This Quiet Dust

      (c) Copyright 2013 Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved
[What follows is a rambling, ruminative follow-up to a book review I recently posted on Goodreads. Books that address ultimate questions often have such a residual effect on readers. I beg your indulgence as I wander around and poke at some of the issues and thoughts this one sparked in me :)]
Intellectual inquiry exercises our all too lax cerebral muscles (or whatever, “cells” and neurons, perhaps) and is worth it for its own sake, even in pursuit of dead ends and rubber chickens such as this.  The following is a review I wrote of a recently published title that has elicited mixed reviews, ire, reverence, fulminations and praise from others. Allow me to add my own 2 cents, for what they’re worth (not much of course). And join the discussion. Bend and stretch, reach for the stars.
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective StoryWhy Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, I suppose I was not surprised to discover it was intelligently written, highly personal, rather meandering and–ultimately–inconclusive. It’s actually a chronicle of one well educated, inquisitive, doubtful, probing (ok, I’ll quit) man’s quest to answer the question he asked in the title itself.
The author is engaging, and if you are like-minded, curious, and of an empirical rather than absolutist-theological frame of mind, you probably will enjoy traveling along with him as he covers old ground, rehashes old themes and evidence/theories, provides a kind of historical survey of previous assaults on the Big Nut of the Cosmos, and explores the new and strange hypotheses put forth by quantum physics and even newer razzle-dazzle hypo-positers proposing to explain what everything “is,” where it came from and where it’s going.
Frankly, I’ll take Borges over this: the hallucinatory nature of our perceptions, the inadequacy of our faculties and categories of thought to address in a meaningful way a preposterously insurmountable question, but a question of utmost importance to us nevertheless.
Or even Poe: “Is all we see or seem only a dream within a dream?”
Maybe. From where I stand, in spite of all I’ve read and studied, I still don’t know and am not convinced anyone does.
That however leaves a lot of room for faith, surmise, speculation, intense further research and imaginative-original art.  Could be that’s what it’s all about, and what we should be about. A meaningful, life-enhancing tease?  A biological-psychological necessity/imperative? I think so.  I think it does indeed serve a purpose. It sets in motion a kind of perpetual motion machine in our minds and psyches. It forces the ongoing, continuously revised  reinvention, under the pressure of dissolution and disintegration, of a convincing raison d’etre.
“Causal Entropy,” the latest amendment to the Laws of Thermodynamics, beckons and taunts us from the margins.  An interesting bunny trail to follow for a while?  I’m in.  I mean, why not?
Yet I honestly think “why?” the universe exists is beyond our grasp at this stage of our knowledge and intelligence, our so-called development, but our discomfort, our restless curiosity, is an inborn, compulsion, a critical inducement, a fire under us or in us, to stay alert, watchful, curious…to see if indeed, in fact, one fine day we can make it all “add up” and find a happy ending to “this green Experiment.”
It’s the mystery of life and the dread of death that makes us get up in the morning, stay up late at night studying the stars and planets, pretending all the while we are not the sleuthing for final answers, that we are just innately curious. After all, we are a curious species.  We suspect we know the final answer already as pertains us and we don’t like it. We hope we’re wrong.  So we keep looking, dreaming, searching for a more satisfactory conclusion than the “quiet dust” we know we will one day become.
This quiet Dust was Gentlemen and Ladies
And Lads and Girls–
Was laughter and ability and Sighing
And Frocks and Curls.
This Passive Place a Summer’s nimble mansion
Where Bloom and Bees
Exists an Oriental Circuit
Then cease, like these–
EMILY DICKINSON
This is a chilling thought. Certainly, we hope, that’s not “all there is.” Surely we can come up with something better than this.

About margaretjeanlangstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic and so on for many years ....a consultant to publishers, a friend and supporter of others, admittedly a small group but my kind of people, interested in literary things and of writers who aspire to writing not just books (or poems, stories, novels, plays etc.) but literature.
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7 Responses to This Quiet Dust

  1. J.B. Long says:

    “It’s the mystery of life and the dread of death that makes us get up in the morning, stay up late at night studying the stars and planets, pretending all the while we are not the sleuthing for final answers, that we are just innately curious. After all, we are a curious species. We suspect we know the final answer already as pertains us and we don’t like it. We hope we’re wrong. So we keep looking, dreaming, searching for a more satisfactory conclusion than the “quiet dust” we know we will one day become.”

    This is the stuff great literature is made of.

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    • Very kind words. You surely overstate the quality of whatever it was I dashed off this morning as a result of having slept on my review of this slender but provocative book. Nevertheless, thank you. Read, write, read and write. Think. The writer’s life, you know. Unceasing inquiry, squeezing the essence out of things, forcing life’s enigmas to the mat, pinning them, nailing them, as Nabokov did with his butterflies, with tenuous, transient words. “A stay against confusion”

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      • J.B. Long says:

        I never ever under any circumstances ever employ hyperbole in my writing :-)

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        • What a about trying some hyp-O-bole? You and your rapier wit. What a tease. Don’t cut yourself on it

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          • J.B. Long says:

            I had no idea hypobole was a literary device until now, yet evidently I used it in a play on its cousin!

            I put my hand where a leaky pen had been for quite a while this morning before realizing it. Now everytime I notice the remains I can’t help thinking, “Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!”.

            I’m not sure why I shared that, but I’m glad I did.

            Like

  2. And yet you are right about the stimulus, the source, the intellectual and existential itch or terror, I think, that leads to great literature–it has its source in the urgent impulse to refute and replace realities or versions thereof which we find impossible to stake our very lives upon.

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    • J.B. Long says:

      Perhaps striving to answer questions posited our way, or more likely questions we pose to ourselves, while incidentally leaving breadcrumbs all along the trail.

      Like

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