Thursday, September 15, 2005

The dangers of certainty ...

Some years ago I attended a lecture given by John Polkinghorne, the physicist and Anglican priest, at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton. Father Polkinghorne prefaced his answer to one of the questions that was put to him afterward by saying that all of the most interesting questions did not admit of a simple, conclusive answer. That, he said, was what made them interesting.
This idea has some bearing on the comments appended to my previous post. We have a craving for certainty. But it is precisely this craving, it seems to me, that gets in the way of apprehending the truth.
I was talking today to a colleague of mine -- Gene D'Alessandro, who was one of the performers in the Philly Fringe Festival presentation of An Evening of Damon Runyon, which I blogged about the other night. I told Gene that the reason I tended not to like social drama was that it tended to deal in certainties. Genuine art is concerned with gradations of light and shade -- with ambiguities.
Take Macbeth. In the beginning, Macbeth is hesitant. It is Lady Macbeth who goads him into villainy. But once he has chosen his course, he does not waver, or go to pieces, as she does. Even at the end -- when it is clear to him that Birnum Wood has indeed come to Dunsinane, and that MacDuff is not exactly of woman born -- even then, he does not lose courage. He is a villain, to be sure, but it is impossible not to admire his defiance of fate. He is no cardboard cutout, but a man who has chosen his course. Which makes him at one and the same time evil and admirable.
It is its capacity to capture such ambiguities that connects art with life, because it is the ambiguities that give life -- and art -- its richness.
There is so little we can be certain of. Moreover, the more we are certain of things, the more we are inclined to be intolerant regarding them. This is not to say we can never make up our minds. We must make up our minds. What is existential authenticity other than the courage to choose in the face of uncertainty? And each choice always leads to further choices. Such is the adventure of being alive.

No comments:

Post a Comment