I almost entitled this blog “Amusing and Unamusing Encounters,” but then I thought to myself, “What encounter do I ever have that is actually unamusing?”
Even encounters with boorish folks, say the high-brow types, who want to demythologize (their term, not mine) everything, are actually quite amusing. I was at a cocktail party recently chatting with just such a person, who was schooling me on how there is nothing miraculous in this material universe, nor can there ever be, as the universe is naturally material. I did not point out to him the circularity of his argument, nor did I question whether his use of the word “naturally” was meant to be a pun. It didn’t seem likely that it was, as he did not seem capable of puns. His words were rather dour, cold and in any case far too sober, even though he was paradoxically well-along on his second martini. Still, this “fact” was at the forefront of his if not small, at least pretty well closed mind.
Still, for all his dourness, the encounter wasn’t unamusing. Had I had the chance to get a word in edgewise I might have asked him if he believed in binary opposition or at least whether there is the possibility of a thing having an opposite. If he agreed, I might have asked him what the contrasting opposite of necessary is, and he might have answered “unnecessary,” or, inasmuch as I already said he was rather high-brow, “superfluous.”
Then I might have asked, “And what does Nietzsche contrast with a mere, unenlightened human being?”
“Der Übermensch” he would no doubt have been his reply, and for the benefit of the by-now-gathering unlearned corona of listeners he would likely have added, “The Nietzschean ‘Superman.’”
And what about “natural? What is its opposite?” I then would have added.
“Now if you’re going to try to get me to say ‘supernatural’, well I won’t take that bait,” he cleverly would have retorted. Yet even in his recusal of saying the word, he would have said it. Not exactly a “touché moment” for me, but still, in his unintentional paralepsis it he would have at least brought it up.
And, I think, that is by and large what happens to each one of us when we try to deny any possibility of coincidences being miracles, any impression of some kind of divine intervention in our lives. We will always retreat to what is material (and therefore secure) and, in most cases, not happening directly to us. We think of, or even go so far as to make, a verbal reference to “all the people starving in … [and here just fill in a country, region or continent where human brutality or inattentiveness is responsible for suppression, leading to the starvation of much of the population].” We don’t bother to ask ourselves, “What actually causes that devastation?” for that would, in most cases, involve assignation of blame to human beings and maybe even point back to our own apathy in the face of human injustice. And we rarely, if ever, go beyond that to say, “And, while I’m on that topic, what can I do about it?” For the second question would undoubtedly involve our checkbook.
Yet even such cocktail conversation about the natural, material world in which we live, were one to happen upon us (and one did, at least in part, recently for me), can be amusing. It is amusing because it can remind us that there is such a thing as the supernatural—what we might summarily call “magic,’ even if we mean it not in the para-normal sense but rather theologically—and that if there is a supernatural corresponding to the natural then all things are possible. Yes, all things—but that’s not my idea, I stole if from a higher source.
But let’s leave that aside for two other amusing conversations. First, I spoke about television quality with a television salesman at Best Buy. His concern for me to buy a high-quality television was palpable. I tried to tell him that “I am not a television person.” Of course, that must have been amusing to him, since I was buying a television. But I insisted, “I don’t watch TV.” My wife and I just put discs in a player occasionally to watch a film. Still, he was telling me about how much better the quality of the more expensive televisions were, and I could tell it was not simply to make a sale but because he was clearly concerned for how much more I could enjoy television watching—I think he did not believe me about only watching films on discs—were I to purchase the high-quality TV set (though it is not a “set” anymore, it is more like a movie theater screen).
“The smallest I will allow you to buy is a forty-inch screen,” he said, “You won’t be happy with anything smaller.” I stress he was not just trying to make a sale: he actually cared about me, I could tell. All in all, rather an amusing exchange. I left with at 43” television set—or rather “in-house movie screen.”
Finally, one last amusing encounter: I read recently that a woman was arrested for assaulting her husband because he forgot her anniversary. When I mentioned that to my wife we had an amusing conversation of a different kind. My wife was entirely sympathetic to the woman. I found that amusing. Needless to say, I will be especially attentive not to forget our anniversary next year. Perhaps we shall celebrate by watching a movie on our super-sized TV at home.