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The third way.

Empiricism, p-idealism, and Islamism, which is somehow neither: heck, even John Fowles saw the wisdom of Den Beste, 16 years and an ocean away—

It took me many years to realize the great abyss between the French and English traditions of language use, or rhetoric: the pervasive influence of the metaphorical on the first, and of the literal on the second; life perceived through the intellect, through forms and concepts, and life perceived (more or less) as it appears; words as pure algebra, words as practical and Euclidean; as carefully bred garden pansies and as, in Lévi-Strauss’s pun, wild heart’s-ease. No doubt expert comparative linguists will cry in outrage at such a crude distinction, and I must, if I am forced, retreat behind the subtitle of this book [Studies in Anglo-French Cultural Relations: Imagining France]. Such an abyss, wrong though I may be to suppose it, forms very much a part of my own imagined France.

Or, well, maybe not. Fowles has kept in mind that old chestnut about fighting monsters and gazing into abysses and what that does to the fighter and the gazer; and, much as we (O, that royal, unholy “we”) have kept up the torture rooms and the rape rooms and maybe even God help us the mass graves we so righteously went in to wipe from the face of the earth, well: it’s left to any astute-enough observer of the current Yankee Zeitgeist to determine which side is in the end the more likely to use words as algebra; whose X is truly able to mean whatever they want it to mean at the time. (Which necessarily excludes those observers who’ve somehow miscast themselves as Matt Damon, holding Minnie Driver’s phone number up against the window and yelling “How do you like these apples!” to a bar full of Harvard smartypants. —He later dumped her on one of those late-night talk shows. Broke her heart. I read about it in one of the glossier magazines.)

Man, just think: if Derrida had gotten up in front of the country and declaimed, “I did not have sex with that woman”...

Empiricism, p-idealism, an exquisitely tailored Manichean mirror-dream—I want a different third way. Rabe‘a Al-Adawiyah will do for a start, a Sufi mystic who did Diogenes one better: she wandered the streets with a torch and a bucket of water, to burn the gates of heaven and douse the fires of hell, so she could see who truly loved God for God. “Oh my Lord,” she said, “if I worship you for fear of your hellfire then throw me in it, and if I worship you in greed for your heaven then forbid me from having it, and if I am worshipping you for your generous face then forbid me not from seeing you.” And it may seem to those who squint that we’re right back where we started, and maybe the gates of heaven are daily polished by the p-idealists, and it’s those Others in the mirror that stoke the fires of hell, and maybe there’s something joyously empirical to blindly feeling the face of God with our fingers, but Rabe‘a sees what Den Beste misses, if I may be so blasphemous: the whole point of a trialectic is to position yourself just so, smiling sweetly, saying, “Let’s you and him fight.”

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