Skip to main content

The Freedom to Know


For the Mathematician

who is also a late bloomer



Habent sua fata libelli

quoted by Walter Benjamin, Illuminations



I never read a book much more buy one until I was twenty-one.

Of course there were book reports to be done and standard textbooks to be skimmed through all throughout the formative years of this life; yet, they do not really qualify as reading. For in real reading, a certain kind of liberty is at play: the freedom to choose one book from thousands and thousands available to you, and the decision to read here and now inspite of the possibility of reading another or any other.

I always give my students the experience of choosing a book in a library as an example of the absurd freedom we have -- absurd because such a freedom participates in the infinite and the finite (Buber). There is an inumerable quantity of books displayed before your very eyes, spanning rows and rows of shelves on floors upon floors in the library, all waiting for your tentative fingers to pick them and for your dizzy eyes to browse through them; at this point, through the sheer possibility of being able to choose any book, you participate in the infinite.

But absurdly (and here's the catch), when you choose one book (even two or three for that matter), borrow it and take it home, you can only read one lonely book at a time, go through a single paragraph at a time, struggle with a single line at a time; this is when, by leaving the Proust volume or the Baudelaire tome on the side so as to read your Thoreau, you realize that you are so limited in that the possibilities at times overwhelm the capabilities of the finite human who can only read this one book at a time.

This is why to be human means to be finite, that is, to be in time. Yet it is important to remember that even if we can only know and learn some one thing at a time (finitude), something comes prior and therefore is primordial. As Buber says in "What is Man?" (Between Man and Man):

...indissolubly connected with the finitude which is given by the ability to know only this, there is a participation in infinity, which is given by the ability to know at all.
If you were not free to choose a book to read, the limitation of being able to read only one book would not be put into play to begin with. More importantly because even more primordial, freedom comes first; even before the ability to choose this or that possibility. Choosing is only secondary, what you chose de facto is tertiary. Freedom comes first because with the sheer ability to know we are able to choose this or that and finally read this one at this or that time.

I never freely read a book because I never entered the library or browsed through the shelves of a bookstore before I bought my real first book after graduation (a dusty and ambiguous From Socrates to Sartre by T.Z. Lavine). But before that moment of enlightenment, freedom was still at play: a negative freedom which made it possible for me to not be open to the possibilities books contain in their leaves, so as to not be able to choose this or that volume and to finally not be able to read this or that one at this time.

That is why it is only now, unlike others, that I am starting to put this freedom to know into a glorious play. It is only now that I am finally building my own library.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Fields of Amorsolo

The first National Artist in Philippine history, referred to warmly as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art,” Fernando Amorsolo (1892–1972) still stands today as a looming figure in Philippine art responsible for being one of the artists who helped define what we up to now visually imagine as essentially Filipino. The images of rural life, of golden fields below clear blue, blue skies; the smiles of farmers which diminish their weariness as they plant, harvest, and winnow rice;most especially the iconic figure of the Filipina maiden working in the fields—the beloved dalagang bukid--; these, I believe, even after generations of Filipino painters since Amorsolo, have remained in our hearts and memory. Amorsolo did what great masters do for their country: bestow upon it its own icons, represent its native beauty, that is, to give its people and lands an identity and a face. There are, however, as many intentions for art as there are works of art. And these intentions will always remain in…

[Payapang Daigdig]

Written by Pat Nogoy, S.J.

Payapang Daigdig Felipe de Leon, Sr. 
Ang gabi'y payapa Lahat ay tahimik  Pati mga tala      Sa bughaw na langit 

Kay hinhin ng hangin Waring umiibig          Sa kapayapaan          Ng buong daigdig     
Payapang panahon    Ay diwa ng buhay Biyaya ng Diyos       Sa sangkatauhan
Ang gabi'y payapa Lahat ay tahimik Pati mga tala Sa bughaw na langit  
Pati mga tala           Sa bughaw na langit


The gift delivers Being/being Jean Luc Marion

There is something about the night.
The blanket of darkness hovering the other half of the day sparks ambivalence. Everything is the same in darkness—fear, joy, pain, triumph, doubt, glory, sorrow. Identities recede unto the vast anonymity. There is a pervading anxiety where existence slips into nothingness. One is never certain what to make out of darkness; maybe that is why the night shakes us because we never know. One cannot avoid imagining a something that is greater, higher, mightier, (even sinister) that lurks (hence the power of ghos…

Without Why (The Rose) II

Lifetime is a child at play; moving pieces in a game.
Kingship belongs to the child.

Heraclitus, Fragment 52


The child at play never asks itself why it plays. The child just plays; and if it could, it will play as long as possible, it will play throughout its life. See its delight and witness its smile.

If it would never go hungry or if the sun would never set it too will never leave its playmates and playthings. Time flies at play because it stops or suspends time. Time -- as we grownups only know too well -- is the culprit for order, schedules and priorities; yet for the child, there is no time, there is only bottomless play. It is we who impose that this or that should be done at this or that time. We stop the absurd and supposedly endless play ("He does nothing but play") because we insist that discipline, order and priorities be instilled in the child at an early age ("He needs to learn other things beside playing"). So that the child will become like us one da…