Lost in the Cosmos: Language and Irony

Once you acknowledge (as I do) that the universe appears, paradoxically, as either self-created or always existent, and that it consists of atoms and the void and nothing else, then there is nothing in that universe that can tell you, as a contingently evolved ape, how to talk about these bleak conditions, or how best to cope with them. The appearances are facts of perception, and there are only three broad responses to them:

  • You can be confused about the appearances (as I am) and so speak a language of agnosticism.
  • You can deny the appearances, in which case it might make sense to generate a theological language, or some other language of hope against the obvious despair of our collective condition.
  • You can accept the appearances as real—things are precisely as bad as they seem to be—and generate yet some other (masturbatory) type of compensating language from that vantage (from Nietzsche-talk to Hitler-talk to Dawkins-speak to Locke-speak to Hegel-speak to Machiavelli-speak to Paul Kurtz’s humanism-speak to Buddha-speak etc. etc.).

The point is that there is no objective position from which to say, “The universe sanctions my way of talking about it, but not some other way.” The universe is like the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001. It stands silent. If the universe is as it appears, then there is no one and no thing to sanction the languages used to describe it or to function within it. There are only atoms and the void. Now speak.

But whatever you speak, it is a form of language “masturbation” before the dark Sphinx of the cosmos. The joke is always on you.

Or perhaps the joke is always on you when you lose your sense of irony, and take the languages that you speak too seriously. Will Durant used to be fond of saying (quoting someone else, I don’t know who):

Life is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those who feel.

If you’re going to be both a thinking and feeling person, maybe the languages of comedy and tragedy are the ones to speak most consistently. I don’t really know. Do you?

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About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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