Some Thoughts on Contingency, Irony and Solidarity

“Back and forth I paced, probing the floor with seamless and well-constructed arguments. Then, rearing back, I would thrust irrefutable conclusions into the ceiling. Chalk crumbled in my hand and flew through space as I struck broad decisive strokes across the lecture hall slate – Gutenberg in a monastery vineyard, toying with a wine-making screw press; Einstein, trying in frustration to coordinate European clocks in the Swiss patent office; the young lab clinician Sigmund Freud, dreamily poking a dissected frontal lobe, looking for brain damage…The March of Progress?…or Accidents Waiting to Happen.”

That was Professor Thatcher lecturing to his students about Contingency even as he struggles to figure out his own Telos. Like most of us (for whom religious faith just doesn’t quite suffice), he is pinned between an unshakeable sense of  ‘destiny’ and the provisional nature of life as it is on earth. And like most of us, he’s trying to just ‘go with it’, even in the poker games with his faculty colleagues:

“I’m a heedless gambler; I neither care if I win nor lose. Perhaps that is why I usually break even. I have no goals when I play other than to watch the fall of cards. I enjoy seeing what they provoke – the anxious shift of a chair, the soft groan, the sly grin, sucked-in breath; each card triggering a behavioral tic like Pavlov’s dog. And all the while, the streaming banter, saying little and going nowhere. It’s refreshing.”

pace, Richard Rorty…

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