Eyes of the World:
Santayana’s Ontology Set
I first saw the connection between the American philosopher George Santayana and “Eyes of the World” back in graduate school when a summer day, a Dead bootleg, and a touch of serendipity all converged into philosophical inspiration. It was the late 1990s, and I was at the formidable “dissertation stage” of the process, barely getting by financially, totally unsure of my future in the profession, and having trouble writing. My project was on Santayana’s naturalism, and I knew, intellectually, what I wanted to say, but otherwise I was just kind of stuck. What mattered in this highly technical project? To me, to my life, or to anyone? The question was immobilizing.
But I had, for the moment, been able to put all that aside. I was on my way back from the beach with my friend Steve, and it was one of those beautiful afternoons when you forget your troubles and burdens and just drive, not much caring where you’re going. I had the second set of Nassau Coliseum ‘90 playing, with Jerry Garcia and guest artist Branford Marsalis trading phrases on guitar and saxophone. As we drove, a warm breeze wafted in through the open windows and blended with the lilting tones, bearing them gently back out into the world. Steve was a recent Dead convert, thanks to an excellent local cover band (and despite the fact that he had never seen the Dead perform themselves), and was listening intently to the songs, each of them new to him. As I chirped along, semi-consciously, he asked me the meaning of the lyrics.