Important Nonsense

Important Nonsense

Important Nonsense

Important Nonsense

Excerpt

Nonsense is unobjectionable and even welcome when it is not serious, does not dissemble, and is in no way dissatisfied with its state of nonsensicafity. But nonsense that lays some claim to profundity, nonsense with a long, unsmiling face, that is truculent, tendentious, and tries to be forensic--that kind of nonsense, unbearable and ubiquitous nowadays in our literary and learned journals, ought to be combatted. Nonsense with a Ph.D. in classics, in English or comparative literature, in philosophy or political science, that is the kind of nonsense that excites me to rhetorical violence.

On the other hand, I both love and respect the type of artful nonsense I have analysed in the essay "The Art of Comedy." But most of the pieces making up this collection of essays deal with the dulling, dentist-like drilling of nonsense seriously propounded, the nonsense of individuals who think themselves reflective. There is a wonderful drawing by the surrealist painter Roberto Matta, entitled Beware, A Fool Is Coming. The drawing is of a window, through which one sees approaching a man with the most fondly foolish face imaginable. Then why beware? What is there to be afraid of? It says something for Matta's depth and feeling for the comic that he understood that we do have to be warned--hence ready--when a fool approaches. What if, when with us, he stopped smiling and began to give us advice? I have noted that persons with bad judgment are most insistent that we do what they think best.

To be sure, many of those I have discussed in these essays, Joseph Frank, Sidney Hook, H. D. Kitto, and Jean Paul Sartre, among others, are writers for whom I have great regard. I certainly do not count them in the party of those resolved to be nonsensical. Yet I have taken exception to some of their judgments too. We are all in danger of taking a false step into the nonsensical and most especially when we intend to step upward to some higher eminence of thought.

But I have entitled these pieces Important Nonsense. Now, importance, Alfred North Whitehead told us, is a mysterious category. So my pieces treat the mysteries of what I have judged important as well as the clear meretriciousness of what I have found to be nonsensical. Often enough, I treat them both in the same essay.

But what, after all, is nonsense? The French philosopher Andre Gluksmann . . .

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