Though I can’t find it now, I have written before about the Argumentium Ornithologicum, an idea from Borges that in imagining a certain number of birds unknown to the imaginer, the only one who might know how many birds were visualized is God. This is an argument for God’s existence because the number is certain, yet unknown–whoever, or whatever, “knows” that number is God.
And yet the God that knows how many birds you imagined–even if you do not–is not necessarily the Christian God, except insofar as that God is frequently said to supply the lack that is produced by human experience. Lacan says God is a necessary consequence of language, that language is what gives human beings the capacity to imagine abstract quantities that far exceed their worldly counterparts. The distance between what can be held or apprehended and our imaginations is the lack that will always be part of the human experience. Language provides fuel for desire, because it imagines us arriving at a fulfillment which is not meaningfully possible except in a moment, if at all. It is often nearer to us when it is anticipated–who has not felt closer to some imagined good when standing on its threshold than when pressing it close against the skin?
In the book of John Mandeville he mentions a hill in the holy land on which four angels will stand and with four trumpts shall blow and announce the end of the world. This hill is identified as Mount Tabor, but the hill St. John actually identifies in Revelations as fulfilling this purpose is Megiddo (which means “Armageddon” in the Greek language that St. John wrote). Undoubtedly Mandeville made a mistake (he does so frequently), or relied on a corrupted source. But I prefer to imagine that the answer is uncertain, somewhere between the two, or perhaps on another hill not mentioned in either of the two sources. One of these hills, the two known, or a third, unknown, must be the hill in which the angels must appear. But the true answer is (for now) known only to God.
When I think the word that brings me closer to him time slows down and I am somehow newly distinct from my surroundings, in a pocket space where it is just me and the word and he who the word brings me closer to. Only closer. He is still far away. The world both expands and shrinks, shrinking to the size of my comprehension but producing a new understanding that whenever I stop and focus in this way a new point will open up that I can crawl into. Crawl is not the right word. Instead I am enveloped by an understanding that space is doubled, that I am doubled along with it, an uncanny version of myself that can only pronounce the word that brings me to him. Pronounce the word that reminds me that without it I am nothing: delicate and ready to crack at the slightest notice. Made up of cracks. The word brings me to myself, which is to say outside of myself, surrounded by an absolute fog that reminds me I have more to lose. That loss is pleasurable. One day I will not need the word, I will move beyond its boundaries, to what is signified, stripped of the need for signs. But when that time comes I will have nothing more to report to you.
When I open the book—Nicholas Love’s The Mirror of Jesus Christ—to resume reading for my special fields exams in the fall, I start to hyperventilate. My chest tightens and I feel an incredible sense of panic. I need to take another day off, or a week. I haven’t been taking care of myself, telling myself that I’ll “have time” to re-centre, to relax, after the hard work is done in the fall. But the truth is that it will never be done in the way that I imagine. I will always have more work to do. I have been going at a pace that has been unsustainable—every book I finish has only made me feel more panicked, more like the project is slipping through my fingers, like I won’t know what to say when the time comes. Even though I have had many ideas and I know I will I find the words once the questions have been posed (it’s perhaps only that they have not been posed, that they could be anything, the absolute quality that they embody, which is what is so unsettling to me). When it’s done, I know I’ll have entered into the stage of my studies that I’ve been waiting for all along, that (as long as I do not face needless obstruction) should be more-or-less smooth sailing…
Even now, writing about it, though I’m only moving laterally, certainly not doing anything even close to the thing itself, only sitting in a pleasant, quiet room with Rachel sitting next to me and one of my fields texts at my feet—I feel close to breaking down, like a neurotic nineteenth century intellectual with frayed nerves, recently prescribed three months vacation at a hot spring. That amount of time (three months) represents an impossible luxury that in no sense of the word could I afford. And yet—it also seems like, perhaps, the only potential solution, maybe because it happens to be the one that’s so far out of my reach.