Some Things Are Unspeakable

What are you supposed to say about being? Heidegger gave half a book to the subject. The phenomenon is a way of getting at it, if you must import your terms from Greek, and so it went, from Heidegger to Husserl to Edith Stein and Wojtyla. Whether phenomenology will take hold as way of explaining Christian thought or was only a fillip of the last pontificate, we will see.

It’s not much that English speakers want to write books about, rather than just keeping your head down and getting on with things. If one is going to consider being as more than just the time that the light switch is on, there must be something to say.

Taking up the Kantian challenge, “Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself,” Stevens found that metaphor had to do, and so said in twelve lines what wasn’t quite said in a shelf of continental philosophy.


The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

–Wallace Stevens

Explore posts in the same categories: Criticism, Poetry

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