There’s a man I notice whenever I’m walking through downtown Montreal. Muscular and hulking. Dark, like sort of tawny. I see him sitting on a sort of rocky ledge, leaning forward, his right elbow on his right thigh, chin resting on his knuckles, eyes glowering down at the sidewalk. He has closely cropped hair, matted in thick curls and large splayed bare feet. His left hand rests loosely on his left knee. He seems as if he might tip over if he leans forward any further.
That’s how I find him, staring down, unblinking, immersed in thought, thinking. Oh, I forgot to mention that he’s buck naked. Out of sheer curiosity, I’ve glanced more closely once, trying not to seem too obvious. He has large nuts, around the size of Chinese black pears, but for a guy his size, he has a really tiny peanut of a dick. Maybe that’s what he’s thinking of, why he seems always so pissed off. “Oh what am I going ta do, with a dick this small?” he seems to be saying to himself.
I am speaking of Le Penseur (The Thinker), of course. The one that is on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It is actually a replica. Wikipedia says there were 28 original bronze castings of the thinking guy made in 1902. The first is at the Musée Rodin, in Paris, and others are on display in various other parts of the world. Here’s an image of the sculpture that is displayed at the muse Rodin:
La Penseur makes me realize that I don’t do this at all. Not worrying about my richard’s size, silly. I mean, just sit staring into space and think, just think. I can’t. If I have to do something that requires sitting and waiting, I always make sure I am loaded with enough reading matter. Usually there is a slim shoulder bag allocated for this and it’ll have one paperback, one news magazine and a back-up, like a Nat Geo Mag.
The current package has a slim paperback on Aristotle, a kind of Aristotle’s teachings for dummies. Look, I would never understand the real Aristotle, OK? What do you think I am, nuts? Who’d want to read that pompous old windbag’s musings? The Aristotle for dummies that I’m reading is tongue-in-cheek and at the same time imparts enough masala for me to speak on Aristotle’s soliloquies like as if I’d grown up with him, skipped school and played gulli-danda together. For my spoiled and decadent western friends, gulli-danda is a poor Indian slum kid’s game and the term ‘playing gulli-danda-with’ generally means being buddies, skipping school, hanging out, akin to the American term ‘playing hooky’ (a la Tom Sawyer).
Of course, Ari would have loved to play gulli-danda with you if you were a guy. I understand he won the the Alexandria Masters, 356BC. Ari was a raving homosexual. He was the only guy who actually invaded Alexander the Great while giving him private tuition and lived to talk about it. They didn’t call him Aristotle Humperdink for nothing. All this is of course not revealed in the paperback. I just happen to know a great deal.
Ari had something to say on almost any topic back then. Physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, zoology (Sex wasn’t studied back then. They just went ahead and put it in).
Those days, they hadn’t yet reached the age of experimentation, to test their theories. That would start with Eratosthenes two centuries later. So all that Ari did was sit and contemplate on a subject and try to find a solution through sheer reasoning and logic. It meant a lot of yakking and from this grew the practice of rhetoric. If he wanted to think that something was true, it was true, period. He would gather his disciples together and begin yakking about it. And if he thought something someone else said was untrue, that’s it. If I want to look for one word to describe old Ari, he was a bullshiter. Interesting guy. Just don’t bend over to pick anything up from the floor if he’s around and you’ll be fine.
Like there were these other two, even bigger bullshiters than Aristotle. Parmenides and Heraclitus. No, Heraclitus didn’t know anything about clits. Boy, do you have a dirty mind. One day Heraclitus declared that everything was changing, all the time and that nothing remained the same, there was no constant. Even words, their meanings and concepts kept changing and therefore it was fruitless trying to communicate. One day this piece of work just stopped speaking and started communicating by wiggling his fingers. What? You think I’d lie to you?
Parmenides was at the other extreme. He said everything is permanent (he’d probably never had a hard-on). Parmenides declared that nothing ever comes into existence and nothing ever perishes. Whatever is, is and whatever is not, is not, period. The appearance of change is an illusion and that we are being deceived by our senses and that in reality, everything always remains the same.
All these guys of course had no way of scientifically proving any of the crap. They just applied what they thought was cold hard logic. One of Parmenides’ arguments went like this. If you wanted to reach Alexandria from Antioch, you would have to cover half the distance first. If you wanted to cover the half distance, you’d first have to cover half of that. You keep halving the distances but the first leg of your journey would never ever become zero. Which means that you never got started. Cool, huh?
That’s the first chapter, about change and permanence. I would tell you more about the book but I’m still trying to grasp the first chapter and would advise you not to hold your breath. This is in spite of the fact that its a ‘for dummies’ version. It is tantalizingly interesting so far and the moment it starts getting too much, I’ll just switch back to my ‘Leave it to Psmith’.
The second chapter is on defining what is natural and what isn’t. Horseshit is natural but posting it isn’t. I’m about to post something that’s unnatural. This piece. I would like to concentrate and try to catch the meaning of every word that I’m reading so I can reproduce the gist for you adequately but the image of old, pot-bellied, bearded Aristotle humping Alexander while making him repeat,” I’m not here, this is not happening, I’m not here, this is not happening” is flashing through my brain and making me giggle. It doesn’t take much to make me giggle.
The news magazine in my bag is always Time. Have been a subscriber since decades. I love reading Time, ever since they first started printing on that wafer thin paper, back in the 60s. Those days I’d borrow it from an uncle who was a Time fanatic. Either that or The Economist, whose opinions and essays on current affairs are simply superb. Back when I was in India, in the 80s and 90s, it would be either India Today or Frontline. These guys always seemed to dig out a bit more than the others and produce nice, comprehensive cover stories. The back-up is still Nat Geo Mag. It’s awesome.
I’m practicing to be a thinker. It’s tough, even when you have Wikipedia. I’ll have to change my name to Humperdink first.
© 2013 Achyut Dutt.