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Unwritten Books

I was browsing through the well-stocked shelves of a bookstore in Sydney a few days ago when my heart stopped as I was about to go through one of the most frustrating experiences one can have. I saw a certain book, pulled it out in a heartbeat, briskly read the back cover and there in my hands was the book I wanted to write. It was a book on waiting, or to be painfully precise about it, it was Harold Schweizer's On Waiting, published in 2008 as part of the Routledge Thinking in Action Series.

I had reflected a lot about waiting for the past few years, beginning 2004 after reading Heidegger's works on Gelassenheit. And I not only read it but also went through the beauty and the trembling of waiting in the years that followed. Looking back, my first real essay here in this clearing was The Weight of Waiting. In truth, this clearing room was opened up in 2006 so that I can "do something" while I waited. A lot of the other essays are also marked with the question of waiting: What does it mean to really wait? What are we waiting for when we wait? How do we properly wait?

I know what you are thinking. It seems that I am marking out a chronological time line to prove that I was the "first"to think of the possible philosophical significance of waiting--how it shows us more than what it shows, how it tells us something about ourselves. But to do that would be too presumptuous or unrealistic or simply idiotic. After all, I also learned it from Heidegger among other thinkers and writers; so if there is really nothing new to it, there will also never be a "first." In my own field of dreams I simply wanted to explore waiting on its own. Well, at least in that idea I was beat out--as if I was part of the race! But I am not a writer, not a thinker, not someone who gets published or anything like that. I am just a . . . I do not know really.

While there is the (made up) feeling of missing the chance to be the first to say something about this or that (because who really wants to read old newspapers?) I was honestly more thrilled than disappointed. Why? Because the other writer confirms and validates you: it means that what you saw leads to something, what you thought could be possible, and that what you wish to say is worth saying. And the great thing about it is that you will almost always learn more from the work of another writer because it will always be better than your unwritten book.

Book in hand, I walked out of the bookstore knowing that two minds met.

* * *
Something very different but very similar happened on the return flight yesterday. I was reading a newly acquired small volume of Nietzsche (great for carry-on baggage) when I came across an epigraph of his in Human, All too Human. It was about hope and he there talks about Pandora's Jar:

Hope.--Pandora brought the box of ills and opened it. It was the gift of the gods to men, outwardly a beautiful and seductive gift, and called the Casket of Happiness. Out of it flew all the evils, living winged creatures, thence they now circulate and do men injury day and night. One single evil had not yet escaped from the box, and by the will of Zeus Pandora closed the lid and it remained within. Now for ever man has the casket of happiness in his house and thinks he holds a great treasure; it is at his disposal, he stretches out his hand for it whenever he desires; for he does not know the box which Pandora brought was the casket of evil, and he believes the ill which remains within to be the greatest blessing,--it is hope. Zeus did not wish man, however much he might be tormented by the other evils, to fling away his life, but to go on letting himself be tormented again and again. Therefore he gives man hope, -- in reality it is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man. (# 71)

And without having read this from my dear philosopher then, this was what I wrote in 2007: Hope in a Jar.


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