Think three impossible things:
(The simplest idea is the number 'one')


The simplest idea is 'one', we're told
Impossibility which none can hold.

From that comes two, more reasonable, bold,
But three? You'll see one's mind explode.


In 1887, Charles Peirce wrote:
The First is that whose being is simply in itself, not referring to anything nor lying behind anything. The second is that which is what it is by force of something to which it is second. The third is that which is what it is owing to things between which it mediates and which it brings into relation to each other.

The idea of the absolutely First must be entirely separated from all conception of or reference to anything else; for what involves a second is itself a second to that second. The First must therefore be present and immediate, so as not to be second to a representation. It must be fresh and new, for if old it is second to its former state. It must be initiative, original, spontaneous, and free; otherwise it is second to a determining cause. It is also something vivid and conscious; so only it avoids being the object of some sensation. It precedes all synthesis and all differentiation; it has no unity and no parts. It cannot be articulately thought: assert it, and it has already lost its characteristic innocence; for assertion always implies a denial of something else. Stop to think of it, and it has flown! What the world was to Adam on the day he opened his eyes to it, before he had drawn any distinctions, or had become conscious of his own existence—that is first, present, immediate, fresh, new, initiative, original, spontaneous, free, vivid, conscious, and evanescent. Only, remember that every description of it must be false to it.

Just as the first is not absolutely first if thought along with a second, so likewise to think the Second in its perfection we must banish every third. The Second is therefore the absolute last. But we need not, and must not, banish the idea of the first from the second; on the contrary, the Second is precisely that which cannot be without the first. It meets us in such facts as Another, Relation, Compulsion, Effect, Dependence, Independence, Negation, Occurrence, Reality, Result. A thing cannot be other, negative, or independent, without a first to or of which it shall be other, negative, or independent. Still, this is not a very deep kind of secondness; for the first might in these cases be destroyed yet leave the real character of the second absolutely unchanged. When the second suffers some change from the action of the first, and is dependent upon it, the secondness is more genuine. But the dependence must not go so far that the second is a mere accident or incident of the first; otherwise the secondness again degenerates. The genuine second suffers and yet resists, like dead matter, whose existence consists in its inertia. Note, too, that for the Second to have the Finality that we have seen belongs to it, it must be determined by the first immovably, and thenceforth be fixed; so that unalterable fixity becomes one of its attributes. We find secondness in occurrence, because an occurrence is something whose existence consists in our knocking up against it. A hard fact is of the same sort; that is to say, it is something which is there, and which I cannot think away, but am forced to acknowledge as an object or second beside myself, the subject or number one, and which forms material for the exercise of my will.

The idea of second must be reckoned as an easy one to comprehend. That of first is so tender that you cannot touch it without spoiling it; but that of second is eminently hard and tangible. It is very familiar, too; it is forced upon us daily; it is the main lesson of life. In youth, the world is fresh and we seem free; but limitation, conflict, constraint, and secondness generally, make up the teaching of experience...

We have seen that it is the immediate consciousness that is preeminently first, the external dead thing that is preeminently second. In like manner, it is evidently the representation mediating between these two that is preeminently third...

We have seen that the conception of the absolute first eludes every attempt to grasp it; and so in another sense does that of the absolute second; but there is no absolute third, for the third is of its own nature relative, and this is what we are always thinking, even when we aim at the first or second. The starting-point of the universe, God the Creator [or man the producer], is the Absolute First; the terminus of the universe, God [slash proletariat or 'artist'] completely revealed, is the Absolute Second; every state of the universe at a measurable point of time is the third. If you think the measurable is all there is, and deny it any definite tendency whence or whither, then you are considering the pair of points that makes the absolute to be imaginary and are an Epicurean. If you hold that there is a definite drift to the course of nature as a whole, but yet believe its absolute end is nothing but the nirvana [or void] from which it set out, you make the two points of the absolute to be coincident, and are a pessimist. But if your creed is that the whole universe is approaching in the infinitely distant future a state having a general character different from that toward which we look back in the infinitely distant past, you make the absolute to consist in two distinct real points and are an evolutionist.

This is one of the matters concerning which a man can only learn from his own reflections, but I believe that if my suggestions are followed out, the reader will grant that One, Two, Three, are more than mere count-words like “eeny, meeny, mony, mi," but carry vast, though vague ideas.
A Guess At The Riddle


Second is never first, except at its birth.
And then every third turn thereafter.

 

So the intermediating third is found in the infinite space between any two points on an imaginary line, meaning none other than that chaotic but always influential "everything else", which, of course, leaves a bit to the imagination, including butterflies in Bolivia.

However. I'm beginning to think imagination may not be available to an increasingly thickening thegment, segment. For real engagement, an hostile lip, er, lisp is never primarily intended. That would be a mere reactionary second, as is often said of any first impression. In a constrained or determined universe, there are only vacant rooms for gods (vagrants need not apply due to ephemeral meaninglessness). Here, mere mortals cannot witness novelty or be unexpectedly perturbed. Every thing is counted, accounted, accountable. Here, imagination is fake or restricted to an internal snapshot taken from real experience. Nostalgic or not, everything is banal. Weird juxtapositions must be cast out: the "unlikely", "unreal" and "incoherent". The experienced ego only has desire in its arsenal of fantasy. There is no "What if" except in referencing one's owned empirical past, the "known" in projectural perpetuity. "If I were you", we quite often hear, but in real engagements it means "If you were me" and there is the hidden addendum, "you should" standing behind every "I would". Only in such a universe, there is no change at all, and no standing beside yourself, no learning beyond iterations, interest free beyond the solution to higher calculations. The call to eliminate the middle third, that is, "mediation" (not to be confused with meddlement), has perhaps an unlooked for implication. What is unlikely is simply what we don't like, it is unlikeable. Process betwixt this and that is said to be mediative. It's elimination is truly freedom for both: the schizmogenic acceleration of alienation or the process behind every propertied relation. This is the birth of the void, the distance between us which is impossible to cross. It is precisely the distance of majesterial overlaps, or from one truth to the next.

No wonder science teachers can not relay the notion of experimentation! One must first be able to posit a weird juxtaposition without self-ridicule or catcalls from the democratically inclined audience.

Sophistry? Of course! Even sophistic imagination (once called "paradoxologia" – sounds like an intestinal disorder) can lead one outside of tautological constructions, like a relief from an intestinal blockage, and from that position, we can see the absurdity of filled boxes and overcrowded rooms containing any divinity whatsoever, whether (avant) godly or proletaire. Essential means of production? Then where is dream time? We are meant to believe that is the futility of nowheresville, but we know elsewise: there are other inclinations, not all of which represent pre-planned destinations or packaged events.

Sophistry is not just the means of the production of lies. We have legislatures for that job. Parody, figuration and theatricality: "poetics-minus-the-meter". Such spoke Gorgias the Nihilist (and first of sophists) of magical incantations: "Just as different drugs draw forth different humors from the body – some putting a stop to disease, others to life – so too with words: some cause pain, others joy, some strike fear, some stir the audience to boldness, some benumb and bewitch the soul with evil persuasion". Persuasion is just the influence of a good performance – theatre – while philosophy is just seduction (aka "entrapment"). Plato, of course, reversed the formula – his only bag was "Truth". Gorgias is a nihilist only in so far as truth is irrelevant to the reception of a good show. But he also said:

1. Nothing exists;
2. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
3. Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others.
4. Even if it can be communicated, there is no incentive to do so.
On Nature, or The Non-Existent

We can't say Gorgias was an early Dupontist, even if he was a time-traveler, without first postulating the middle third (unless, of course, there is no incentive to do so, which ironically expresses a positive utility to futility, another middle third seen only as "necessary constraint"). He might have only wanted to piss us off before collecting his performance fee. Who knows the motives of mice and other furry creatures?

"the little pet rat sits perched upon a little golden centerpiece at the table, choking on his food with excitement, eyes bulging, thrilled at the power trips he is able to get away with. "All this power, and yet I am a mere rat!" he shrieks to his internal monologue."

Irony? Without the unique or novelty, the relativity of juxtaposed possibility, there is no datum or number 'one' making each facticity just another minor 'second' surrounding the "impossible" middle third. Relativity. The gods do not like Einstein's theory, even with his absurd disclaimer "gods do not play with dice". Logico-mathematic certainty is just another strand added to a barbed wire fence to make sure reality doesn't get in (or escape). The only possible addendum to reality is a question mark.

Before the Egyptian patriarchs got hold of it, this novelty (Peirce's 'One') was called "nfr" ("zero", whose hieroglyph also meant 'beauty' but now refers to 'kidney'). The Arabic "sifr", from which we get our own "zero" and "cypher", sent "nefro-, by virtue of rhyming with "necro-" inland into the void – 'Hades', 'Death', 'Central Iowa" – thereby inventing negative numbers which follow rather than precede their positive counterparts: what goes up must come down, zero being merely the tipping point at which motion reverses, or Schrödinger's uncertain cat.

Either way, we're speaking of the one certain thing (or equally, the point of uncertainty); the starting point like that shocking feeling when the cardiologist shouts "Clear!"; a stake in the ground; the perturbation like a "pluck" on a tightly wound harp string which signals the rythm section to begin; the receptive box waiting to be filled. It's a hole we can fall into or leap out from; an inviting hole in a rolling doughnut; a bank vault waiting to be emptied by the mob (a contradiction in terms if we are thinking "organised crime"). A place holder whose only reciprocal is infinity but not "nothing at all" since, once we posit a vacuum, we must bring along a container to hold it, like a Mayan shell – the glyph for "setting in" – variably called "pop" or "ge" ('egg'). Whether expressed as zero or one, "stop to think of it, and it has flown!" Ephemeral meaning is the only kind (Heisenburg: op cit, op art: 1=0/?). Conclusion? It may be best to think with your feet, and remember to bring provisions. Ronald Sukenick's equation: 0/1=OUT!

It all comes together. Don't fall. Each of us carries a stick of dynamite. Concealed on his person. That does several things. One it forms a bond. Two it makes you feel special. Three it's mute articulation of the conditions we live in today I mean not only us but everybody the zeitgeist you might say if not the human condition itself and keeps you in touch with reality. This is your stick. Don't fall. We know one among us is a government agent that's inevitable. Maybe it's you. Maybe it's me. The way we deal with that is as long as everyone does his job what's the difference. You're either part of the plot or part of the counterplot. Everybody's got to be either one or the other they all have their own opinions about which they are. Personally that's not part of my assignment. Part of it is having meets. This is a meet. The way you have meets is you take out your stick of dynamite that's your i. d. Don't fall. This is a two person meet there are bigger ones. When we get all our dynamite together we have a bomb. Then we set it off. It's all chance. Don't trust anyone you don't know that's the big thing. It's all who you like who you can work with who you fuck. Personal affinity. Of course we don't have real names we have aliases. Today I'm Harrold. Two r's. Tomorrow I might be someone else. Don't fall. Of course all this probably sounds wacky to you. That's because none of it is true. It's just a joke a way we have of testing people's reactions. The dynamite stick's a dud. Light the fuse and see. Or maybe you better not. Maybe it'll blow your head off. Well you never know till you try. Right?

And it all falls apart. Everything in the universe was once considered derived from as few as four root elements and two directions (in and out), yet everything in the universe remained a unique, volatile position. "Element" was likely a dysphasic misnomer, an objectivist translator (Plato's) impression producing much future confusion between parts and permutations. Empedocles didn't use that term, in any language. A better gloss may have been "Condition" (of swerving epicurean atoms) from free distribution to likely collisions. If, for an earthling, the sun is light par excellent, fire is in that relation to heat, earth to solid, water to liquid and air to gas (early Buddhist texts refer gas to "mobility"). Elementary, my dear Watson! The condition is the starting point. If there are no reproductions, there is no identity, only variable degrees of analog and similarity – this is the meaning or basis of poetics. Plato and Aristotle had no room in their box for such ambiguity. Tomorrow my name might be Carl.

An empty box is filled to the brim with an infinite supply of identically produced particles of nothing, but there is always as well the likelihood of contamination. After all, a vacuum cleaner's very life and career depends on it! What has truth value to do with selling a commodity, like a sphinx emerging from your own protected sphincter? Nothing at all!

In this sense, nihilism is never about nothing. It just goes to show you, it's always something! What if there was no void? It's not a new idea. If Peirce was on to something, wouldn't activism, or more correctly, "mobile humours" be the impossible third come back to life, albeit relatively late? Act one in Theatre of the Absurd. It is only impossible in political constraints, where there are ever only two sides: mine and everything else (producing the unstable "power vacuum" should anyone leave the room).

But really, where's the fun in life if it's not funny? Maybe nothing IS funny? But let's NOT take it TOO seriously! Maybe utopia and dystopia are the only real points on an imaginary line in any sort of engagement? Maybe dystopia is just the Scarlet O'Hara syndrome par excellent – "wrap it up and put it in the drawer; I'll worry about it tomorrow" – prone to produce or prolong daily nightmares?

"Don't hold your piss too long, or the bag will burst!"
– Carl Marx

Aesthetic consciousness is the only discriminating taste we have to navigate the possibilities of a utopian or dystopian event, usefully engaged while sleeping or waking. Three somatic clues are available: euphoria, dysphoria and aphoria, experienced anywhere in the gamut from subtle or subliminal tendency to an outright flip'n outburst. Only aphoria produces no change in direction but many aphorisms inducing and ensuring company along the way. Like the inner ear is to balance, taste is the middle third of movement; an instrumental interlude played in solo or chorus; the second act in a three act play; the first wrong turn off any freeway giving rise to a unique experience or right turn ensuring a pleasant reiteration of one's former anticipation of well-being. Eutopia is not a place. It is a direction!

 


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