah," and then, "Wow." Some of these branches over the road are hanging so low they're going to conk him on the head if he isn't careful
"What's the matter?" I ask.
"It's so different."
"Everything. I never could see over your shoulders before."
The sunlight makes strange and beautiful designs through the tree branches on the road. It flits light and dark into my eyes. We swing into a curve and then up into the open sunlight.
That's true. I never realized it. All this time he's been staring into my back. "What do you see?" I ask.
"It's all different."
We head into a grove again, and he says, "Don't you get scared?"
"No, you get used to it."
After a while he says, "Can I have a motorcycle when I get old enough?"
"If you take care of it."
"What do you have to do?"
"Lot's of things. You've been watching me."
"Will you show me all of them?"
"It is hard?"
"Not if you have the right attitudes. It's having the right attitudes that's hard."
After a while I see he is sitting down again. Then he says, "Dad?"
"Will I have the right attitudes?"
"I think so," I say. "I don't think that will be any problem at all."
And so we ride on and on, down through Ukiah, and Hopland, and Cloverdale, down into the wine country. The freeway miles seem so easy now. The engine which has carried us halfway across a continent drones on and on in its continuing oblivion to everything but its own internal forces. We pass through Asti and Santa Rosa, and Petaluma and Novato, on the freeway that grows wider and fuller now, swelling with cars and trucks and busses full of people, and soon by the road are houses and boats and the water of the Bay.
Trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.