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Just When I Knew the Answer, They Changed the Question

For the Ents
who will someday come too late

"In the midst of winter,
I finally leanred there was in me
an invincible summer."

Albert Camus

Much has been said about the enlightened soul which goes out to the light coming from Plato's allegorical cave.

Alone and courageous enough not only to enter a bright new world but to leave everything he knew behind -- from the shadows to his friends and loved ones in the dark -- the one who escapes the bondage of darkness will always be the leading star among the cast of fools ("The Truman Show") , and shall always be the epitome or example of the wayfarer, the sojourner who seeks in order to find the Truth.

Yet have we ever thought thoroughly enough about those that the star or the traveller will always leave in the dark, shall always leave behind?

We, the ordinary folks with simple and bureaucratic lives (Marcel), unfortunately will never get the chance to be the brightest star or the bravest soul. Perhaps we with our penchant for security and order will end up becoming another tied up fool in the shadows or another actor in the set who merely passes by or a dreamer who asks as Neo wondered once in "The Matrix," "Why am I not the chosen One?"

Worry not, my child, for like the murderer, the one who escapes the cave shall always have to go back (Plato), the Chosen One shall always pay a visit to the scene of the 'crime' where the absurd crime was to hide the truth (-lethe) from its unconcealment (aletheia) and there watch the shadows go by and by and by.

And when he does come back, what shall we -- the inspired but unworthy ones -- do as a recognition of his courage to seek the truth alone (the philosopher)?

Vladimir Nabokov gives us an example in his short story "Cloud, Castle, Lake" where we find a reluctant "newcomer" named Vasiliy Ivanovich joining what we would nowadays call a 'group tour' in some faraway place. Unable to sleep the night before the train leaves with his merry companions (four men and four women), Vasiliy dreams of possibilities that the road ahead may bring:

...because that very night, for no reason at all, he began to imagine that this trip, thrust upon him by a feminine fate in a low-cut gown, this trip which he had accepted so reluctantly, would bring him some wonderful, tremulous happiness.

And at a stop in the journey, this "wonderful, tremulous happiness" would present itself to him in the form of a wonderful castle by the lake underneath the pristine, soft white clouds.

Abandoned and his for the taking, Vasiliy Ivanovich knew that he had found his tower, his pot of gold and decided in an instant that he was never to leave that castle again. In it he had found what he was looking for, by it he had answered all the questions -- known or implicit -- that he had in his very being.

Short of saying the traveler found his destination: something that is rarely -- if it does happen at all -- given to a sojourner.

Alas! We knew there had to be something wrong, right? A story which has the beautiful ending (the arrival in the destination) would always have to be conflicted by an Other element or happening. And it comes, this time, like the ones left behind from Plato's cave, from the fellow travellers of Vasiliy Ivanovich.

They said that he couldn't stay in his beclouded castle by the lake. They said that he had to go on with the tour as the itinerary had planned.

(After all, what's a planned itinerary for if you don't follow it; what's a group of travellers for if they leave a fellow seeker of truth behind? Obedience and camaraderie insists that every one go on with the plan, that each one -- even if one does find the light, the dream, the destiny -- tarry on as best as one can.)

But Vasiliy Ivanovich insisted to stay:

'I shall complain,' wailed Vasiliy Ivanovich. 'Give me back my bag. I have the right to remain where I want. Oh, but this is nothing less than an invitation to a beheading' -- he told me as he cried when they seized him by the arms.
And the man who saw everything he ever wanted in an old abandoned castle which had to have a lot of reparis and cleaning done before it was even habitable, was almost killed by the fellow travelers.

And is this not what Plato himself said? -- that the one who goes back to the cave (he shouldn't have) will not only look funny (because his eyes are no longer used to the dark), be regarded as a fool (he speaks of crazy things like sun, moon and stars) but also be killed if he continues to speak.

Vasiliy Ivanovich goes back to the train half-dead but wholly annihilated. In the train the merry folks will sing this 'insane' chorus as they pass the castle, the clouds and the lakes by:

Stop that worrying and moping,
Take a knotted stick and rise,
Come a-tramping in the open
With the good, the hearty guys!

Tramp your country's grass and stubble,
With the good, the hearty guys,
Kill the hermit and his trouble
And to hell with doubts and sighs!

In a paradise of heather
Where the field mouse screams and dies,
Let us march and sweat together
With the steel-and-leather guys!
This is the price travellers, dreamers, -- and most of all -- fools have to pay.


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