On Philosophy

Painting by Mark Tansey: Recourse (2011)

Plato somewhere compares philosophy to a raft on which a shipwrecked sailor may perhaps reach home. Never was a simile more apt. Every man has his raft, which is generally large enough only for one. It is made up of things snatched from his cabin – a life preserver or two of psalm, proverb or fable; some planks held together by the oddest rope-ends of experience; and the whole shaky craft requires constant attention. How absurd, then, is it to think that any formal philosophy is possible – when the rag or old curtain that serves one man for a waistcoat is the next man’s prayer-mat! To try to make a raft for one’s neighbor, or try to get on to someone else’s raft, these seem to be the besetting sins of philosophy and religion.

The raft itself is an illusion. We do not either make or possess our raft. We are not able to seize it or explain it, cannot summon it at will. It comes and goes like a phantom.

John Jay Chapman
Quoted in Gore Vidal’s The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000

Painting by Mark Tansey: Recourse (2011)

Related: Make Your Own Bible

Throw Down Your Dictionaries

Painting by Mark Tansey: Discarding the Frame (1980s)

The horrible lot of an ordinary, normal man whose life is determined by dictionaries of easily understandable words and acts. The acts draw him on, like a fragile vessel rigged out with words and gestures. If the fragile vessel runs aground on the submerged rock of inapprehensibility, it is wrecked, and the sailor drowns. At life’s slightest jolt, ordinary people are deprived of reason. No, madmen know no such dangers. Their brains are more subtle. The ingenuous brain finds impenetrable that which such brains penetrate. There is nothing for it but to be wrecked, and – it is wrecked.

Andrei Bely
Petersburg (1910-13)

Painting by Mark Tansey: Discarding the Frame (1980s)

Don’t You Worry About Climate Change

Doubting Thomas

Perhaps part of the reason so many of our elites, both political and corporate, are so sanguine about climate change is that they are confident they will be able to buy their way out of the worst of it. This may also partially explain why so many Bush supporters are Christian end-timers. It’s not just that they need to believe there is an escape hatch from the world they are creating. It’s that the Rapture is a parable for what they are building down here on Earth – a system that invites destruction and disaster, then swoops in with private helicopters and airlifts them and their friends to divine safety.

Naomi Klein
The Shock Doctrine (2004)

Painting by Mark TanseyDoubting Thomas (1990s)

On “Reality”

Action Painting II

Another critic has written that your “worlds are static. They may become tense with obsession, but they do not break apart like the worlds of everyday reality.” Do you agree? Is there a static quality in your view of things?

Whose “reality”? “Everyday” where? Let me suggest that the very term “everyday reality” is utterly static since it presupposes a situation that is permanently observable, essentially objective, and universally known. I suspect you have invented that expert on “everyday reality.” Neither exists.

Vladimir Nabokov
Interview by Herbert Gold, 1966
Collected in Strong Opinions (1973)

Painting by Mark Tansey: Action Painting II (1984)

Out on the Limit

Mark Tansey: Interception (1996)

When you’re driving hard out on the limit and the true love of speed comes over you, you don’t want to slow up. You know you ought to maybe. But you’re locked onto something so big that you can’t let go. It’s always the same – the faster you go the less you care about being able to stop. Ever.

Sam Posey, racing driver
Life Magazine, May 23, 1969

Painting by Mark Tansey: Interception (1996)