I was once profoundly captivated by two aphorisms. The initial maxim emanated from the sibling of the American litterateur, Isaac Singer. This scrivener, who commenced his literary pursuits early on but eventually faded into obscurity, imparted sagacity to his younger kin thus: “Opinions inevitably wither with time, while facts remain impervious to temporal erosion.” The second adage is attributed to an ancient Greek luminary: “Destiny perceives with greater precision than our discernment.”
Herein, they repudiated the “perspective,” offering a robust justification: the scion of the Singer lineage underscored the “fact” with pragmatic emphasis, while the ancient Greeks placed greater faith in inscrutable elements, asserting that it is “fate.” A shared trait lies in the expansive nature of “fact” and “destiny,” surpassing the confines of “perception,” akin to autumn; and what is “perception”? Perhaps a mere leaf to them. People perennially indulge in expressing their viewpoints, unwittingly becoming founts of hubris. They truly believe a leaf can fathom autumn, oblivious to its adjectival essence.
Subsequently, I revisited Montaigne. This prodigious essayist averred, “It is folly to adjudicate the rectitude or fallacy of matters based on our limited faculties.” He expounded further: “Why not contemplate the inherent contradictions within our own opinions? How many erstwhile tenets have metamorphosed into falsehoods today?” Montaigne intimates that “opinion” is predominantly a product of vanity and inquisitiveness. “Inquisitiveness impels us to meddle in diverse matters, and vanity compels us to meddle in diverse matters. We are enjoined not to leave queries unanswered.”
Centuries hence, numerous luminaries have attested to Montaigne’s assertions. In 1943, Thomas Watson, the IBM chairman, confidently asserted, “I reckon five computers would suffice for the entire global market.” Harry Warner, a scion of the silent film era, fervently believed in 1907, “Who desires to hear the voice of an actor?” Marshal Foch, Montaigne’s compatriot, President of the French Superior Military Academy, and World War I’s Allied Forces commander, evinced keen interest in the nascent concept of airplanes, dubbing them “intriguing toys devoid of military value.”
I acknowledge myriad such testimonials that would have pleased Montaigne. The fallacy of these witnesses lay not in hasty or irresponsible utterances on unfamiliar topics. They expounded on subjects within their purview. Be it Watson, Warner, or Foch, their pronouncements bore the imprimatur of authoritative opinions. The crux lies in the fact that authority often germinates from arrogance, akin to elation that propels individuals into expressing prognostications about the future. To them, the future is merely a temporal extension, bereft of substantive knowledge. Comparable to the U.S. Patent Office commissioner in 1899, who advocated demolishing the office, positing that “everything inventable in the world has been invented.” Interestingly, the unknown future has indelibly memorialized them through the prism of jests in multilingual publications.
Many admonish, “Speak not of matters unknown.” This ostensibly embodies prudence and humility, often deemed indicative of success. While circumspection in opining is commendable, the challenge lies in discerning one’s realm of knowledge. Few discourse extensively on unfamiliar subjects. People habitually opine on known matters, perpetually expressing unknown viewpoints. Is this the confidence borne of knowledge?
I acquaint you with a friend, erstwhile student of Western philosophy turned prosperous entrepreneur. His intriguing dictum posits, “My mind is akin to a pond, others’ books akin to pebbles; when cast into the pond, pebbles generate ripples, not arousing other pebbles.” He concludes, “No matter the extent of others’ knowledge in my mind, it remains theirs, not mine.”
His original words repelled critiques from erstwhile educators, for he was averse to reading during college. Upon reflection, I find his views not only captivating but also persuasive. However, they withstand not innumerable refutations.
His assertion underscores the proclivity of facile opinionators to misconstrue others’ knowledge as their own and past knowledge as prophetic. Thus, a plethora of jests permeates the world.
Astute opinions occasionally sidestep conventional perspectives, like the Greek who supplanted the vista of life with the vista of fate, or Isaac Singer’s brother, whose endeavor to substantiate “only facts endure” faltered, while his younger sibling, Isaac Singer, subscribing to his brother’s casual remark, provides a triumphant exemplar. Singer’s oeuvre undoubtedly does.
What constitutes the authentic “perspective” for them? When faced with choices, they seem to opt for intersections, crossroads, or junctures. When repudiating the “perspective,” they invariably choose a “perspective.” It is universally acknowledged, for it is impossible to be devoid of opinions. Just as a blind person can navigate, how can one endowed with discernment renounce judgment?
Does this imply the authentic “perspective” remains elusive, or should “perspective” be an indecisive undertone within? If so, then silence epitomizes “perspective.” Yet, everyone voices their thoughts, including the Greeks, Singer’s brother, and, of course, Montaigne.
What distinguishes them is their unanimous adoption of a skeptical stance. They appear to posit that “opposite any proposition, there is another proposition.”
Others concur with this stance. In 1996, Miss Jones clinched the “Chastity Award” in Ohio, USA, for her age aligning with her hymen’s. She humorously declared, “What I receive is assuredly not a ‘virgin award.’ I am innately repulsed and antagonistic towards men, hence, at thirty-eight, my hymen remains unscathed. This fifty thousand dollars is, undoubtedly, my award for male aversion.”
Established by exuberant men, this award intended for chaste virgins in an era of sexual liberation paradoxically landed in the hands of their purported adversary, Miss Jones, fervently advocating the annihilation of sexuality. An ironic twist, for, to these upright men, celibacy is undeniably worse than promiscuity. Their confluence is intriguing.
It is evident that perspectives in our lives abound in surprises. Since two diametrically opposed viewpoints can coexist, others warrant due recognition.
In his work “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” Milan Kundera proffers a philosophy professor’s assertion: “Since James Joyce, we have known that the greatest adventure in our lives lies in the inadequacy of risks. exist……”
The phrase gained popularity, becoming the epigraph of a French novel. The sentiment conveyed is as polished as its syntactical structure. Its efficacy lies in perplexing both opponents and adherents. Should one emulate the philosophy professor, one might assert: The pivotal opinion encapsulated in this phrase is the non-existence of opinions.
Years later, in “The Testament Betrayed,” Kundera revisited these erstwhile words, deeming them “clever bastard words.” In the seventies, they echoed ubiquitously, a mishmash of academic circles steeped in structuralism and psychoanalysis residue.
Certain opinions exist not to elucidate or persuade but purely for amusement, akin to a game. In Borges’s short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the narrator and his companions embark on a quest sparked by a famous quote, culminating in an odyssey into a fantastical realm. The guiding aphorism posits: “Mirrors and copulation are both unclean, because they also increase the number of people.”
Attributed to a priest of Urbar, this saying bears religious undertones, seemingly tethered to a taboo. When stripped of context, its autonomy surfaces. Detached, we find ourselves ensconced in the delightful allure of the statement, indifferent to its rationality.
Hence, we cannot dismiss many opinions casually. “Destiny’s views are more accurate than ours,” and “views invariably grow stale.” Over the years, I have embraced these words, aligning myself with them. I comprehend the requisites of a writer, echoing Dante’s sentiment: “I like doubt as much as certainty.”
Fifteen years of writing may not constitute an eternity, yet the transformation wrought by writing is profound, especially for one adept at fictional narratives. Prolonged writing begets increasing fragility, timidity, and hesitancy. My purported shortcomings, often deemed surmountable, persist, while lauded attributes like tenacity, decisiveness, and valor manifest solely in my fictional prose. Delving into contemplation has propelled me into profound doubt, eroding my capacity for reasoned discourse. Simultaneously, my perceptual acuity thrives; I discern the precise sound and trajectory of a falling button, deeming it more consequential than the demise of a president.
In conclusion, I proffer my perspective as a writer. To elucidate further, I turn to Borges. In his beguiling story “Immortality,” a polyglot man adept in various languages recounts, “speaks several languages fluently and freely; when he speaks French, he swiftly transitions to English, then to his native Thessaloniki’s elusive Spanish and Macao’s Portuguese.” This emaciated man, who traversed desolation centuries ago, discovered a clandestine river conferring transcendence over death, and a city of immortals by its banks (effectively the ruins of cavemen).
Borges, in the novel, recounts, “I couldn’t find water for several days. The scorching sun, thirst, and the dread of thirst rendered the days insufferable.” The profundity of this sentence lies in Borges elucidating that beyond “thirst,” an even more harrowing “fear of thirst” lurks.
I posit that this encapsulates the perspective of a writer.