20 September 2013


Apophasis: a rhetorical device by which the speaker refers to something by denying that it will be mentioned. Antigone says to Creon, “If you were not my father, I would say you were perverse.Note how Antigone calls her father ‘perverse’ by claiming she will not call him perverse). In his “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift proposes that to resolve the seemingly insoluble problem of the poor in Ireland, their children should be offered and sold as food to those who could best afford such exotic culinary fare. He says, “Therefore, let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees . . . of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming of learning to love our country” Note how these other options for dealing with the problem of poverty are raised even though the author says they should not be mentioned.
Writer’s block is supposed to be a condition in which a person who writes regularly, whether or not for publication, suddenly finds him/herself incapable of putting ink to paper or fingers to the keys. The causes of writer’s block are numerous, I suspect, and I don’t have any intention of exploring them here.
      But I have not posted to the blog in some time, and I would like to offer here an explanation for the silence. It is not that I have ceased to write: indeed, even as I here write to the blog I have thousands of words on other paper concerning a variety of issues that interest me intimately and intellectually. As my dear children know, I rarely have nothing to say, and unfailingly they are the belabored listeners
      Rather, my silence derives from the nature of the news of which I would not speak.  And this is because the news of which I would speak is too unspeakable; and to avoid the use of apophasis I will not mention the news of which I would not speak though in this mention I have engaged in apophasis. The craven, heartless, ignorant actions of the United States Congress renders me speechless
what response can be made to such idiocies.
      But response must be made. Father Paneloux’s second sermon in Camus’ The Plague is delivered after his having been present at the slow and painful death of a young child from plague. In his talk Paneloux tries to make sense—to comprehend—the death of the child, but finally he cannot do so. The sufferings of the child are incomprehensible to him. Nevertheless, Paneloux must somehow accept this reality or abandon his faith in God. The event must be not meaningless but incomprehensible. As with Job, Paneloux must learn to accept without comprehension. When he, too, becomes sick, he refuses the doctor’s aid because he places his faith in the workings of the Divine. Paneloux will not struggle against what appears God’s will. There might be strength in this response, but I find it a result of weakness.
      I will not speak the unspeakable, but I will speak.
      In this second sermon Paneloux also addresses the fate of the eight-seven monks of Marseille who experienced an earlier manifestation of the plague. Eighty-three of the monks died of the disease and three survived, but only  by escaping the town. But the last monk stayed. His decision gives evidence of his faith and his strength. I don’t know what this last monk did while he waited. Perhaps, like Paneloux he merely lingered until the plague reached him. But I am reminded of the monks of Tibhirine who refused to abandon the town for which they had cared despite the extreme personal danger with which they were threatened. They stayed. “The plague, what is it? It’s life.” But these monks in the face of ‘plague’ continued to engage in their work in the monastery, to give service to their faith, and to serve the people whom they loved and who loved them. Finally, they were victims of plague: they were assassinated brutally. But they had stayed.
      At the end of his sermon Paneloux insists, “We must all be the one who stays.” It is a remarkable statement. Confronted by plague, we must all be the one who stays! I read the papers. I despair. When Dr. Rieux asks Jean Tarrou why he has stayed and joined in the struggle, Tarrou answers that it is because of his moral code. “Your moral code? What code,” the doctor asks, and Tarrou responds in a single word: “Comprehension.” Tarrou, I think, is committed to engagement in life that must end in death sooner (by plague) or later (ultimately) because he wants only better to understand life.
      I am here. I’m staying. I just won’t speak of it.