Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/12/2010

No Thing Will Come from No Thing: “Chance as the privation of regularity”

Nothing. That’s what I have this morning. Nothing. Nothing to write about. No thing. Being or (not “and”) nothingness. NoT hing(ed) to anything.

What one does, I tell my students when they say they can’t write anything about the assigned topic (even though we’ve been discussing it in class for days), is simply to sit at the keyboard and type, “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write,” over and over and over again until suddenly, without a plan, seemingly without an idea, one is boring in on something and the writing begins to happen.

I, of course, as usual, should not be writing at all, but reading those same students’ essays on body modification that I should not have assigned because the topics are so gross and embarrassing to an old man like me, and they have retrieved the information from God-know-where, and I don’t have time for close-reading of each of the fifty-eight 10-12 page papers to see how much of the information is plagiarized. The one paper I read somewhat closely was the one (vaguely) on genital reconstruction surgery for persons with gender identity disorder/gender dysphoria, otherwise known as sex realignment therapy or sex-change operation for transgendered persons. The most interesting aspect of the student’s work was his oral presentation in which he used a somewhat bizarre power-point with photos of transgendered folks, and one photo that he showed was of a woman from the Boston area that I knew because one of my best friends there is a female to male transgendered person. I told the student I knew her and how, and he freaked. Of course.

If one writes long enough that one doesn’t have anything to write about Some Thing will come from No Thing.

I must, of course quote King Lear “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again,” because that’s what one would expect an English teacher to do. And I’m not clever enough or postmodern enough to keep up this line of thinking and trying to make old words mean (new)things  for very long—no longer, in fact.

On a shelf close by is my father’s copy of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or: A Fragment of Life. Many years ago as a high schooler living in angst, I was recommended to read Either/Or. I remember little of it. “One ought to be a mystery, not only to others, but also to one’s self” (1). It’s a sentence very like “Nothing will come of nothing.” Once read, not forgotten. Or perhaps in high school I memorized it because it was full of the angst I mysteriously felt.

The older I am, the more I am a mystery to myself. My guess is anyone who thinks about “self” discovers the sameThing. Part of the mystery is how I came to be here. Not existentially, but physically in Dallas. I understand the process, the (conscious?) decision-making that got me into my Jeep on that January morning in the Boston snow and ice, heading on a horrible winter’s drive to Dallas to be with my partner who had moved here eighteen months before.

How do those decisions happen, anyway? Job offers. Relationships. The Sickness to Death of Snow. Or is it No Thing that, in fact makes Some Things happen? Am I here by chance?

. . . . [C]hance as such is possible only on the background of a regularity which it interrupts, otherwise the very term “chance” would be meaningless. . . .Chance is the privation of regularity. . . . Furthermore, chance is not a positive reality in its own right, hence it does not cause anything. Chance can be a “cause” only in the sense that other causalities intersect “by chance”. . . .  But for there to be chance, there must already be intelligible structures of causality having a certain regularity, which make possible the intersection of causes occurring “by chance.” (2)

“Chance” cannot come from No Thing. Some Thing regular must exist in order for “chance” to deprive one of that regularity. Chance cannot come from No Thing, but it is No Thing. If structures (of Things or of Causes) do not already exist, then there is No Thing for chance to interrupt.

The regularity of my life before I came to Dallas was teaching music in a college in Boston, living alone, being a church organist, writing every morning (or in the middle of the night). And then an intersection of causes happened and another person who loved musical theater came to a production of “Guys and Dolls” I was directing at the college, and “by chance” I ended up in Dallas teaching English at a university, living alone (since the person I met “by chance” died), being a church organist (until my church ingloriously closed six months ago), writing every morning (or in the middle of the night).

Some Idea may come from No Idea. Is No Idea the same as No Thing? And an Idea may prompt writing. The Idea may come “on the background of a regularity which it interrupts,” that is, by chance, or it may come as an assignment to a student who misconstrues it to explain how the regularity of some peoples’ live may be interrupted by surgical sex realignment therapy and chance becomes the new regularity.

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give. . . .
What’s it all about? Whats this all about?
what’s it all about Alfie? tell me
what’s it all about Alfie? what’s it all about Alfie?
just tell me yeah. what’s it all about?
what’s it all about?

I have No Idea what’s it all about.

Outside philosophy departments, by far the most salient discourse about the meaning of life is that of people declaring that life is meaningless. To many, talk of a life, especially the speaker’s own life, being meaningful has a faintly pretentious air to it. . . (4)

I would not want to be pretentious and claim that from No Thing meaning comes, so I don’t know what to write.
(1) Kierkegaard, S. . Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, Volume one and two (D. F. Swenson and L. M. Swenson, Trans.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1949, p. 21.
(2) Ramelow, Anselm. “When Understanding Seeks Faith: Does Religion Offer Resources for the Renewal of Contemporary Rationality?” Nova et Vetera (English Edition) 8.3 (2010): 647.
(3) Bacharach, Burt. “What’s It All About, Alfie.” Alfie. Paramount Pictures, 1965.
(4) Oakley, Tim. “The Issue Is Meaninglessness.” Monist 93.1 (2010): 107.


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