the search after truth by Andrew Hart
January 24, 2010, 12:00 am
Filed under: essays, philosophy

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
-Keats, “Ode on  Grecian Urn”

I get that feeling every once and a while, as I’m sure everyone does.  I get it when I think if that faintly falling snow at the end of “The Dead,” the raining flowers in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the last movement of Brahms’s Violin Concerto.  It must be the sublime, because it transcends appreciation and exists in the realm of the wordless.  It is tears in the corners of eyes, hair raised on the back of the neck.

The only thing like it is the feeling of simple possibility that the beginning of a truth suggests.  I conflate the mere insinuation of further truth with that sublime feeling.  When I’m on on the brink of learning something, things I already imbue with the weight of importance I also lend an optimistic completeness.  Yet those things also remain transcendent, unable to be fully possessed.  I’m reminded of a line from Hart Crane’s “Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge:” like a movie that runs all hours, things are “never disclosed,” but are still “hastened to again.”  The promise of coming full circle brings us back to something that can never be complete.

That sublime feeling must be part confusion, because central to it is a contradiction.  We stand in front of a thing to be known, thinking that a proper delineation between thing and not-thing is all that is required to get our hands around it.  But we also anticipate those spiny borders between thing and not-thing, the places where we lose our place, find a new origin, begin again, double back.  Each possibility is equally tantalizing; each possibility echoes the other and creates that feeling.

The point of origin is the place where we comprehend both the boundaries and where we will break them.  It is where incomplete completeness is possible.  It is not truly a beginning, but as Derrida said, an “event,” a “rupture and a redoubling.”  It calls on itself just as it calls us to press forward.

I get that sublime feeling in the search after truth, because each attempt is a brilliant compression of living contradiction, which might be the most beautiful truth and true beauty of all.


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