living through death

"The only way that you can accept life is if you can accept death.” –Leo Buscaglia

When the Question Is the Answer

with 2 comments

Moishe the Beadle, in Elie Wiesel’s Night, says that

…every question possesse[s] a power that [is] lost in the answer …

It’s a tremendous line. When it comes to things like virtue, wisdom, peace, faith, and humility, the first real step toward any of them is realizing that no answer to their implicit question is ever adequate. What is virtue? What must I do to be wise? How can I attain peace? In what am I to have faith? How do I know if I am truly humble? The subjection of every answer to further questioning can itself be a sign of the state that is sought.1

©alex blondeauTake, for example, just virtue. It turns out, virtue is just not the sort of thing that is well contained in an answer. As a settled answer it becomes law, and law, with its determinate nature, can only cover so much ground. The dynamic element of life always keeps law from ever attaining the status of virtue (legalism is no virtue). So, in a sense, there is no “answer.” But there is the question, and if we reflect on it, we might become aware that, when it comes to certain things, the question is itself the answer. After all, it was Socrates’ strenuous denial that he possessed wisdom that leads us to recognize his wisdom.

In virtue, faith, peace, wisdom, and humility, what is at issue is the precariousness of our life. The path to achieving any of them is to realize that they can’t be acheived by overcoming our precariousness. Rather, for their emergence in our life, our precariousness must first be accepted.2

In this way we develop the ability to live in the power of our questions rather than the weakness of any presumed answer.


1. This post emerged from a response to a thoughtful email sent to me by a friend of mine (who wishes to remain nameless).
2. I have Marvin Shaw to thank for helping to clarify what problem is addressed by this paradoxical motion. Marvin C. Shaw, The Paradox of Intention: Reaching the Goal by Giving up the Attempt to Reach It (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1988).

Written by Alex

November 7, 2013 at 8:54 am

2 Responses

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  1. Alex, have you given any thought to what non-legalistic (non-legislative) governance might look like? My curiosity comes from my own interest in describing faith in a way that minimizes our propensity for self righteousness, while at the same time acknowledging that some self-reflexivity is healthy in any practice or discipline. How do we maintain precariousness while monitoring personal progress? This is my endless question.

    Bryne Helen Lewis

    November 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

  2. This is a great question. I tend to think in terms of a radical, self-reflexive, anti-governance. Governance seeks to maintain order by policing the adherence to a predetermined vision of the good. What I’m aiming at is a dislodging of our attachments to these predetermined vision. Self-reflexivity is the gentle awareness in which we notice and release our attachments to these visions, thus redirecting our attention to the concreteness of the present moment.

    Precariousness is not maintained, per se. We are in it. The trick is to embrace that fact.

    Does that speak to your question?


    November 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

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