This in not the beginning of the book – read the short Prologue first!
By Luke Hauser – copyright 2017 GroundWork – visit DirectAction.org
I shifted restlessly in my back-row seat. When was the orientation going to start?
According to the graduate assistant, Mr. Testascrittore would arrive momentarily. However many times he had delivered his annual orientation lecture, the distinguished professor was said to be as punctual as the celebrated Mr. Kant, by whose comings and goings neighbors set their watches.
Who set their watch by hand any longer? Still, the graduate assistant (one Perkins) assured us that it was a most extraordinary occasion that Mr. Testascrittore, whom all of us were on the edge of our chair-desks to meet, was running late for his first lecture of the year.
But was it so unusual after all? The only evidence we had was Perkins’ word. On what basis was he asserting this state of affairs? His memory?
How could he assert that his memory was an adequate gauge of the entirety of reality?
In fact, on what grounds did this Perkins fellow even assert that Mr. Testascrittore existed? His own experience? How reliable was experience, after all?
For most of recorded history, it was an indisputable fact of direct experience that the Earth was flat.
And for even longer than that, experience showed beyond any plausible doubt that our planet stood still while the Sun revolved around it.
So much for experience. What we needed was proof.
And proof was why I had come here. Proof was why I had given up my leisurely life in the cultural prairielands of Berkeley to come to the booming metropolis of Terre Haute.
Mr. Testascrittore’s quest for a proof of his own existence – as yet only an epistemological rumor – had captured my fancy during my undergrad studies at the University of Southeastern Berkeley – USB, or “Dear Old Youzbie,” as the locals were wont to say.
The Testascrittoreian proof – so I gathered – dared to address one of my most vexing concerns: namely, my own existence.
I mean, if I spend my entire life working like a fool, paying rent and taxes and keeping up on credit card bills and flossing daily and so forth and so on – and then it turns out I don’t even exist! – I am going to feel like I wasted my life.
True, by strict Aristotelean syllogic, this does not imply that if I succeed in proving that I exist, my life would have meaning. Yet it seemed like a solid step in the right direction, and for that reason Mr. Testascrittore’s proof struck me as the noblest of philosophical quests.
I’d heard Mr. Testascrittore perform twice when he came through Berkeley headlining the Philosophalooza Tour, and I always had a fantasy that he’d spend a semester in residence at USB so I could study with him.
Not that a provincial town like Berkeley could expect to snare such an eminent epistemologist, even for a semester. Whatever my dreams, I knew the reality was much more pedestrian – an annual glimpse of my idol from the nosebleed seats at the Wavy Gravy Memorial Auditorium and Ice Rink.
So imagine my surprise and delight when, toward the end of another lazy California summer (one that had seen me drop all my classes and spend my days at the beach basking in Mr. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason), the eminent Mr. Testascrittore himself invited me to study at the Institute – all because of a shared taste for pizza.
As part of a class called Phenomenological Analysis of the Italian Culinary Inheritance (Phenomenology being a buzzword for carefully describing something), I wrote an in-depth account of USB’s annual Prima Pizzavera Pig-Out contest that was published in the campus daily, offering blow by blow coverage of the omnivore round along with its somewhat less savory aftermath in the campus washhouse.
Waiting backstage before the Philosophalooza show, Mr. Testascrittore happened to see my article and publicly hailed it as a masterpiece of gastro-intestinal Phenomenology. A roadie contacted me with an invitation to submit the piece to the renowned West Central Indiana Journal of Applied Descriptology, of which Mr. Testascrittore was a consulting editor.
My delight was compounded when a day later I was notified that the famed professor had wired the Rector of the Institute and (in what I was subsequently informed was one of his periodic bursts of fancy) practically demanded that I be offered a graduate fellowship, complete with housing and meal plan.
Further, I was to serve as a departmental aide – an entre to the highest ranks of graduate assistantship in the Western world.
The invitation arrived a scant week before the start of the term. Despite the fact that I was already registered for Fall semester at USB and had planned out my complete schedule of skipping classes, the temptation was irresistible.
Not that I was unhappy with my life in Berkeley. I worked a few hours a day as a campus custodian, went to a class here or there, and spent the rest of my time playing music, going to protests, and reading the books I really felt like reading.
Not a bad life for an aspiring philosophe. But not quite the challenge my budding intellect required.
Given that Berkeley was named for a famous philosopher, it was a bit ironic that the town was an intellectual backwater while Terre Haute (Demotic French for High Land, so dubbed in honor of the local cannabis strain) was an international cultural capitol.
Berkeley was named for George Berkeley (pronounced “Bark-lee”), early eighteenth-century Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland, who in his spare time after visiting the poor and tending the sick and clothing the naked and hosting official banquets and that sort of episcopally thing found the opportunity to immerse himself in Mr. Locke’s notion that all of our ideas derive from sense data.
Mr. Berkeley, imaginative spirit that he was, carried the idea to the next level by noting that if all knowledge was based on sense-data, and all we had to double-check it was more sense-data, we’d soon find ourselves wondering whether there was any material substrate at all behind the endless parade of sense-data appearances.
His questions have troubled generations of inquisitive spirits. But like Mr. Hume after him, who questioned the existence of causes on similar Lockean grounds, Mr. Berkeley seems not to have allowed his radical views to disrupt an otherwise pleasant existence.
Indeed it was probably this enjoyable lifestyle rather than his philosophical gambit which led the quiet little Northern California burg to christen itself in his honor.
I felt a pang of homesickness for the slower ways of California. When I left – was it only days earlier? – my friends pleaded with me to be rational and hang onto my custodial position at USB.
“Janitorial Science is a field with a future,” they said. “Philosophy will get you nowhere.”
But I was out to prove them wrong. In my heart of hearts, I knew that philosophy had the power to change the world.
And I had concrete historical evidence from the earliest days of the craft.
The tale is told of Mr. Diogenes, a Cynic of classical Greece, who held that happiness and truth were attainable only by a life of utter simplicity and self-denial.
Mr. Diogenes wore a coarse cloak, neglected his hygiene, and lolled around town all day refusing to work.
Once when he saw a girl drinking from her hands he reached into his scanty pack and threw away his own battered cup, saying dejectedly, “a child has beaten me in plainness of living.”
When anyone complained or criticized, his stock response was, “Diogenes is a dog.”
As might be expected in a society so enlightened as Ancient Greece, Mr. Diogenes’ fame spread far and wide. Apprentice Cynics traveled great distances to study at the dirty feet of the master and imbibe his canile approach to the cycle of futility known as life.
Word of the great Cynic reached Alexander of Macedonia, then preparing to embark on his expedition against the mighty Persian empire. Alexander was no intellectual slouch, having been schooled in his youth by Mr. Aristotle.
Upon learning that his army was passing near Mr. Diogenes’ abode, Alexander ordered a detour. Presently he and his generals came upon the philosopher sprawled in a sunny patch of dirt alongside the main road.
Alexander dismounted and approached Mr. Diogenes respectfully. At first the Cynic ignored the youthful general. But Alexander was not to be put off. With a sweeping bow he introduced himself and his entourage. “What service may I, Prince of Macedonia, render to you, the prince of philosophers? Say but a word, and I shall command that it be done instantly!”
Mr. Diogenes inclined his head slightly toward the young warlord. He was silent a moment, as if contemplating the magnanimous offer. At last he looked directly at Alexander and said: “Could you move over a bit? You’re blocking my sunlight.”
Alexander’s reply (“Were I not Alexander, I would wish to be Diogenes,”) is surely apocryphal, and I prefer not to repeat it here.
But we must note in conclusion that Alexander went on from this encounter to conquer much of the known world.
Who dares to say philosophy has no practical value?
Still, it could have practical value only if the philosophizing actually happened. All we’d done so far in this orientation was sit and wait.
Which some would declare is excellent training for philosophy.
But I could have sat and waited in Berkeley. I’d come all the way to Indiana to study in the presence of the great Mr. Testascrittore.
A flickering fluorescent light drew my attention back to the classroom. The space was long and narrow, with mullioned windows along the left side. Like the entire building, it was a well-tended relic of an older time. Green chalkboards covered the front wall. Rows of wooden chair-desks faced the lectern. A black and white schoolroom clock kept strict time. All called forth an aura of unchanging values and eternal truths.
I looked around at my fellow students. There were a hundred of us in the large room, eagerly awaiting the celebrated professor. A good ninety were white men. Not surprising, given that practically every thinker we would be grappling with was a European male.
Not every. I always wondered how Mr. Augustine – a North African – felt about being lumped into the opening chapters of “European” philosophy. Or what about the Egyptian Neo-Platonist Mr. Plotinus, who lived and taught in Alexandria but was co-opted by the Greeks when his writings gained fame?
Where did you place Mr. Ibn Sina aka Mr. Avicenna of Persia, pivotal interpreter of Mr. Aristotle and one of the most influential thinkers in the entire tradition?
What about an Argentine like Mr. Borges or Mr. Garcia Marquez of Colombia – writers paving new directions in our tradition of thought?
Given the breadth of our lineage – from capitols as far-flung as Istanbul and Terre Haute to outposts like Copenhagen and Berkeley – the word “Western” seemed to make more sense than “European.” After all, everyone we studied was from west of India and China.
But here at the Institute things were pretty lopsided. I noticed five people of color in the classroom, and several had accents that suggested they might be from Europe or Africa.
Little market for epistemology among American people of color, I figured. Not surprising, considering that until the later 1900s, racial separatism was considered “logical.”
My dear old grandfather used to tell stories of the days when logical theorems for people of color were “separate but equal.” Although induction by all races was tacitly tolerated, conclusions reached by people of color were not entered into the Universal Compendium of Human Inference.
While the situation had improved somewhat since then, it was no great shock that people of color were not lining up to study the tools of their ancestors’ oppression.
Women counted for a slightly higher percentage – seven, to be exact. I wondered what it was like for a woman to spend the best years of her life poring over the works of dead men.
Women of course had been using logic since 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed women the right to deduce. Social habits die hard, though, and until the feminist revolution of the 1970s women were prohibited from engaging in sustained rational thought in public.
Occasionally during my undergrad years I heard rumblings of something called “feminist epistemology.” I tried to imagine what the phrase could mean. Was someone suggesting that a “fact” for one gender was not a fact for the others? That the laws of logic applied differently for women? I didn’t see how that could be.
But then, I’d come to Terre Haute in search of new knowledge. Maybe this was part of it.
Perkins distracted me. He was pacing across the front of the room, his head jerking fore and aft like a hyper-caffeinated chicken.
Coffee. I’d had little experience of this highly-addictive drug in Berkeley, where caffeine was shunned as a tool of capitalist exploitation. I was accustomed to people passing a joint around the classroom to get in the proper mood for philosophizing.
But that was the old days, the quiet days. Much as I loved Berkeley, I knew the cosmopolitan environs of Terre Haute were where I needed to be.
A sharp crack yanked my attention back to the lecture hall.
At the front of the lecture hall, Perkins – apparently unnerved at Mr. Testascrittore’s ongoing failure to appear – had snapped the stick of chalk he was clutching.
A little knot of students near the front whispered and laughed nervously. Perkins strode stiffly to the door and looked out into the hall. His tight countenance when he turned back told me he’d seen no sign of the professor.
Perkins himself, one had to admit, was not such as to inspire the greatest confidence in the Institute. A more self-assured assistant might lean against the desk and casually toss the stick of chalk into the air. An ambitious sort might undertake to begin the orientation, regaling us with a few jests and convivial anecdotes to loosen up the audience for Mr. Testascrittore’s imminent arrival.
Perkins, on the other hand, was wound like an over-primed cuckoo clock.
Still, who could doubt that the facade of mediocrity must surely conceal the makings of philosophical brilliance?
Perkins had, after all, been entrusted by Mr. Testascrittore himself with preparing our class for the great man’s arrival. He was a senior graduate assistant, whereas I was but a novice grad student, fresh off the bus. An immeasurable gulf must separate me from true Terre Hautians like Perkins.
I’d been put in my place on my second day in town, when, having arrived as Mr. Testascrittore’s latest protegee, I crashed back to Earth with a slipshod performance in the Amorphic Structuralism placement exams, followed by a barely adequate showing in Quotidian Hermeneutics and slow response times in the behavioral tests.
Mr. Testascrittore had been on the road, so I was spared his reaction. The Rector, Mr. Grosskase, who paid me the compliment of appointing himself my faculty advisor, showed only slight concern when we met to review my course load.
As a beginning student, my classes focused mainly on Sartrics: Sartrean Motifs in the Later Wittgenstein, Foundations of Latter-Day Sartrics, Analytical Sartrean Techniques, Marxian Dialectics in the Later Sartre, Existentialist Descriptics, and a seminar with Mr. Testascrittore himself on The Being of Sartre’s Concept of Nothingness.
Add to that a required history class and an Experimental Metaphysics Lab, and I felt like I was carrying a full load.
As if this wasn’t enough, Mr. Grosskase pushed me to pick up an elective course on G. E. Moore’s Theory of the Reason That Up is Up. Much as I wanted to please my new advisor, I politely but firmly declined.
It wasn’t just that I trusted my intuition on things like Up-ness. I knew that keeping pace with my classes was going to challenge my academic habits. I simply didn’t have the background that folks from a cultural capitol like Terre Haute took for granted.
Sure, I got my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, which means, if I may show off my pidgin Greek, the love (philo) of wisdom (sophia).
But a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southeastern Berkeley basically meant that you’d memorized Phlegman’s Comparative Table of Philosophical Tendencies, read a few pages of this or that writer, and written a final paper explaining the meaning of life, which we were talking about all the time anyway, so it was a cinch.
USB didn’t offer a graduate degree in Philosophy per se. Instead, you did masters-level work in a program called Philosophilia – the love of philosophy.
If you made the grade, you moved on to the doctoral program in Philosophiliasophy – the love of the wisdom of philosophy.
A friend of mine in the Ph.D. program had a lover who called himself a “philiaphilosophiliasophist.”
That we use the word “philosophy” is due, if legends can be credited, to the charming modesty of the great Mr. Pythagorus, he for whom the famous geometric theorem is named.
Before his time, learned people such as Mr. Thales or Mr. Solon were known as “sages.” Mr. Pythagorus demurred that he was in point of fact not wise, but merely a lover of wisdom. Hence philo-sophia.
These extraordinary factoids notwithstanding, even a few days in West Central Indiana had shown me how woefully inadequate my philosophical background was. I was surrounded by people who were steeped in the great books – works like Mr. Aristotle’s Metaphysics or Mr. Rabelais’s Pantagruel that I had barely skimmed.
My only hope was to make up by diligent study what I lacked in undergraduate preparation. I had to buckle down and hit the books hard.
The one area in which I figured I could hold my own was history. One semester at Berkeley, I read Frederick Copleston’s A History of Philosophy cover to cover.
I stumbled onto the series at a most impressionable moment, shortly after changing my major from Post-Pragmatic Metaphysics to Non-Empirical Phenomenology. Cutting class one gorgeous September afternoon, I wandered up the bohemian sidewalks of Telegraph Avenue and for one dollar scored a used copy of Volume One.
By the end of the term I’d skipped a lot more classes and read Mr. Copleston’s entire nine-volume series, which covered Western philosophy from the Ancient Greeks to the mid-1900s. My life would never be the same again.
Of course, how could it have been? Unless you’re in a coma, how could your life not change? It would “never be the same again” no matter what you did.
Perkins’ incessant pacing was beginning to get annoying. Directing my attention to a midpoint between him and the schoolroom clock, I ascertained that he took slightly fewer than two steps per second. Between counting his steps, applying the multiplier to determine the exact amount of time that had elapsed, and correlating that figure with the clock on the wall, it was hard to stay focused on my own thoughts.
Suddenly I realized – what if it were a trick, and Mr. Testascrittore was actually taking the opportunity to be present in the mode of an absence which is nonetheless haunted by the ghost of a desired presence?
Perhaps his not being here was the ultimate Postmodern statement on presence, reality, and the future of Western philosophy.
Or maybe he was about to emerge and order us all to write a detailed description of our experience of waiting for him. I better pay closer attention.
The first thing I noticed was that waiting for him was not like waiting for just anyone. The great Phineas Q. Testascrittore, Professor of Recombinative Sartrics, was the leading light of the West Central Indiana Institute for the Hermeneutical Phenomenology of Interdisciplinary Post-Relativism – the most important philosophical academy in the Western world.
In his seminal work, The Being of Nothingness and the Nothingness of Being (Part I), he scrutinized Mr. Descartes’ famous “I think therefore I am” dictum as well as its ensuing critique by Mr. Sartre, who claimed that Mr. Descartes had gone too far in claiming to have proven his own existence.
After 847 pages of painstaking meta-historical discourse, Mr. Testascrittore concluded that the most urgent task facing contemporary philosophy was to develop a new proof of existence – a task to which he devoted the forthcoming Part II of his magnum opus.
A worthy mission, I thought, But easier said than done. How exactly did one prove existence?
Supposing Mr. Testascrittore himself were to walk through the door. Late, admittedly. But indubitably present to our senses. Would that prove his existence?
We’ve already seen that we can’t trust “experience.” So why should we trust even the direct evidence of our senses? Have they never been wrong? Doesn’t the straight stick look bent if stuck into a glass of water?
Is it possible that water temporarily bends sticks? Or is light being bent by some combination of wood, glass, and water? Or maybe looking at sticks in water bends our eyes?
But wait. What does all this bending prove about the reliability of our senses? How do we recognize that the water-inflected stick is bent, unless we compare it to our “normal,” trustworthy perception of an unbent stick?
If we doubt the reliability of our sense-impressions, what can we compare them with to disprove them? More unreliable sense-impressions? That won’t get us far.
There must be a foundation somewhere.
Where to start? That would be easier if Mr. Testascrittore would show up and begin his lecture. But he persisted in not being present.
I wrote on my paper: “Mr. Testascrittore not present,” along with the date and time. That way, if necessary, I could refer back to it at a later moment and assure myself that he had not been here.
Assuming I could trust my memory of having written it.
Fifteen past the hour. Never in all of Perkins’ experience, he assured us, had Mr. Testascrittore been fifteen minutes late. Even if he arrived now, I realized, his orientation lecture would have to be abridged to fit into the remaining time.
Perkins scrutinized his watch as if assuring himself of the objectivity of Time. “I’ll return in a minute,” he said, apparently expecting us to place a faith in his punctiliousness that we had already found misplaced when it came to his master.
As Perkins left the room, my tension lowered a notch. What an irritating character!
I wondered how much longer I should wait. My time was valuable, after all. Then again, assuming the great professor showed up, I’d still receive the blessings of his wisdom, albeit in a truncated version.
Which might not be a problem. Did Truth suffer from abridgement? Wasn’t it simply The Truth?
Was 30 minutes of Truth worth less than 50? And if so, was it a simple linear reduction, or a hyperbolic curve in which some but not all of the lost time could be made up?
Was it possible that by arriving late Mr. Testascrittore might be so committed to making up the lost time that he would omit pleasantries, digressions, and humorous asides and cut straight to the unadulterated epistemological truth? In which case we might get more truth despite the shorter time allotted to its propagation.
A commotion erupted in the hallway. Heads jerked toward the door. Perkins burst back into the room. “He’d dead! Mr. Testascrittore is dead!”
Perkins dashed back out of the room. As if summoned by Mr. Testascrittore himself, the entire class leapt up as one – minus me – and stampeded after Perkins.
I rose slowly and in a daze followed the pack down the wide hallway to Mr. Testascrittore’s office. The students were jammed around the doorway, but I never doubted my right to be in the front ranks.
“Excuse me,” I said, jabbing a few people with my elbows. Recalling Mr Testascrittore’s likely devotion to the Italian tongue, I added, “Mi scusi,” along with another jab.
The words and elbows worked like a charm. A narrow path opened, and I snaked my way through the gawking throng to the doorway.
Inside I saw Perkins on bended knee, hands gripping his head. Next to him, sprawled like a broken marionette, lay the foremost philosopher of the Western world, his skull crushed beyond all hope of survival. A few feet away lay the bloody instrument of destruction – a huge hardbound philosophical tome.
“No!” I cried, not merely for the incalculable loss of one of the great minds of all time, but also for the quite calculable loss of my sponsor at the Institute. “No, it can’t be!”
Perkins, still kneeling, looked up at me. His hands dropped slowly from his head. “Yes,” he intoned. “He’s dead!”
His words stunned me into silence. Other students responded with everything from retching sounds to expressions of frustration at the likely change to their class schedule. All pushed closer, forcing me into the office.
I started toward Perkins and the dearly departed Mr. Testascrittore. But at that moment a squad of campus police came hacking their way through the throng.
“Stand back!” the commandant ordered.
The squad of police jumped back.
“No, not you!” the commandant cried. “All these other people – get them out of here!”
The police waved their billy clubs. Everyone except Perkins and I seemed to interpret this as a sign that they were to exit the office but remain clustered around the doorway.
Perkins still knelt next to Mr Testascrittore’s corpse, apparently exempt from the order. I cast a sharp look at him, trying to convey nonverbally that it would quite possibly be to his inestimable advantage to suggest to the police that I also remain, both as a devoted student-to-be of the deceased professor, and as a possible material witness to Perkins’ actions and whereabouts at the time of the alleged crime.
But Perkins, in whom my confidence was steadily waning, seemed incapable of grasping even the most blatant signals, and I allowed myself to be escorted out the doorway.
Inside, the police took measurements and photographs and discussed theories of the death in hushed yet urgent voices. Around me the other students had fallen to debating the relative merits of requesting a refund versus taking the class with a substitute professor.
Important as that decision would ultimately become, I had no heart for it at the moment. Suddenly I wanted to wash my hands of the entire business.
It wasn’t just the students and the police that irritated me. If Mr. Testascrittore couldn’t be bothered living long enough to teach me philosophy, I didn’t see why I should remain enrolled in his class.
I pushed my way to the edge of the crowd and started for the exit.
But as I reached the top of the stairs, I could proceed no further. An imposing eminence blocked my way.
Mr. Grosskase, Rector of the Institute and my faculty advisor, was breathing hard as he climbed the last stair. He was a hulk of a man, to be sure, but advanced in years and probably never much of a tiger to begin with.
Even though we’d met a couple of times, I didn’t know Mr. Grosskase well. He had the wispy white hair and buttoned-sweater look of an ageing professor, and although his labored breathing betrayed the effects of too many years spent in smoke-filled cafes, the eyes behind the wire-frame glasses could still flash with philosophical fire.
While it was the impetuous Mr. Testascrittore who initially contacted me, Mr. Grosskase signed off on my last-minute invitation to Terre Haute, arranging a full scholarship to the Institute and appointing himself my advisor.
As he reached the top of the stairs, I held out my hand to welcome him. He shook it absently. A police officer emerged from the office. “Mr. Grosskase – come in. We’ve concluded our preliminary investigation.”
They stepped into the office. I squeezed back through the throng of students to get closer to the door. From this vantage point I could hear the officer explain how the immense volume – the mighty Cambridge Compleat Dictionary of Philosophy (Unabridged) – had apparently tumbled from a high shelf to claim its unwitting victim.
“An accident? Really?” Mr. Grosskase stepped around the policeman and gazed across the office at Mr. Testascrittore’s corpse, around which had been drawn a crude chalk outline. The sprawling body, arms akimbo and one leg clumsily buckled under the other, looked more like a klutzy dancer than a world-renowned philosophy professor.
“There’s no evidence of robbery,” the police official said, “or of any struggle. We have to conclude that it was a tragic accident.”
How horrible, I thought. And yet one had to admit the sublime poetics of it all. In a world where people routinely die in utterly meaningless ways, for a Phenomenologist to be killed by an errant philosophical dictionary seemed the height of irony.
Or perhaps the depth. In either case, Mr. Testascrittore’s eerily significant mode of departure seemed destined to augment his already-considerable legend.
I poked my head through the doorway. Mr. Testascrittore’s office was large and sparsely furnished except for the overstuffed bookshelves. A large wooden desk to the left defined the room, opposite a bookcase covering the entire righthand wall.
The corpse was sprawled next to the desk. The philosophical dictionary, blood smeared over its deep blue cover, lay several feet away.
Something wasn’t right about the picture. From the shelf to Mr. Testascrittore’s worldly remains was a good 15 feet. The dictionary lay even further from the shelf. Unless the book had become embedded in Mr. Testascrittore’s skull and was thus transported as he staggered across the room, it was difficult to explain the distance.
So far as I could tell, the spilled blood was to be seen only around the body and book, not near the shelves.
Was it murder?
My mind leapt involuntarily to the conclusion. I tried to push it away, accusing myself of sensationalizing a fluke tragedy. But I couldn’t deny what my heart suspected – that my sponsor, the great Mr. Testascrittore, had been killed as he prepared to deliver his orientation lecture.
The paramedics arrived, stuffed the body into a canvas sack, and with the help of the police forced their way back through the crowd. A few people followed them, but most pressed in behind me, trying to hear what was going on in the office.
The police investigator repeated his evaluation of accidental death. Mr. Grosskase seemed not to be listening. He gazed down at the chalk outline, his big shoulders sagging.
Did he share my suspicions? Even if he did, the Rector obviously couldn’t voice his thoughts. Any hint of wrong-doing would bring scandal upon the Institute.
As the commandant concluded the report, Perkins stepped forward. He pushed officiously past the police and took Mr. Grosskase by the elbow. I stepped aside as they came toward the door, Perkins supporting the older man.
Mr. Grosskase’s face was almost as white as his hair, and his breath came in short gasps. He nodded vaguely in my direction and continued on down the hall with Perkins, his head drooping onto his chest.
As I watched the Rector trudge away, I realized that I was in danger of losing both of my sponsors in one blow. If adjusting to the Institute had been difficult so far, imagine it with no faculty support.
In that instant, I heard my calling. I couldn’t bring Mr. Testascrittore back from the dead. But I could honor his memory – and relieve Mr. Grosskase of a great burden – by ascertaining whether a murder had taken place.
I cautioned myself not to leap to conclusions. But I couldn’t quell my doubts. The police’s conclusion of accidental death seemed premature, if not downright absurd.
Suppose it was a murder. What better way to thank my late academic sponsor than to bring the culprit to the bitter bar of unrelenting justice?
But where to start? It could have been anyone. For any motive.
No, wait. The police said his wallet wasn’t missing. That ruled out robbery and suggested a personal motive. Someone with a grudge. Or a professional jealousy. Or a lousy grade on a term paper.
It didn’t exactly give me a list of suspects. But it narrowed the field down to the Institute.
A glimmer of light to the left caught my eye. Behind Mr. Testascrittore’s desk stood a stout wooden plinth topped by a large trophy.
Flanking the oversized golden chalice was a silver figure of Minerva, an owl resting on her shoulder. The patroness of wisdom pointed with languid arm toward the engraved cup, while a brooding, striving figure evidently synthesized from Myron’s Discobulos, Rodin’s Thinker, and a crucified Christ from Duocento Tuscany cast a longing glance at the buxom goddess.
I squinted and read the inscription on the gaudy cup: “To Phineas Q. Testascrittore – the Greatest Living American Philosopher!”
A gasp escaped me. Apart from the less than entirely flattering ambiguity in the use of the qualifier “American,” I immediately saw the trophy’s relevance to the situation at hand.
Did someone at the Institute want Mr. Testascrittore dead so they could be the Greatest Living American Philosopher?
My head reeling with the possibilities, I headed back to my room. Or my garret, to be more precise.
My fellowship included full room and board, and I thought I’d really scored when I heard I’d be living in a garret. What better home for an aspiring philosopher?
My new abode was on the top floor of a building known locally as the Jammie. According to the sign out front, the faux-classical edifice was officially called the J.M.E. McTaggart Memorial Philosophy Dormitory.
Mr. McTaggart was a circa 1900 British Idealist who followed the Ancient Greek cynic Mr. Zeno in declaring time to be but an illusion, thus making him the patron saint of all who sleep late and/or arrive late to class.
A little-known fact about this once-famed but latterly little-known sage is that the middle initial “M” in his name actually stood for McTaggart. The guy’s full name was John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart.
No wonder he was confused about time!
Imagine if you had the same middle and last name, and you went to one of those fancy-pants British prep schools you see in the movies – every time the headmaster pronounced your name, you’d hear “McTaggart,” and then a moment later hear the same name again.
Not surprisingly, you might be tempted to believe that the passage of time was an illusion.
Although Mr. McTaggart had nothing whatsoever to do with the Institute, the building was christened in his honor when a poll of philosophy undergrads determined that Mr. McTaggart was on the verge of being utterly forgotten unless something was quickly named for him.
The ploy worked – his legacy lived on, so long as the McTaggart clan didn’t mind their esteemed forebear being known as Jammie.
A few days earlier when I arrived in Terre Haute, I’d registered with the Institute, giving samples of my blood, earwax, chest hair, and DNA, all of which were required for that most coveted of all academic privileges – a library card with stack access.
Then the resident assistant at the Jammie showed me to my room. “Our assignments were already complete when Mr. Grosskase insisted that we find you housing,” he said over his shoulder, ushering me brusquely up several flights of stairs.
He wasn’t exactly the friendliest of sorts, although perhaps his spirits were weighed down by his immense responsibilities managing the philosophy dorm.
His sullenness reminded me of a really cranky grad assistant I knew back at USB. He was just about the meanest and snidest person you’d ever hope to meet. But you had to give him credit, he always made perfect sense – a true logical negativist.
After the third floor, the stairway narrowed sharply and began spiraling upward at a dizzying angle. I held tight to the thin bannister, testing the old wooden railing periodically to assure myself that it would hold me if I slipped.
At the top the resident assistant and I stepped into a curving hallway about eight feet wide, punctuated by a wooden window on the righthand side. An old mattress blocked the floor, forcing me to turn sideways to get past. “Is the room at the end of the hall?”
“No – this is the room.” He swept his arm around the space. “It comes with the mattress. The window is stuck, but we’ve placed a work order, and a repairperson will attend to it in due course.”
I looked around the dismal space. “Is there a chance another room will become available?”
“Not this year,” the resident assistant said bluntly. “You can request a transfer to another room next year. However, if your request is construed as a complaint about this room, the housing department will brand you as a trouble-maker and be utterly implacable.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“That’s what I’m here for. Enjoy your stay.” He left by the spiral stairs.
I looked around at my new abode. The window faced the concrete wall of the building next door. Overhead, a single bare lightbulb cast a glare on the once-white walls. The paint was peeling in a few places, and was streaked here and there with graffitti.
The space was a bit of a shock, coming from a Berkeley collective house where I had my own room with its own door. But the garret wasn’t so bad. Although the hallway wasn’t private, I guessed that few people came up this far.
I found a metal bowl for a washbasin so I could keep my Easy Rider moustache and requisite three-day stubble properly maintained, and some milk crates to make a bookshelf. Once the window was fixed, I’d be fine for a semester or two.
On the evening of Mr. Testascrittore’s demise, I returned to my garret, washed up, then turned on the hotplate. As I stirred my Greek Alphabet Soup and watched the concepts form and reform, I heard footsteps coming up the spiral stairs.
I turned to see a man of a wiry, athletic build. His weathered face was unshaven for the better part of a week, and his beard showed a hint of grey.
He stood in front of me with hands on hips. “Building maintenance,” he said in a husky voice. “Got a complaint about a stuck window.”
“Yeah, great,” I said. “That’s it, right there.” I pointed, in case he missed my reference, although strictly speaking the gestural indication was superfluous, given that there was but a single window in the space.
Probably it didn’t matter, but with my poor showing on the placement exams I figured I better watch my logic, even with the custodian.
He seemed not to notice, focusing instead on setting up an acetylene torch. He pulled on a welder’s visor and amid a torrent of foul language went at the old wooden frame with the blowtorch and a blacksmith’s hammer. It made an awful racket, and I stood by with a pitcher of water, fearing he would catch the mattress on fire with all the sparks.
My experience working in the USB dorms would have suggested a different approach to a wood casement window, but being new here I felt it best not to interfere.
As he worked, I tried to build a little camaraderie, telling him that I’d worked my way through the University of Southeastern Berkeley as a custodian.
Whether because he was naturally reticent and insular, or because he saw a place like Berkeley beneath his custodial dignity, he just mumbled something, then went back to cursing the window, the hammer, and the blowtorch, alternately and simultaneously.
When he finished his last curse, the window opened and closed at the touch of a finger.
“Thanks,” I said. “Great job. Say, do you think there’s any chance of getting a lightshade for the overhead bulb?”
He drew a deep breath and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Is there no end to your demands? Who do you think I am, Mr. Nietzsche’s Ubermensch? I am but one solitary human being. There is only so much I can accomplish in a single day, despite your expectations to the contrary!”
I tried to assure him that I meant no offense, but he talked over me. “The Institute at which you are the most fledgling of students,” he said, “is home to the finest minds in Western Philosophy. The maintenance of this facility requires my undivided attention, lest an insight or deduction be lost to humanity on account of faulty plumbing or a flickering lightbulb.”
“Sorry,” I said, thrusting out my empty hands in an elaborate gesture to indicate that I bore no ill will. “Really, I’m sorry.”
“I should hope so. Your selfish demands may have already cost us a glimpse of a new truth. If you are finished, I would like to get on with my business of insuring that no further inferences are lost.”
Not knowing what to say that wouldn’t be offensive, I bowed slightly. He left without another word.
The encounter left me drained. Earlier, I’d resolved to get to the bottom of Mr. Testascrittore’s sudden death. By the time I finished my soup and flossed my teeth, though, my ardor was fading.
Who was I, trying to solve a mystery that the police denied even existed?
Oh, sure, I could raise the usual philosophical concerns about the reliability of their knowledge of reality, and assert my own epistemic rights. But finally, did it matter that I believed Mr. Testascrittore was murdered?
With no pressure from the authorities, the killer could just sit back and laugh at my puny efforts. I’d watched enough episodes of The Untouchables to know that you didn’t discover the truth without a little muscle.
If I couldn’t extort a confession or even force a suspect to submit to questioning, how could I be expected to solve the case? If someone gets away with murdering a professor, it’s on the authorities’ conscience, not mine. I should focus on my studies and leave crime-busting to the police.
But as I pulled back my sheets and crawled into bed, Mr. Grosskase’s weary face came before my mind. I pictured him as he stared down at Mr. Testascrittore’s lifeless body, his sagging shoulders reflecting his despair at losing a pillar of the Institute.
Unless something turned the situation around, I was in danger of losing my sole surviving mentor to melancholia. To do nothing seemed the ultimate act of moral nihilism.
While I was prepared for the occasional excursion into random pointlessness or hopeless futility, I wasn’t ready to make a methodical practice of nihilism quite yet.
But suppose I did? Maybe there was a career in it.
I could lead self-negation workshops, or teach a course at the local university extension: Nihilism 101. No text, no lectures, and no written exam. Your final grade is based on planning and executing an act of calculated nihilism. Grade also takes into account costumes, program, and soundtrack.
- Pop Quiz
If you offer a seminar on Nihilism and no one attends, do you:
- Kill yourself in the most dramatic fashion possible
- Kill yourself with quiet nobility
- Skulk away and secretly kill yourself
- Declare it a grand success and celebrate
(Let’s give our readers a moment to contemplate this question. Should you elect to take the introductory course in Nihilism which I plan one day to offer, this question might be of more than academic concern to you. In others words – this is one quiz you do not want to fail. Don’t even take it if you can possibly help it. Unfortunately, it’s too late now, and you have to make up your mind.)
Answer: A plurality of our panel of nihilistic experts preferred choice D, on the grounds that your teaching goal has been met even before the class begins. However, amid bitter dissension, the judges relented and agreed to accept any of the answers as an acceptable nihilistic response.
I was exhausted. The mattress, or more precisely the lumpy futon, presented a challenge even to so skilled a sleeper as I. To fit the curved hallway, it had been compressed on one side, making it even lumpier.
I slept on the longer side with my back to the wall, first lying on my right side facing north, then rotating south to lie on my left side. It made tossing and turning a bit of a chore, but I used some of my textbook allowance to buy a pillow for each end, so it wasn’t too bad.
As I struggled to get comfortable, I discerned an ethereal cloud drifting along the graffittied wall. My eyes opened wide as it floated toward me, and I clutched the blankets to my throat.
The apparition coalesced into the shape of a man. Its face shone with an inner glow, while its eyes were like two points of fire. The figure wore a robe woven of gold and purple. In his right hand he carried a large, ivory-bound volume, in his left he brandished a ruby-studded sceptre.
He approached nearer and hovered over the end of my bed, looking at me with a face heavy with grief. At last he uttered a piteous groan.
“Ah me!” the specter cried. “How blunted grows the mind when sunk below the o’erwhelming flood! This man has searched into the springs of nature, whence came the roaring blasts that ruffle the ocean’s bosom calm, and studied to know the spirit that makes the firmament to move.
“Yet now he lies dead. Extinct is his reason’s light, his neck thrust down in heavy chains, his countenance with grievous weight downcast. Ah! The brute Earth is all he can behold!”
I braced myself for another wail, but none came.
Slowly, wary lest my movement disturb the spirit, I sat up in bed. Before I could muster the courage to query my guest, he spoke in a low, airy voice.
“My name is Boethius.”
Although I was a bit taken aback, it wasn’t my first visit from a spirit. They’d started a week ago in Berkeley, right after I decided to relocate to Terre Haute and dedicate my life to drinking deeply at the sacred wellspring of Western wisdom.
The first visitor was a German scholastic from the 13th century who asked a few probing questions regarding whether the rational or intellectual soul (he seemed to use the terms interchangeably) could be viewed as numerically one in all humans, so that we could be said to share in a common rational faculty ultimately based in the divine intellect, or whether each soul ought rather to be seen as a mere potentiality of intellectual activity, much as the eye is a potency to receive colors.
Before I could adequately weigh the propositions, the spirit vanished. I chalked it up to my triple pastrami nightcap and went back to sleep.
Subsequent nights brought an impoverished Greek hedonist who sang to me of the merits of enjoying small pleasures, a Late Antique Stoic who mistook my bedroom for a prison cell, and a minor Idealist who matriculated under Schelling and kept insisting that reflection only knows the universal and particular as two negations, the universal being the relative negation of the particular, while the particular, on the other hand, is the relative negation of the universal.
I did my best to pay heed to their words without engaging in dialog. I already talked to myself enough as it was. I didn’t need to start conversing with the spirit realm.
On the final night before I left Berkeley, however, an apparition settled into my desk chair so comfortably that it demanded a response.
The spirit, a clean-shaven man of fastidious grooming and a somewhat languid air, introduced himself as Frederick Copleston.
“Mr. Copleston the historian?”
“The same,” he said, sipping from a cup of tea he seemed to have brought along.
I sat up fully amid my crumpled blankets. “I’ve read your books with great care, sir. They’ve shaped my understanding of the Western philosophical tradition.”
“Glad to hear it,” he replied. “I might change a few details here and there, but by and large I’m satisfied with my efforts.”
The ghost hovered just above the chair. Feeling better acquainted with Mr. Copleston than with my previous visitors, I ventured a question.
“Why, sir, if I may be so bold – why exactly am I seeing you? I mean why now, and not back when I read your books?”
He took a sip of tea and gazed beyond me. “You weren’t ready to hear me yet. I was there, speaking. But you were distracted by the words on the page.”
“I see. And now?”
“Apparently your ears and eyes have opened since you made the decision to transfer to Terre Haute. Such momentous decisions often serve to open our awareness.”
As he spoke, a long marbled hallway opened behind him. Between Ionic columns hung a series of somewhat amateurish yet lovingly-rendered portraits of men from past epochs.
I walked up to a picture of a man in a beaver-skin hat and gazed into his small, penetrating brown eyes. The plaque next to the painting read “Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” A few feet beyond hung Mr. Condorcet and Mr. Diderot.
In the next bay hung likenesses of Mr. Vico, Mr. Montesquieu and Mr. Shaftsbury.
A little further was a bay dedicated to Medieval Islamic thinkers: Mr. Al-Farabi, Mr. Ibn Sina, and Mr. Al-Ghazali.
“It’s a gallery of philosophers,” I said.
“They were painted by Mr. Hegel,” Mr. Copleston said.
“I guess we all need a hobby,” I said. “Why not painting?”
“They’re not just paintings,” said Mr. Copleston. “You’re looking at the history of Western philosophy. You’ll find the Ancients down that way, the Medievals to our left, the Moderns in this gallery, and more recent thinkers at the far end.”
“Cool,” I said.
His eyes narrowed. “More than cool,” he said. “Mr. Hegel’s gallery is a record of the unity-in-development of the Western tradition, from Mr. Parmenides and Mr. Heraclitus to Mr. Derrida and Ms. Beauvoir.”
I gazed down the gallery and nodded.
“Western philosophy is one long dialog,” Mr. Copleston continued. “Each generation – if it be truly of a philosophical bent – takes up the challenges of past times and forges its own response to the questions of the ages. To understand Western philosophy is to understand its history.”
I wandered among the portraits, mentally correlating the names with the various volumes of Mr. Copleston’s history: Ancients and Hellenists, Early, High, and Late Medievals, Renaissance Humanists, Early Modern Empiricists, Cartesian Dualists, Post-Kantian Idealists, Comtean Positivists…
As I circled back to him, Mr Copleston turned his head toward the door. “I believe I am needed elsewhere,” he said. “We’ll chat another time. Call on me as you will.
“And you’ll appear?”
“I didn’t say that. I do have other pursuits, you know. I am simply giving you leave to call on me. I’ll respond when my schedule permits.”
In the days since I’d had no further visitors. But now as Mr. Boethius’s spirit hovered at my bedside, I made bold to reply.
“Just to be clear, sir,” I said with a healthy dose of Midwestern politeness, “Would you by chance be the Mr. Boethius who was arrested on false charges and executed by the Roman Emperor Theodoric?”
“Who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy during the last days of your life to explain suffering and the existence of evil?”
“Wow, that would be amazing, except honestly, sir, I’ve barely skimmed your book. I think maybe you’re appearing to the wrong person.”
“Ahhh!” The spirit wailed again. “He is dead! By what law doth God allow that the good shall suffer and evil shall prosper?
“Who are you talking about? Mr. Testascrittore?”
“By his untimely death hath he earned the laurel wreath of undying fame.”
I loosened my hold on the blankets. “Mr. Boethius,” I said in a shaky voice, “what exactly do you want from me?”
I squinted at the hazy figure. “But what is Truth?”
“Ahhhh!” The wailing sent a chill up my spine. “Ahhhh! The Truth!”
“The truth?” I said carefully. “That’s gotten rather complicated in recent years.”
“Aaaaah!” the spirit moaned.
Given it’s apparently limited vocabulary, I tried offering some options. “Do you mean the absolute truth of the Idealists?” I asked. “Or a collection of factual truths in the Positivist sense? Or perhaps the situationally-inscribed truth of the Existentialists?”
Mr. Boethius gazed with blazing eyes that seemed to see right through me. “The Truth,” he said sternly. “Seek the Truth.”
With a final wail, the ghost faded into the mist.
I woke up the next morning in a haze. It wasn’t until I had splashed some cold water on my face and paced around the garret a bit that I could focus on the events of the previous day – Mr. Testascrittore’s death, the likelihood of murder – and the troubling visitation of the spirit of Mr. Boethius that evening.
But was it really Mr. Boethius? That was granting it quite a bit of credibility. I mean, any old spirit could wrap itself up in a bedsheet and run around claiming it’s an Ancient philosopher. Might even be a party joke among certain crowds of the dead.
I went to my makeshift bookshelf and pulled the appropriate paperback volume of Mr. Copleston’s History. The binding had long since broken, and the yellowed pages were cluttered with microscopic annotations by me and several previous owners.
I’d bought the various volumes serially at Moe’s bookstore in Berkeley, where I’d take long breaks from my USB custodial job.
This taught me a valuable life lesson – the philosophy section of a bookstore is about the last place on Earth you are ever going to run into your boss.
I flipped through the book and located the section on Mr. Boethius. It gave a synopsis of the Roman sage’s thought, but no physical description that might identify the ghost as friend or fraud. I’d have to take the apparition at its word.
The appearance of the spirit, however much it disturbed my sense of order, confirmed me in my determination to investigate Mr. Testascrittore’s death. The first step was to re-visit the scene of the crime. Maybe I’d see something that the police had overlooked.
What if the office was locked? No, based on my custodial experience, they’d probably leave it open for the carpet cleaners.
I pulled on my favorite Berkeley sweatshirt, a grey extra-large with royal blue lettering. The gold highlights had long since faded, but that didn’t prevent a twinge of nostalgia.
I headed across campus to the Albertus Magnus Empirical Metaphysics Building. It was only seven o’clock, and no one was around when I made my way up the stairs to the second floor.
As I expected, the door to Mr. Testascrittore’s office was unlocked. I slipped inside and closed the door behind me.
Other than a missing cadaver, everything in Mr. Testascrittore’s office seemed just as I saw it the day before.
I’d come on my dawn mission in search of possible clues that campus police, convinced the famed professor’s death was an accident, may have overlooked. So far nothing stood out.
Cluttered desk still faced overstuffed bookshelf. Venus de Sappho, classical bust, and gold-plated Greatest Living American Philosopher trophy all stood as I’d left them.
The chalk outline was smudged but intact, showing the discombobulated position of the corpse. The right arm was hooked overhead, the left pointed sideways. The right leg was tucked under the left knee, with the left foot stretched toward the main bookcase.
My eyes followed the line of the foot toward the bookcase and came to rest on, of all things, the volumes of Mr. Copleston’s History, which filled a lower shelf.
Was it coincidence that Mr. Testascrittore’s foot pointed directly at them? I got down on hands and knees and tried to follow the trajectory of the foot-outline. It seemed to point to the later volumes.
Did it intend to indicate a particular volume? The chalk-drawing was indeterminate. Even if the foot had originally been more specific, sloppy police work obliterated the clue.
An open book was situated above the upwardly-stretched right hand: Mr. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, opened to the chapter on “Time.” A streak of blood marred the page. No resale value there, I thought, even if it was an inadvertent slip.
Or was it inadvertent? Had Mr. Testascrittore simply knocked the book over as he fell?
Or was it a last, desperate attempt to identify his attacker by highlighting a passage in the most important philosophical work of the past two thousand years? I’d seen a victim leave a clue like that in a movie once, so it quite well could be true.
A chill ran through me – how strongly I suspected that Mr. Testascrittore’s death was a result of foul play! And I was standing right where he had been killed.
I wanted to flee, but I was determined to learn something more during my visit.
I returned to the chalk outline. Three of the limbs splayed dramatically outwards. Only the tucked-under leg defied the pattern, to my great annoyance. Wouldn’t it have been more significant to have pointed with all four limbs? It certainly would have been more consistent.
Yet the epistemological rigor that one can reasonably expect from a corpse is probably less than one can demand from a living professor. Surely a bit of ambiguity could be tolerated in the recently deceased.
Suppose the splayed appendages were in fact clues, but as Mr. Testascrittore died he’d only had time to arrange three limbs before he lost consciousness. That would explain the tucked leg.
I studied the outline. The left hand pointed tantalizingly at a Roman bust perched on a classical pedestal. The polished marble head combined the broad forehead of Plato, the eagle-eyes of Aquinas, the aquiline nose of Augustine, the wispy hair of Voltaire, and the double-chin of Hume – all in all, a rather tastelessly wrought, generic sage far less attractive than the flawlessly-rendered Venus de Sappho across the room.
Why had Mr. Testascrittore pointed to the bust? Did it represent a particular philosopher? Or was it meant to indicate Ancient Philosophy in general?
But that seemed to contradict the foot that pointed to later volumes of Mr. Copleston’s History. Was the killer a modern thinker who grappled with the Ancients?
Or was the marble bust an allusion to the nobility of the philosophical quest initiated by the Ancients?
Maybe it referred to someone who belonged on a pedestal. Or someone with a hard head?
Perhaps it indicated a philosopher who wrote about sculpture or art, with the bust an easily-read signifier for the field.
I made a mental note of the various ideas for future reference, then quickly surveyed the rest of the office. On Mr. Testascrittore’s desk was a stack of dog-eared, handwritten papers scribbled over with edits. I turned over the pages, but the scrawled text was almost impossible to decipher. Single words stood out – epiphenomenon, autoassimilation, empiricotranscendence – but I couldn’t follow the train of thought.
Suddenly I realized what I was reading – these must be Mr. Testascrittore’s final reflections on the most puzzling issues of all time!
The pages might even contain the long-anticipated proof of his own existence. He must have been working on the proof right up to the moment he died. What a tragic loss to philosophy that this long-awaited work would never be completed.
Unless of course a worthy and dedicated graduate student were to undertake the thankless task.
Perkins? I hated to malign the doubtless-dedicated senior graduate assistant. But if he couldn’t handle the pressure of Mr. Testascrittore being late for a lecture, I wasn’t optimistic about his carrying the weight of the entire Western philosophical tradition on his shoulders.
I, on the other hand, had often demonstrated my steel-tipped nerves by such expedients as bluffing my way through a Systematic Pragmatology exam, or convincing a dubious Behavioral Poetics professor that my thesis – a Neo-Skinnerian analysis of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura – had some remote connection with what she’d been lecturing about all year.
But how could I secure the right to edit Mr. Testascrittore’s final work? Probably the manuscript would be sold.
Or auctioned off. How high would the bidding go? What if they auctioned separate chapters, the way they used to break apart Medieval altarpieces and sell them one panel at a time? Clearly I needed to work out a bidding strategy.
The manuscript, the classical bust, the Sartre book, the foot pointing at Copleston – if my theories were correct, somehow all of these clues must work together to finger the killer.
But what was the linchpin? Did the ultimate clue lay lost in the twisted leg?
A rustling in the hallway startled me, and I was keenly aware that I had no alibi for my presence in the office. The sound faded, but I’d pressed my luck far enough.
Setting the manuscript back on the desk, I opened the door a crack. Seeing no one in the hallway I slipped out and closed the door behind me.
Back outside on the Quad, I weighed my next move. Getting to class would be the wise idea. Skipping on the very first day always looks bad.
On the other hand, if I showed up fresh next time, maybe the professor would assume I’d changed my schedule so I could add the class, which might quite likely win more favor than showing up the first day.
The natural appeal of the argument was strong, but I faced the matter with hard logic. After a strenuous Hermeneutico-Analytic process, I concluded that the best course would be to skip class in order to subject my new theory to the cold bar of empirical experiment.
If it proved true I could publish a short essay on the matter, which I am naming “Harrison’s Class-Additive Theorem,” just to be sure that I get proper credit in the event things work out.
Of course, this raises the troubling question of “intellectual property rights.” Can one “own” a theorem? Can you copyright a theory of history, or trademark a philosophy of literature? Are ideas not the common treasury of humankind, to be shared openly in the never-ceasing quest for Truth?
What is Truth, anyway, that we have to go looking for it? And how do we recognize it when we meet it?
Seriously – if I hoped to get to the bottom of this whole murder-mystery business, I better be clear on what Truth was and how to recognize it.
“Truth?” came a voice as I crossed the Quad. “Is truth not within us all along?”
To my left, a vaporous form coalesced. I took a step back and fixed my eyes on the emergent figure – a tall African man in a dusty toga. A pendant on his chest bore the word “Hippo.”
At first I thought the hippopotamus was his school’s mascot. Then I recognized my visitor – the illustrious Mr. Augustine, itinerant spiritual seeker from the decadent Roman empire who ended his days as the Christian bishop of Hippo in his home province of North Africa.
“When we speak of truth,” he continued, “can we ever do more than recall what we always knew?” he asked pleasantly.
I was starting to grow accustomed to conversing with the spirits of deceased philosophers. It wasn’t that different from talking to myself, at which I had plenty of practice.
But I wasn’t in the habit of doing it in public. Before I responded, I looked around – was I the only person on the crowded Quad who recognized the renowned saint?
“Uh, sir,” I whispered, “don’t the others see you?”
“I doubt it,” he said.
“How can that be? You’re right here.”
“Not exactly. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been dead for lo these many centuries.”
“That’s right,” I said, shaking my head sharply to clear it. “Of course. So why am I seeing and hearing you?”
“Because I’m speaking to you.”
“Only to me?”
“At this moment, yes. Others might hear me as well, if they stopped to listen. But I’m not holding my breath.”
“What about the professors?”
“Oh, they’ll perk up their ears now and then. But it seems like once someone gets tenured, they pretty much stop listening.”
“So you and I talk, and the rest of the world just goes on?”
He gave me a steady look. “At this moment, we are outside of time – beyond the realm of shadows, we might say. Our communication is taking place in the blink of an eye, although as in a dream you experience it drawn out in time.”
“I see. Well, welcome, sir,” I said humbly, wishing I’d more carefully read his Confessions, the West’s oldest autobiography.
He bowed slightly in acknowledgment, his crisp tan toga setting off his dark skin.
“Sorry I don’t have any wine to offer,” I said, recalling a few anecdotes from his student days.
“That’s okay,” he said with a smile. “I already took communion this week. Mr. Copleston suggested I stop by and see you.”
“Oh, right,” I said, realizing what a rare opportunity this was. If I was grappling with the most perplexing mysteries of the Western tradition, what a boon it might be to enlist the aid of one whose thought lay at the very heart of our culture.
“You see, sir,” I said, formulating my ideas as I spoke, “I’m trying to clarify the question of the murder, or perhaps I should more accurately say ‘possible murder,’ of my academic advisor – that is to say, I’m conducting an enquiry as to whether a murder took place, and if so by whom and for what motives. That sort of thing.”
“And your question is?”
“Well, how exactly do I know where to start looking? And even if I discover a clue, how can I know for sure what it means?”
Mr. Augustine nodded and leaned forward as if steadying himself against a gale. “Ah yes, knowledge and meaning – the search for Truth. I’ve wondered about that myself.”
He seemed to drift into his own thoughts. Finally I prompted him to continue. “And?”
His dark brow furrowed. “Who can comprehend the Truth in thought, or put the answer into words? How does human consciousness even know where to seek Truth? More fundamentally, how does the finite mind know how and where to look for God, the source of all Truth? How can a finite, created being have the slightest idea where to begin the search for Truth that is rooted in its infinite Creator?”
He gazed at me for a long moment, then continued. “It seems to me that for this to be possible, deep in my creaturely spirit there must be a spark of connection to the Creator. Deep down, we must ‘know’ God and Truth and Goodness and so on. We must somehow ‘remember’ our origin and long to return.”
“Sounds kind of Gnostic to me,” I said. “Escape from the material world and all that.”
Mr. Augustine bristled at the word Gnostic. “I didn’t mean it that way,” He said sharply, then drew a slow breath. “In fact, the world is the fullness of God’s glory – it’s the place where we come to remember and in our limited way to ‘know’ God. The beauty and majesty of God’s creation awakens in us the memory of our divine Creator.”
I cleared my throat. “You know, sir, I hate to sound rude, but if you ask me, the world is kind of a messy place. No offense to God or anything, but it’s not exactly a well-oiled machine. Some might say that the sorry state of the world doesn’t reflect well on its supposed Creator.”
He smiled as if he’d had the same thought himself. “Ah, my young friend! When God created the world, it was perfect in every way – a veritable Garden of Eden. God created the world, ‘and He saw that it was good.’ Death, decay, and destruction came into the world not through any agency of God, but because our first ancestors sinned.”
“Really?” I said as politely as I could. “There was no death before the Fall? So all the animals were vegetarians before Adam ate the apple?”
“I think we’re getting lost in details,” Mr. Augustine said. “The question is, how does a finite human being ‘know’ anything at all?
I felt embarrassed. “Yes, yes, right – that’s the question. How can I, with my finite, limited perspective, have any idea whether I’m seeing the truth, or whether I’m even looking in the right direction?”
“Memory,” he said, letting the word hang in the air. “Somehow we ‘remember’ the source of all truth and knowledge – we remember our Creator, and recall at least the vague outlines of Truth and Goodness and Beauty. I think this is what Mr. Plato means when he says that our material world is but the shadows of the Divine Ideas. Here in the shadowy cave of the fallen world, we must cling to this epistemological grounding – that deep in our spirit we do know where to look for Truth.”
I closed my eyes and concentrated, but drew a blank. “I’m not getting anything,” I said.
He laughed dryly. “It’s not about a flash of mystical insight. It’s about knowing ‘where’ to look. And you do know – you know that the culprit must have some connection to Mr. Testascrittore and to the Institute. You’re not casting about blindly. You may be in the dark of the cave – but you know which direction to shine your light.”
“Okay, I can grant you that much, although it doesn’t exactly solve the mystery. So you think I’ll come to ‘know’ the facts of this mystery because I remember them?”
“You’ll know because you remember, deep in your soul, how to seek Justice. You do remember how to recognize Truth. This stems from your soul’s deep connection to the source of all Justice and Truth and Goodness.”
“God, I suppose you mean?”
“Right, God,” Mr. Augustine said. “All finite knowledge is grounded in our originary knowledge of God.” He looked at me and shrugged. “Anyway, that’s how it seems to me.”
I started to object to grounding knowledge in a belief in God, but the spirit began to dissolve.
I called after him, wanting to query him specifically about the death of Mr. Testascrittore. The opinion of so seminal a thinker as Mr. Augustine would surely bolster my confidence as I tried to find my bearings.
To no avail – the spirit disappeared.
Mr. Augustine’s ghost faded. At that instant, regardless of my lack of faith in spirits or God, my deepest instinct was clear: Mr. Testascrittore’s death was a murder. Of that I was certain. Or as certain as my shaky epistemological foundations would presently allow.
I looked around the Quad. No one else seemed to have noticed a thing – even that I had been speaking aloud, which often drew curious glances. Had Mr. Augustine been right – no time had passed while we spoke?
I pondered his idea that ‘knowing’ meant rediscovering something we already had inside of us. So that’s why we study philosophy, I thought. If I could “remember” the score of the Superbowl before it happened, I could make a killing.
But if this were the case, why weren’t philosophy professors rich? It didn’t seem to reflect well on their profession. Was it a case of “those who can’t do, teach”?
It wasn’t like philosophy professors were the most self-confident people in the world. In fact, I sensed that most of the professors at the Institute felt insecure about their epistemological prowess.
All the more likely, then, that the impending publication of Mr. Testascrittore’s proof had triggered the repressed animosity of his colleagues.
For most, envy would take the form of biting references in the footnotes of their next tome. A few might go so far as to publish moderately critical and subtly self-promoting reviews in journals of note.
For one tormented soul, though, the sense of intellectual devastation cut more deeply. The complete elimination of Mr. Testascrittore must have seemed the only solace.
That gave me a general motive. But what specifically had provoked the killer? However rife the Institute was with professional jealousies and petty grudges, what had triggered one person to commit murder?
I thought of the shiny trophy for the Greatest Living American Philosopher and how it must have galled his colleagues. A rival researcher must have feared that their entire oeuvre was about to be annihilated, and felt their only hope lay in killing Mr. Testascrittore before he could complete his magnum opus.
Maybe it was an Analytical Positivist. Imagine someone weaned on Mr. Russell’s pointillistic reconstructions of time and space. How deeply offensive must Mr. Testascrittore’s Sartre-tinged researches have seemed. Certainly the choice of weapon – the Cambridge Dictionary – pointed towards Analytics.
Might it have been a Neo-Scholastic? I pictured a Metaphysical Realist, certain that consciousness, time, and truth are moments of “real” Being. Who would be more scandalized by Mr. Sartre’s relegation of present-consciousness to the realm of “nothingness” than an Aquinist?
Or a Cartesian, irked that Mr. Descartes’ proof of the existence of the Self had been systematically undermined by the Existentialists’ ruthless employment of the Phenomenological reductions?
A Hegelian? A Heideggerian? A Kantian? Wherever I turned, suspects cropped up.
I pictured again Mr. Testascrittore’s foot, pointing at Mr. Copleston’s History. Obviously a clue! But which volume did he intend? The inept police outline made the foot look like a dolphin-fin pointing generally at all nine volumes. Any attempt to deduce a more specific indication foundered on the shoddiness of the drawing itself.
Maybe I could get hold of the police photos of the crime scene. However badly the authorities botched the chalk outline, their photographs should make the angle of the foot clearer.
A quick visit to the campus police might provide exactly the proof I needed!
I started for the campus police station. If I could get hold of their crime-scene photos I might be able to wrap up this mystery by dinnertime.
But was I putting too much stock in a single clue? What exactly could a photo prove?
Why do we even accept photographs as evidence? After all, a photo doesn’t even exist until after the moment it supposedly portrays has passed. How can I look at a photo today and know it is a record of yesterday? Might this simply be a popular prejudice?
Mr. Russell strolled up and joined me as I crossed the Quad, looking dapper in a long grey coat and rounded top hat. “Take a photo of a landscape or a room,” he suggested. “Set it next to the scene of which it is taken, compare them one detail at a time, and see how perfectly they match up. Thus you know you can trust the photo as a faithful reproduction.”
“But the event depicted in this particular photo no longer exists. I can’t compare them.
“Yes, but from a detailed study of photos that can be compared, you surmise that any photograph is an exact replica of the play of light at a given instant. It captures the colors and shapes exactly as our eyes would see them. We know this is true from photos we can verify. So we can conclude that it almost certainly holds true of those we cannot compare. The ‘truth’ of a photo is a simple matter of correspondence.”
“I see what you mean by the point-to-point correspondence of the image. But how do we know this is reliable in cases we cannot double-check? It finally comes back to induction, doesn’t it? We assume that whatever has worked in the past is likely to work in the future.”
“Essentially, yes,” said Mr. Russell.
As we reached the middle of the Quad, I let a slight smile play over my lips. “So if a camel can hold one million straws on its back, we assume that it can hold a million and one. But what if this is the proverbial straw?”
“It’s possible,” he said. “But statistically unlikely.”
I shook my head. “Take your example of a photo. Suppose I get my hands on a police photo of the crime scene. How can I consider it reliable? After all, computers can make people disappear from photos. What if the one photo that matters is the one that the police faked? Improbable? Perhaps – but entirely possible, particularly if it’s the police themselves who have something to hide.”
He nodded. “That certainly complicates the situation. Skulduggery is always possible. And what is philosophy if not the analysis of the possible?”
“I guess that’s what I need to find out,” I said. “In any case, even if I am skeptical about the absolute veracity of photographic evidence, I need to get my hands on the police photos and see what I could make of them.”
Not wanting to seem rude, I asked Mr. Russell if he wanted to accompany me, but he cited a pressing need to work the Sunday Times crossword puzzle while it was still fresh. We bid one another fare-thee-well, and he faded away.
I looked around the Quad lest yet another philosophical progenitor arrive and shed some light on the matter of Mr. Testascrittore’s death. But all I saw were students rushing hither and yon as if they had somewhere important to be.
Maybe they did. Maybe their classes were that valuable. Mine probably were, and I resolved that as soon as I wrapped up my current investigation, I would redouble my commitment.
But now I had more immediate concerns. I had a mystery to solve. It was time to pay a visit to the police photographer.
The Saint Thomas Aquinas Substation was a cathedral-shaped building bordering Terre Haute’s Historical Latin Quarter Preservation District.
My footsteps echoed as I made my way into the colonnaded lobby. In front of each column was a small altar bearing a carved marble scroll, each scroll inscribed with one of the Fundamental Laws of Logic. Some had votive candles burning, or bouquets of flowers strewn on the floor.
I bought a Boethius votive and found the scroll that contained the Law of the Excluded Middle – every proposition that can be clearly and unequivocally stated must be either true of false. There is no middle ground.
I lit the Boethius candle. “For every suspect I encounter, either they killed Mr. Testascrittore, or they did not. There is no middle ground.” I stood silently before the scroll for a moment, then stepped into the nave.
The Substation’s ornate, skylit central nave was flanked by baroque chapels. Ecstatic angels soared overhead, light from the clerestory glinting off their golden swords and crowns. Each held an open text bearing words such as Law, Order, Reverence, Obedience, and Duty.
Gorgeous as the building was, it also housed the campus jail, which reportedly occupied the entire basement level, directly beneath the floor of the main hall.
On my first night in Terre Haute, I ventured forth and visited several of the legendary Thousand Taverns of Terre Haute. Besides endless chatter about the prospects of the local gridiron eleven and beer-soaked tributes to the hoary traditions of Western culture I heard occasional references and innuendoes concerning the Institute’s criminal justice system, which included the local police, academic enforcement units, and ancillary protective services.
The jail itself was apparently an awesome and much-feared place, spoken of in nervous and hurried tones. Although I gathered that most people had never actually set foot inside the building, their horror and aversion seeped through.
Amid the gossip were whispered tales of a further level below the jail, a stone-lined dungeon where the Inquisition imprisoned and tortured uncooperative students.
Intrigued though I was, I realized it was probably just an urban myth. It struck me as anomalous that an institution devoted to the unbridled pursuit of knowledge would condone the existence of subterranean torture chambers.
Then again, the Thomistic Dominicans of the Inquisition – sticklers for logic if ever there were – had seen no contradiction.
I made my way down the nave. Some of the chapels were subdivided by moveable beige partitions, which somewhat diminished the grandeur. There were no doors, only narrow openings between some of the dividers.
By some openings, employees had taped hand-lettered signs giving the title or function of the office. On others, people had posted fragments of poetry, fashion advertisements, or press releases from foreign embassies.
I would have headed straight for the office, but I wasn’t sure which office I was looking for. The Department of Crime Photography? The Office of Useful Clues? The Secretariat of Circumstantial Evidence? I figured I’d know what I was looking for when I saw it.
Ten minutes later, I reached the far end of the nave without finding anything resembling the office I was seeking.
But little did that matter, as I stood transfixed before a huge mural entitled The Perils of Illogia.
A vivid panorama in the style of Late Medieval Florentine master Andrea Orcagna depicted men and women suffering the grotesque torments of the damned for their inferential failures.
Those who erred through haste and inattention were buried alive in the detritus of their faulty calculations.
Snakes and demons burst from the bellies of those who deduced correctly from principles they knew to be corrupt.
Those who taught incorrect logical procedures were slowly roasted over a fire made of their own useless books.
The deepest circle of Illogia was reserved for those former adherents of logic who had lost their faith, whose eyes flickered with the harrowing dementia of relativism. Here they were condemned to annotate the prefaces to Mr. Foucault’s later works for all eternity.
Although the painting was incomplete, a more gut-churning argument for logic could scarcely be imagined. I fell to my knees, prepared to vow that no matter how absurd the world appeared, I would cling to logic as my true anchor.
But the fact that the masterpiece remained unfinished in certain details – regardless of whether these omissions came about through the artist’s death, career-threatening illness, contractual disputes, absent-mindedness, or moral deficiency – this lack of completion undermined the effectiveness of the painting, much as Mr. Godel’s demonstration of the incompleteness of Mr. Russell’s heralded logical system deflated its value despite the immense power of its mathematics.
I rose from my knees somewhat less awed.
Exploring one of the transepts I came to a partition marked, “Pub. Aff.” The sign, which had been repeatedly crossed out and re-lettered, announced office hours from 8:00 to 8:05 every third morning except weeks before or after a bank holiday.
It was already 8:04, and I realized that the staff might be wrapping up their working day. But I needed to find the photographs of Mr. Testascrittore. I wasn’t going to stand on ceremony. I rapped a greeting on the partition and stepped around the left side.
I found myself in a small cubicle lined with metal folding chairs. Several people whom I took to be undergraduates avoided my eyes.
Written instructions taped to a partition directed me to fill out a lengthy and rather intrusive form in triplicate, then deposit all three copies into a pneumatic tube which whisked them away to points unknown.
A bubbling water cooler looked inviting, but there were no cups. I considered getting down on my knees and trying to imbibe that way. If my name were called at that moment, though, it might be an awkward beginning to my interview.
I took a seat and focused on not fidgeting. I knew it was important to look calm and collected when I was summoned.
Other students wandered in and out of the cubicle, looking pre-occupied or harried. No one spoke. Every minute or two an official would peer around the back partition and call a name, but none of those called ever seemed to be present.
Interesting, I thought as yet another name elicited no response from anyone present. Administrative policy probably required them to call so many names per hour. But no one ever said they had to be real names.
A crew-cut head popped out and called a name: “Olivier J. McGormandy?”
On impulse, I jumped up. “Yes?”
The crew-cut did a double take. Then a hand appeared and impatiently beckoned me to follow.
As I rounded the corner, I bumped the edge of the partition. The entire panel wobbled, and I grabbed it with both hands to steady it.
“Don’t touch the partitions!” my guide said sharply. “You could set off a chain reaction.”
Chastened, I scrunched in my shoulders lest I initiate a catastrophe. I followed my guide down a winding passageway between partitions, from behind which I could hear anxious but indistinct voices.
After innumerable twists and turns I was ushered through a narrow opening. “An administrator will be with you shortly,” my guide said, then vanished.
A large, immaculate desk filled most of the space. The partition walls were bare save for a framed photo of a stocky, crop-haired woman sharing a rather stilted laugh with several of the Institute’s celebrity philosophers – including, I noted with interest, the late Mr. Testascrittore.
I took a seat in a low green and yellow lawn chair facing the desk. The chair was a bit off-balance to the right, and I leaned to the left to compensate.
I was just getting adjusted when a police official entered. She was a stocky, crop-haired woman who looked like she moonlighted as a middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears. She walked with a quick, shuffling gait, as if she were polishing the floor with each step.
“Your case has been referred to me for adjudication,” she said without looking at me.
“I’ve come to enquire about a photograph,” I said. “If I could just speak with the officers who handled Mr. Testascrittore’s body, I’m sure this would only take a few minutes – ”
I started to reply, but she held up a hand. “Enough. You will be told when to speak.” She pulled out a thick manila folder and began leafing through it. One document fell on the floor, and I thought I recognized my name at the top. With a chill, I wondered what else was in the folder.
At last she plopped down in her chair, laying the folder in front of her. “Let’s review the facts of your case,” she said in a flat voice. She eyed me and smacked her lips.
“It is evident that you have no right to be here. In the first place, you are wearing no badge, nor did our scanners detect an identification implant.
“Secondly, you were not summoned.
“Thirdly, you are not an official of the ministry.
“And finally, you do not represent any known corporate interest.”
She clasped her hands in front of her belly and rocked back in her chair as if daring me to speak. Her supercilious manner irked me, but I knew it was better to let her play all her cards before responding. I took a breath and exhaled audibly.
Her eyes narrowed. “Now as to the first point. Supposing that you did have the right to be here,” she resumed. “The first objection is, it’s not visiting hours for the general public.
“The second objection is, we have no documentation of any application for an appointment.”
“Thirdly, we show no record of any gratuities or contributions which might ameliorate some of the more unpleasant aspects of the application process.”
She stared at me over the top of her desk. “A final objection – your appearance.”
“Your appearance raises a most serious objection,” the administrator said flatly. “We do not allow visitors without proper attire to proceed beyond this point.”
“My appearance?” I staggered up from my wobbly chair. “What has my appearance got to do with the obvious justice of my case?”
She looked at me incredulously. “Are you asserting that there is no connection between Justice and Beauty? Have not artists always rendered Justice as a beautiful woman?”
I tried to reply that even the terminally scruffy were worthy of the benefits of logic and law, but she talked over me: “Did not Aristotle teach that ‘just proportion’ is the measure of true beauty? Would you have beauty aligned with ill proportion, or justice travel in slovenly company?” She stared at me as if expecting me to throw myself on her mercy.
In a flash of inspiration, I saw a way to circumvent her entire argument. I pointed to the folder on her desk. “What’s in my file?”
Her face tightened. “You will find out at the designated moment, and not a moment before. There are certain matters that it may not be appropriate for you to know at this point in time.”
“But if it’s a file about me,” I said with a sly smile, “then presumably I already know everything in it.”
“Not necessarily. You’ve surely had experiences which we might record, but of which you were not conscious.”
I was taken aback. Was that possible? Could I experience something, yet have no consciousness of that experience? Even if my mind missed it, wouldn’t my body and emotions still undergo the experience?
I struggled to bring my thoughts to words. A taut smile began to stretch across the administrator’s face. I needed assistance fast.
“Help me, Mr. Copleston! Help!”
With a puff of red smoke Mr. Copleston appeared. My eyes opened wide. It worked!
Apparently sensing my predicament, Mr. Copleston summoned the French Phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, taking him by the elbow and ushering him into our presence.
Mr. Merleau-Ponty moved with the grace of a dancer. His brown hair was combed straight back above a thin face and penetrating eyes. Introductions were made all round.
Mr. Merleau-Ponty turned to the police administrator. “Let me speak to your point,” he said. “There is, quite simply, no ‘unconscious’ experience. To have an experience is to be conscious, and vice versa. There is no consciousness which is not consciousness of something, and no experience of which we are not conscious. If we were not conscious of it, it wouldn’t be an experience in the first place.”
The police administrator tilted her head warily. “What about those times when we absent-mindedly walk down the street, and cars or people go by that we don’t pay any attention to? If someone asked you to describe the people that you saw on the street today, you couldn’t do it, although you did pass many, with your eyes wide open. We’re only conscious of a small portion of what we encounter.”
“Quite the contrary,” Mr. Merleau-Ponty answered. “We experience it all, and are quite certain of what we see. Suppose I asked you whether you passed a pink elephant on the way to work today. You would say ‘no,’ without a moment’s hesitation, true?”
The administrator eyed him suspiciously. “That is correct.”
Mr. Merleau-Ponty brightened. “So you admit you that regardless of what you explicitly noted, you were conscious of everything that passed, since you can so confidently rule out pink elephants.”
“Bravo!” I cried. “That’s the way to tell her!”
Mr. Merleau-Ponty shot me an annoyed glance. I piped down as he continued addressing the administrator. “As for ‘noticing’ or ‘not noticing’ things, ma’am, it’s a pragmatic question concerning the object to which we direct our attention within the total field of experience. Most of the time I don’t explicitly notice every person or car that I experience. But if I were, for example, a police official” – Mr. Merleau-Ponty winked slyly at Mr. Copleston – “I might want to pay a little closer attention.”
The police administrator’s head was shaking nervously from side to side. She stood up. “I will need to consult the authorities on this point.” Excusing herself, she stepped through a gap in the partitions.
Mr. Merleau-Ponty noted another obligation.
“Sir,” I said quickly, “might I pose a question before you go?”
He glanced at his watch and nodded.
“Well,” I said, “It doesn’t surprise me that I can see you, since I summoned you, or at least I called for Mr. Copleston and he brought you along. But how is it that the police administrator, who clearly has no sympathy with your views, can still see and hear you?”
I hooked my thumb toward where the administrator had disappeared.
Mr. Merleau-Ponty shrugged. “Don’t sell our Thomistic friend short. For all her dogmatism, she was listening to my objections and responding directly. She seemed genuinely troubled. You must admit, that’s more than many people can claim.”
He and Mr. Copleston bade me adieu. I looked around the cubicle. An imposing bank of file cabinets lined one wall. A worktable and xerox machine stood opposite.
I went to the cabinets and read the file-labels. One was titled, “Co to Da,” the next: “Da to Du.”
It hit me in a flash – try Testascrittore! Q. R. S. T – Testascrittore. Yes! I pulled out the file, and hit the jackpot – six color glossies of the crime scene. The only problem was, the photographer was apparently an amateur, because the photos were badly out of focus.
Never mind. I stuck them under my sweatshirt. But no. If the photos disappeared, they’d immediately guess who took them. I ran over to the copy machine and started running color copies.
It was one of those old machines where the lens has to reset between every shot, as if the gears couldn’t quite convince themselves that you were using the same setting for two pages in a row. I grabbed it with both hands, exhorting it to copy faster.
I had barely finished the final copy when the administrator abruptly stepped back between the partitions.
The police administrator came into the room bearing a huge, much-handled volume with its title in gold leaf: Mr. Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.
Her head was buried in the big book, and she seemed not to notice what I was doing. I scooped up my copies and slid them under my sweatshirt, stuck the photos back in their folder, and edged toward the file cabinet, which was still open.
The administrator shuffled across the room toward her desk, eyes still focused on the book. I jammed the file randomly into the drawer and eased it shut just as she plopped the immense book down on her desk.
She looked up and peered around the room, smugly satisfied that our visitors had departed. She poked her finger at the Latin text. The veins on her neck protruded as she spoke.
“I see your Mr. Merleau-Ponty has departed the field. And little wonder. Mr. Aquinas is clear – to speak of the agent intellect means that in truly knowing an object, the mind is not merely passive. It must work to produce a conception of its object. So it is quite impossible that we could actively experience everything that we encounter.”
I recalled an evangelical tract I’d found one time on the train, trying to convert people to Medieval Scholasticism via a little cartoon booklet about the amazing adventures of Mr. Aquinas as he debated the minutiae of God’s Mind with various heretics and free-thinkers. Some of the cartoon captions came back to me.
“Doesn’t Mr. Aquinas also speak of the passive, receptive part of the mind?” I asked in a rhetorical tone. “Isn’t that passive part what we call ‘experience,’ which then is given a ‘form’ by the active intellect? Knowing Mr. Aquinas’s affinity for the matter-and-form metaphysics of Mr. Aristotle, this seems to be a plausible interpretation, don’t you agree?”
“No, you’re quite mistaken.” She hunched over her desk, frantically flipping through the Summa. “It’s right here, right at the tip of my fingers…”
I had the photos I’d come for. I eyed the gap between the partitions where she’d gone to get the Summa. I didn’t see what I had to lose by going through it.
Without looking up the administrator began reading a lengthy quotation which she seemed confident would refute a broader conception of conscious experience.
I was tempted to stick around and defend the Merleau-Pontian viewpoint. But I had a mystery to solve. The French Phenomenologist would have to fend for himself.
I inched across the room. The police administrator’s eyes were still absorbed in the book. I poked my head around the partition, but couldn’t see anything definite. I cast one more look back, then took the leap.
Passing through a dark vestibule, I found myself in a janitor’s closet that also doubled as a library. Aged volumes of Dominican theology and Scholastic philosophy shared shelf space with antiquated bottles of ammonia and cans of cleanser.
For a moment I thought I was trapped, then spied a small opening behind the water heater. I peered into the space, but saw nothing. As I leaned my head forward, though, I could hear the faint strains of a monkish choir.
I hesitated. Behind me, the police administrator called.
With a breath, I stepped into the darkness.
As my eyes adjusted, I saw I was moving along a dimly lit corridor between two rows of partitions. The music was louder, a hybrid of Gregorian Chant and synth-pop that regrettably had not het been outlawed. I was so absorbed in trying not to listen to the music that I almost fell down a flight of cast-metal stairs.
Reaching the floor below, I made my way along an unlit concrete passageway. The music was now directly overhead. Lacking a handrail, I ran my hand along the curving concrete wall, which gave way to large, rough-hewn stones.
The drip of water grew louder than the fading music. With a chill I remembered the rumors of underground prisons and torture chambers.
Was I straying into the realm of the Inquisition, chief executive arm and final arbiter of all Truth?
The unlit stone passageway narrowed, and I could now touch both walls at the same time. The stones felt distinctly damp.
Should I go further? Behind me lay another encounter with the administrator, who had probably alerted building security. With the crucial photocopies hidden under my sweatshirt, I wasn’t eager to encounter authorities.
After what seemed like a football field’s length of groping, I spied a shaft of venetian-blinded light coming from far above. Finally I recognized it as a sewer grate. I must be under the plaza outside the police station.
I climbed up U-rings bolted into the wall and shoved the grate, which gave way. Taking care not to bend the photocopies I clambered out of the sewer.
A few people hurrying to morning classes gave me odd stares, but most were more concerned with ingesting their requisite caffeine dosage. I brushed myself off. What time was it? Was I late for my Marxism class?
No time to get my books. I’d have to wing it. I speed-walked across the Quad to Dialectics Hall, a sprawling interplay of flowing post-Corbusian design with starkly functionalist steel-beam delineation of the building’s structure.
My class was on level three of the building, which was several floors above level two, the intervening floors being given letters instead of numbers for obscure reasons beyond the ken of first-year students.
Practically speaking, though, it was simple: you climbed seven flights of stairs to get to the third floor.
I was panting when I burst through the door and grabbed a seat in the back row.
My seat, located in the middle of my customary back row, was perfect. And the class – the opening session of Marxian Dialectics in the Later Sartre, taught by Mr. Dascapitali, represented exactly the reason I had traveled to Terre Haute in the first place.
Although I’d never met the professor and in fact had found no time to look at the text list, I figured that the class must be a cutting-edge Existentio-Materialist reworking of the great nineteenth century Socialist master in light of Mr. Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason.
But Mr. Testascrittore’s murder cast a pall over even the finest course. Nothing Mr. Dascapitali could offer could outweigh my commitment to pursuing a clue to Mr. Testascrittore’s demise.
As the professor’s prefatory remarks got underway, I saw an opportunity to study the photos of Mr. Testascrittore’s body. This sort of thing was always a lot easier in the back of class, with no one looking over my shoulder.
My back-row mates were a slight problem. The ones on either side, even though there were seats between us, might see what I was doing. I turned my head slightly and snuck a glance to the left. The guy was absorbed in designing what looked like a post-nihilist tattoo. I glanced the other way, where a few seats away a woman was either taking exhaustive and very ardent notes even before the lecture commenced, or writing a lengthy letter to an ex-lover.
Satisfied I was safe from scrutiny, I slipped the photocopies from under my sweatshirt. They were curled to the shape of my chest, but otherwise undamaged. The first was taken from above. While it did an admirable job of capturing the rakish angle of the tucked-under right foot, it completely cut off Mr. Testascrittore’s extended left foot.
The blurriness continued to annoy me. Was it the work of a novice? Or an inebriated veteran of the police force, once a gutsy young crime photographer determined to wreak justice through his wide-angle lens, now a jaded time-server with the tremens from too many nights drowning his ambitions in the Thousand Taverns of Terre Haute?
Although the second and third photographs showed the entire body, neither the bookshelf nor the desk was visible.
On the fourth, I hit paydirt. The photographer must have gotten down on his knees, and this apparently steadied his hand. He caught the entire body, with the Copleston shelf visible in the background. The titles were blurred, but a rough glance suggested that the extended foot pointed to volumes eight or nine, covering 1850 to the present, or what passed as the present when Mr. Copleston penned his magnum opus in the mid-twentieth century.
This could well be the clue I’d sought, narrowing my search to a single century. But who exactly might it indicate? More than a few philosophical tendencies had flowed under the metaphysical bridge since 1850. Could it indicate a nihilistic anti-Hegelian? A decentered Structuralist? A cold-blooded Existentialist?
Or perhaps a resentful Marxian such as Mr. Dascapitali?
As an undergrad, I caught wind of the long-simmering feud between the eminent Marxist dialectician, Mr. Althusser, and the humanist-oriented Mr. Sartre. Whatever the judgment of scholars, in the popular mind Mr. Sartre’s humanistic exposition of Mr. Marx carried the day over the icy epistemological reading propounded by Mr. Althusser.
Was Mr. Testascrittore’s murder the work of a deranged Althusserian – someone who had brooded over this injustice for years and finally lashed out at Sartreanism’s most visible target?
I studied Mr. Dascapitali, who was going on about something or other to do with the various ways the evolving material relations of the forces of post-industrial production have a tendency to express themselves as socio-political conflicts in the ideological sphere – exactly the sort of topic that might appeal to an angry Althusserian!
Who more likely than a Marxian such as Mr. Dascapitali to encapsulate long-simmering academic contradictions and epitomize the antagonism toward Existentialism and Phenomenology, of which Mr. Testascrittore was the foremost exponent?
If so, was it a personal grudge against Mr. Testascrittore, or a general vendetta against all Sartreans?
No wonder Mr. Grosskase was so distracted. He’d seen the corpse with its grotesque pointing limbs, and must have immediately grasped the possible Marx-Althusser-Sartre connection.
If Marxian vengeance were the motive, this was no mere academic realization. Mr. Grosskase, as Professor Emeritus of Descriptive Sartrics, might be next in line for murder.
I shoved the photocopies back under my sweatshirt. No time could be lost. I didn’t want to seem rude, and I certainly regretted missing the balance of Mr. Dascapitali’s opening lecture, which I feared would probably in all likelihood set the tone for the rest of the term, leaving me permanently at an academic disadvantage vis-a-vis my fellow students.
But if I cared at all for the Institute and for the future of Western philosophy, I had no choice. I stood and made my way across the back row. “Excuse me, gotta go,” I said, hoping they’d infer that I meant to the restroom. “Excusez moi.”
I made it out the door with a minimum of disruption, considering the importance of my task. Once outside, I pulled the photocopies out again and studied number four.
An intriguing detail caught my eye – a tiny white spot on the shelf just to the left of where the foot seemed to point.
If the spot was actually on the shelf and not just a blotch on the photocopy, it might narrow down the search to a single volume, and corroborate my suspicion about Mr. Dascapitali.
There was only one way to find out.
I headed outside and started across campus toward Mr. Testascrittore’s office. I felt qualms about cutting out of my Dialectics class, especially so early in the term. That sort of thing might leave a bad impression.
I’d have to sit up front next time and be sure to ask a few probing yet respectful questions which might either compel the professor to confess his sordid role in the murder, or alternately get me back on Mr. Dascapitali’s good side.
After all, if by chance he wasn’t the killer, I needed to impress him with my academic diligence in order to get a good grade, or at least a solid Incomplete.
On top of all that, I realized that in the chaos of the past twenty-four hours I’d forgotten to do my assignment for my Sartrics class that afternoon.
It wasn’t that difficult an assignment. We were to write a thousand words on being or nothingness.
Being. Nothingness. Which one should I write about?
The latest tracking poll showed that 57 percent of likely voters in swing states preferred Being, compared to just 29 percent favoring Nothingness. Eight percent were undecided, and the remaining six percent declined to state a preference.
This decisive lead for Being over Nothingness, which pundits believe reflects the deep Manichean roots of European culture, doubtless accounts for Mr. Sartre’s monumental decision to write Being and Nothingness, rather than Nothingness and Being.
Maybe I should go against the grain and write about Nothingness. Although I didn’t see how you could do that without mentioning Being, since I’d have to say that Nothingness ‘was’ such-and-such.
Then again, if I wrote about Being I had to beware saying what it was not, such as in-finite or un-fathomable, or I’d likewise be guilty of ontological mis-equivocation, a charge I most certainly did not want on my permanent record.
I considered writing about both, but the assignment was a clear disjunction. Being or nothingness. Probably an attempt to foil neo-Hegelian Structuralists from slipping in their one-implies-the-other dialectic and thinking they’d solved something.
As I reached the edge of the Quad, Mr. Hegel stepped out of the shadows, fastidiously grooming a tame owl. His wispy white hair fluttered in the breeze. At close range, his eyes seemed sunken and suspicious.
“Nice owl,” I said. “I’m surprised it lets you hold it.”
Mr. Hegel looked coldly into my eyes. “The owl of Minerva takes wing only at dusk.”
“Of course. Well, sir, good to see you, but I’m really busy right now.”
“Is that right? I could have sworn you were just speaking my language.”
“Yes. You were pondering being and nothingness.”
“Oh, that,” I said, sensing an opportunity to get some help on my homework. “Yes, I have to write about being or nothingness. But honestly, I’m more concerned at the moment with getting to the truth regarding Mr. Testascrittore’s death.”
The owl ruffled its wings. Mr. Hegel nodded. “It’s all connected, of course,” he said in a slow, sedate voice. “Truth. Being. Nothingness. Yet the Truth is neither Being nor Nothingness, but the fact that Being passes over into Nothingness, and Nothingness into Being. They are absolutely distinct, and yet they are inseparable, and each immediately vanishes into its opposite. The Truth is this vanishing of the one into the other, which we call ‘Becoming.’”
“Really?” I said. “If Truth is found in ‘Becoming,’ doesn’t that suggest that it is not yet Truth, but only part of the way there? What good will that do me?”
The owl turned its head sharply and glared at me. Mr. Hegel’s despondent eyes met mine. “Philosophy requires that Truth should be won by the labor of the Notion developing itself in its own unfolding. The concept of ‘Becoming’ addresses the dialectical unity-in-distinction of Being and Nothingness.”
He brushed some lint off the owl’s feathers, and seemed on the verge of departing.
“Sir,” I said, “if you have just a moment – I’m trying to figure out who may possibly – assuming that the matter at hand is a murder – who may possibly have killed Mr. Testascrittore. Your point about ‘Becoming’ is interesting and all, but I still find it difficult to ascertain wherein the truth of this matter lies, and how exactly I am supposed to recognize it when I find it.”
Mr. Hegel stopped and looked thoughtful. “How does one ‘know’ the truth? Consciousness, which is the immediate existence of Spirit, always embraces two opposed factors: knowledge and its object. However, Spirit itself underlies the objectivity which at first confronts consciousness as alienated.”
“So you’re saying the object is really part of my consciousness, only in an alienated way that makes it seem outside and other?”
“Yes,” he said, “it is present in the form of a negation. The disparity between the self and the object is the void which inspires their movement towards one another. Each is inadequate without the other. When the object is fully itself, when it stands fully revealed, the subject-object distinction vanishes. Consciousness recognizes itself in its knowledge of the object. They no longer fall into the antithesis of knowing and being, but are synthesized into the simple oneness which is the true in the form of the true.”
The owl levelled a sullenly triumphant stare at me.
I shook my head. “With all respect, sir, this is the sort of obscure and seemingly doctrinaire assertion that tends to bring the label ‘Idealist’ into a bit of disrepute. If we’re going to eliminate the distinction between consciousness and object, why even bother with the object? Why not just investigate my own consciousness?”
He sighed. “It is always the beginner’s temptation to think that, since the standpoint of the object is superseded, it can be dispensed with. This argues a false view of truth and of its relation to what is false.”
I couldn’t suppress a laugh. “Far from me to wish to hold a false relation of the falsely true to the truly true!”
The owl tossed its feathery head. Mr. Hegel gave a harumph. “Today’s youth wishes to dispense with the long and arduous road to true knowledge. Falsehood is not simply the slag or dross which must be rejected to arrive at truth: it is the unshaped metal which must be reshaped and refined into truth, and which is necessarily present in the final shape of such truth.”
I resisted the temptation to equate his theories with alchemy. “So you’re saying if I succeed in solving the mystery, all of my prior false assumptions will somehow be rolled into my final conclusion?”
“Exactly,” he said. “Every error is a necessary step in the progression, and each is recalled in the final synthesis. Error becomes part of truth, and the falsity of the false is instantiated in the truth of the true.”
I pondered his words. If the truth included all previous errors, indeed was constructed on a foundation of their ruins, maybe there was yet hope for the ultimate meaning of my admittedly meandering life.
Mr. Hegel crooked his neck and peered at the owl as if consulting, then bid me adieu and faded away.
I set out across the Quad, heading for Mr. Testascrittore’s office in the Albertus Magnus Empirical Metaphysics Building to compare the crime scene to the photos.
With lunch hour coming on, walking in a beeline was out of the question. Before I covered a quarter of a block I was swept up in a torrent of humanity and deposited a block to the east. Fighting my way back to the Quad, I was swept back behind where I’d started.
After a couple more ill-starred attempts, I resigned myself to catching a cab to cover the two blocks to Mr. Testascrittore’s office.
The cab had a plexiglass shield between the front and back seat, but the sliding window was open. The driver introduced himself as a former professor of Twenty-Second Century Literature and launched into a tirade about the curse of being ahead of one’s time.
He rambled on for some time. Finally, feeling like we should have covered the two blocks, I asked if we were close to my destination.
He inclined his head toward the opening in the plexiglass. “Close is a relative term, son. When I was doing research for my dissertation on ‘Twentieth Century Precursors of Twenty-Second Century Prosaic Poetics’ in the cafes of Paris, I’d have considered where we are right now to be about as close to where you’re trying to get as one could possibly ask. If I were an aspiring artiste trapped in fin-de-siecle New Orleans who never dreamed of setting foot in a city so exalted as Terre Haute, I’d consider you a wretched ingrate for even bringing it up.”
He reached over his shoulder and slammed the glass divider.
Damn, I thought, These big-city cabbies are so touchy. I tried to relax. The main point was getting to Mr. Testascrittore’s office and finding the white spot on the shelf.
With that clue clarified, I would in all likelihood be a lot closer to knowing who the killer might possibly be.
Of course, that assumed that I knew what “knowing” meant in the first place. It wouldn’t do me much good to know the answer, if I didn’t know that I knew it.
What is knowledge, anyway, that we can wonder whether we know what we know?
Reluctant to incur the further wrath of the literature professor turned cab driver, I resigned myself to enjoying the sights. In avoiding the bottleneck around campus, the driver had detoured through Terre Haute’s Historic Latin Quarter Preservation District.
Now that we were on bohemian turf, the driver slid the glass divider open and narrated the sights.
“The Historic Latin Quarter Preservation District is one of Terre Haute’s most renowned historic preservation districts,” he stated. “See the Hedonist’s Haven motor inn? A guy used to live there who could recite every one of Cicero’s comedy routines by heart. He used to perform in the cafes and drugstores for spare change.”
He slowed down in the next block and pointed out the window. ”Look at the water-stain on that highrise – it’s the spitting image of Seneca the Elder.”
I studied the multi-story stain. It certainly bore a striking likeness to some Ancient Roman, although I had no idea what Mr. Seneca Sr. looked like.
The cabbie drove on. “Over there – the Lucky Toga Etrusco-Chinese Laundromat. No one can clean and press classical wear like they can.”
We took several turns, snaking our way through the Historic Latin Quarter Preservation District. The driver slowed and pointed to a drive-up diner.
“That’s the Paradox Cafe. Be careful if you go there – the waiters are absolute, inveterate liars. They’ll pretend to take your order, tell you it’s on the way, keep you waiting an hour, then bring whatever they feel like. If you ask for the restroom, they steer you to the walk-in freezer. When you pay your bill, they always over-charge you.”
I gave a laugh. “Why would anyone go there?”
“The idea is to try to outwit them,” the cabbie explained. “You phrase everything as a double question, so the waiters have to lie about lying and wind up telling you the truth.”
I considered the strategy. “That gets you a true answer,” I said. “But does it get you better service?”
“No, not really,” he said. “But it’s all part of the authentic Terre Haute experience.”
He steered around a stalled chariot, then made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “All through these streets echo the stories from the Silver Age of Latin Stories. Everyone has their favorite. Mine is ‘The Man Who Looked Like Augustus Caesar.’”
He paused as if ordering his thoughts. “There’s this guy here in Terre Haute – I’m pretty sure he’s still around. When you see him from a certain angle, at nighttime, with the street-lighting just right – you’d swear it was great Caesar himself, walking the streets of Pride City. Kids run along ahead of him and sprawl on the sidewalk, trying to get just the right angle so he looks like the statue in the Vatican museum. The Man plays along, striking a dignified pose and lifting his right arm a bit to foster the resemblance. It’s uncanny.”
As the driver reminisced, I looked out at the Historic Latin Quarter Preservation District, home to so many stories. Of course New Orleans and New York and Paris had their celebrated preservation districts. But could any of these rival Terre Haute?
Suppose I set out to determine once and for all which was The Best urban preservation district. Where would I start? Perhaps I could conduct an inventory of all districts, tallying their pros and cons on a large grid and reading off the results at the bottom of each column.
Yet what if one district somehow escaped my notice, and by a wicked twist of mordant fate it was this very one that would outrank all others, if only it were known? Could I prove that I hadn’t missed one?
With a chill of discouragement, I realized that the same problem existed with the clues to Mr. Testascrittore’s death. I could endlessly analyze the clues I had – but could I prove that I hadn’t overlooked the most important one? Was there any way to be sure?
Can you ever prove that something does not exist?
Or can you only prove that you haven’t found it yet?
Can any assertion finally be proven, or can I only prove that I haven’t yet discovered a contradicting example?
As we passed out of the Historic Latin Quarter Preservation District, a stunning edifice ahead of us glowed like a giant jukebox, a stone and steel basilica with neon-lit art-deco arches rippling off each side. A soaring steeple was crowned by a blinking infinity sign.
I craned my neck, unable to take my eyes off the splendor. “Is that the Temple of Logic?”
“That’s it,” said the cabbie with a touch of pride. “Built with the donations of philosophy students from around the world, who save their nickels and dimes to help provide the most splendid possible setting for the sacred rites of logic.”
“I know,” I said in a hushed tone. “I used to donate spare change to the Berkeley Ontology Club, never dreaming that one day I might set foot within the Temple’s precincts.”
“Truth be told,” the driver said sadly, “it’s not that simple. Only members and their immediate kin are allowed inside, and the memberships are passed along through families, seldom coming onto the open market except at a prohibitive cost.”
“Have you ever been inside the Temple?” I asked, then wished I hadn’t.
“No,” he said with a hint of shame in his voice. “I’m afraid my family has always been much too careless in its deductions for me to dream of qualifying.”
Then he brightened. “But in my line of work, I have been fortunate to hear tell of the magnificence of the high altar where the Universal Compendium of Human Inference is kept, along with the gold-plated chalice in which the Wine of Truth is shared.”
He spoke so enthusiastically that I found myself nodding along. I made a mental note to stop by the Temple and learn what was required for admission. Surely aspiring students of epistemology were accorded visiting privileges.
“No,” the cabbie mused, “I’ve never set foot inside the Temple. But I regularly take fares to Club Pascal.”
“Club Pascal? What’s that?”
“You don’t know about Club Pascal, eh? Not surprising – it’s only the most exclusive philosophical nightspot in the entire tri-county area.”
He leaned toward the opening in the plexiglass divider and lowered his voice. “A lot of what happens at Club Pascal is off the record, if you catch my drift.”
“Where exactly is it?” I asked, thinking I might walk by sometime and check out the storied watering hole.
“Down by the Wabash,” he said. “More than that I cannot divulge. But I can take you there for a price.” He winked and nodded.
Not knowing quite what to make of his possibly magnanimous offer, and having numerous pressing concerns such as solving a murder mystery and getting my homework done, I thanked him but declined.
He shrugged and slid the divider shut. Immediately I regretted that I hadn’t asked him to take a more direct route to the Albertus Magnus Empirical Metaphysics Building. I’d already lost a half-hour.
At least Mr. Testascrittore wasn’t going anywhere if I was late. Thank goodness I was dealing with a murder and not a job interview or a first date.
I was growing impatient to reach Mr. Testascrittore’s office and get on with my investigation. As the cab passed a run-down strip mall, I had the distinct impression we were lost. I hesitated to confront the somewhat prickly driver, but intuition told me that I needed to intervene.
Intuition? What grounds are there for taking such dramatic action based on intuition? Had I never before been mistaken?
Is it possible to intuit incorrectly? How could I know that this particular intuition was actually performed correctly?
“You need a new intuition,” came a voice next to me. I turned to see Mr. Levinas, the eminent Phenomenologist, making himself comfortable on the over-stuffed cab seat. He was a heavyset man with swept-back brown hair and a toothy smile, conservatively dressed except for a black and yellow honeycomb tie. “Time erodes any intuition, so you must constantly intuit anew.”
I nodded slowly. “So in order to criticize the cabbie, I need an intuition that my action is correct. Then I need another intuition to assure me that the first intuition is still correct. That means I’m using one intuition to verify another.”
“Correct,” he said.
“That seems circular. Somewhere along the way we need to ascertain the relation of intuition to the outside world. Who cares if the intuition ‘feels’ true, if it doesn’t correspond to external reality?”
Mr. Early Wittgenstein squeezed in on the far side. His thick brown hair hadn’t been combed, and his white button shirt was open at the neck. “Yes, correspondence is the key, if you’re interested in philosophy as a practical skill in the real world.”
As he and Mr. Levinas shook hands, I mulled the situation. A true intuition or perception “corresponds” to external reality. That sounded like a good criterion.
But how do we decide whether correspondence has been attained? We need a new criterion to decide if the first criterion has been met.
Who will render this new decision? Why, a specially appointed Epistemological Assessment Panel, no doubt. Unfortunately, they are going to need a while to establish new criteria for checking on the criterion for establishing whether the first criterion has been met.
Mr. Levinas shifted in the middle cab seat, forcing me and Mr. Early Wittgenstein to squeeze toward the sides. “It all comes back to intuition in the end,” Mr. Levinas said. “No matter how perfect your criteria are, you still have to intuit whether they are adequate to the specific task.”
“And yet,” I said, “who hasn’t been tortured on the rack of false intuition? What proof do I have that my intuition is correct?”
“Precisely,” said Mr. Early Wittgenstein. He leaned forward so I could see him around Mr. Levinas. “We need to establish clear criteria for determining when an intuition is correct.”
“Fine,” said Mr. Levinas. “But we still need to intuit whether the criteria are correctly applied. Criteria don’t apply themselves, nor do they tell you when you’re in the appropriate situation to apply them. Only intuition can do that.”
Wait, I thought. Are we intuiting our criteria, or applying criteria to our intuitions?
Should we seek intuitive approbation of our criteria for ascertaining the validity of intuition?
Or should we prioritize developing criteria for assessing our intuitions of previous criteria?
Given the sort of epistemological challenges we face every day, it’s a miracle that we survive as a species.
A sobering thought crossed my mind. Can one epistemologize incorrectly? How does one know that one’s theory of knowledge is correct?
Is there an “epistemology of epistemology,” a meta-theory which assures us that we actually know what epistemology is?
And what if we’re wrong after all?
Mr. Levinas and Mr. Early Wittgenstein argued back and forth. But I needed to get to Mr. Testascrittore’s office and see if I could find the white spot on the Copleston bookshelf.
I closed my eyes and tried to shut out their argument. I needed to establish a criterion for stopping the cab, and get down to the dirty business of intuiting it.
I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. I’d now been in the taxi for 29 minutes. In a frenzy of philosophical creativity I brought forth the necessary criterion: If we had not arrived at our destination in one more minute, I was stopping the cab.
Intuiting my criterion was not as difficult as I feared, and by the time the clock hit 30 minutes, I’d made it my ownmost. I figured it was best not to mention my decision to my riding partners, lest they call my entire enterprise into question amid their interminable bickering.
Summoning my resolve, I reached for the glass divider.
At that moment, the cab screeched to the curb. The driver slapped open the divider. “This is the closest I can get you,” the driver said. “I don’t have a license to drive on campus.”
A bit chagrined, I paid him for the ride and opened the door. “Which way is campus from here?”
“Go up six blocks, then right two blocks, then left four more – I think there’s a gas station around there somewhere – ask them for directions.”
It was another half-hour before I made it back to campus, swearing under my breath that if I ever took a cab again, I would demand that the driver tell me the route in advance.
Of course, not knowing the grid of the vast city, it probably wouldn’t do me any good. But having lost an hour of my precious time, I felt compelled to swear about something.
It being the middle of a class period, the Quad in front of the Albertus Magnus Empirical Metaphysics Building was less crowded than usual. I made my way up the stairs to Mr. Testascrittore’s office.
Casting a furtive look in both directions, I quickly tried the handle. But it refused to turn. I gave it a harder twist. Nothing.
Locked! The carpet cleaners must have finished their job. Why hadn’t I foreseen that? I stepped away from the door. Now what was I going to do? I couldn’t very well force it open without attracting unwanted attention.
Where could I get a key? The police? Mr. Grosskase? The custodian? All of the above? Obviously the police weren’t going to give me the key. And the custodian, whose name I had learned was Johann, didn’t seem like the most cooperative type.
That left Mr. Grosskase. Stopping by to see him was no problem – I could always cook up some excuse about needing advice on a class. But how was I going to persuade him that I needed to get into Mr. Testascrittore’s office?
There was only one way – I needed to confide my suspicions to him.
The class bell rang. Suddenly the hallways were swarming with people desperate for lunch. I flattened my back against the wall, trying not to get trampled. I inched my way down the hall, reaching Mr. Grosskase’s office just as the starting bell for the next round rang. Of course that meant I should be in class, but it was going to have to wait.
I raised my fist to rap on the office door, when a handwritten note caught my eye: “Mr. Grosskase is ill today. Please leave a message with the secretary.”
Which secretary was intended was not clear. But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to leave a message. What would I write? “Need your help capturing Mr. Testascrittore’s murderer – please call!”
No, that wouldn’t do.
Suddenly the office door sprang open, and I found myself facing Perkins, attired in a white labcoat and black safety glasses. He seemed startled to encounter another human being.
“What?” he stammered. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” I improvised. “Just coming by to see Mr. Grosskase about a schedule change, that’s all.”
“I am authorized to receive messages at the present time,” he said.
“No thanks. I’ll catch him another time.”
Perkins gave me a cold stare. I bowed silently and turned toward the stairs.
Outside again, I looked up at the building. How was I going to get into Mr. Testascrittore’s office? Perhaps a window was open. I could scale the outside wall in the dark of night and gain access.
But if the police caught me it would ruin everything. Having declared the death an accident, they had a vested interest in preventing any contrary evidence from emerging.
Should the authorities realize that a daring yet perspicacious graduate student was independently investigating the office, they might post a guard, and I’d have no chance at all.
Johann. He must have keys to every office. I needed to ask his help. The only problem was how to win his confidence.
Luckily, my apprenticeship as a Berkeley custodian had taught me a few tricks. I checked my pockets – ten dollars and change.
It was time to make an investment.
If I was going to make a good impression visiting Johann and asking him for the key to Mr. Testascrittore’s office, I needed to arrive bearing gifts. I headed for the commercial strip on Wabash Boulevard.
Flashing signs announced a liquor store. I squeezed past a giant cardboard cutout of a scantily clad hedonist touting Old Wabash Malt Liquor and nodded to the man behind the counter.
After a brief dialog, he handed me a vacuum-sealed package with a bright green “Terre Haute is Pride City” sticker on the front. I thanked him and promised to visit regularly.
Ten minutes later I descended the back stairs of the Albertus Magnus Empirical Metaphysics Building searching for Johann’s quarters.
Overhead were heating ducts wrapped in dirty white muslin cloth. I figured if I followed the pipes, I’d find the boiler room.
Interesting how we take a simple object like a padded overhead cylinder and not only fit it into a coherent system, but build up an entire mythology about what will happen at the end.
It got me to thinking how most of our lives are spent in penultimate pursuits. What percentage of our life is spent “preparing for the future” or “maintaining the infrastructure” – and what percentage is “fully lived in the present moment”?
In my case, it’s fairly simple to say. I live one-third fully in the present moment. That’s the eight hours I sleep.
As for the sixteen waking hours, those are entirely consumed with preparing myself for future endeavors. My long-term plan is to be ready someday to do something important.
But for the foreseeable future – and honestly, that’s as far ahead as I can bear to look on most days – I am in preparation.
I am grimly aware that, from the appearance of things, the world might conclude that I spend my entire waking life preparing to sleep.
To which I reply – I am not the first philosopher to be scorned by his own generation!
Not the first, nor the second, nor the third – in fact, I might not be a philosopher at all. But regardless of what I turn out to be, I’m certainly not the first to be scorned. And that is all I claimed.
As I surmised, the boiler room was found at the end of the pipes. The door was partway open. I knocked, then called out: “Anyone home?”
The music went down, and Johann shuffled from behind the boiler. He was wearing a sleeveless undershirt, and hadn’t shaved since I’d seen him in my garret the day before. He put one hand on the partly-open door as if ready to slam it.
“Does this look like my home?” He stared at me with his head slightly cocked, and I realized he thought I’d come down to complain about something.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to intrude,” I said. “It’s just that I worked my way through college as a custodian, and I thought I’d come down and see if you wanted to smoke a joint and share a few stories.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” he said. The door swung open and soon I was ensconced in the comfort of an overstuffed recliner testing out his antique 1960s bong.
Johann’s working quarters were decorated in tasteful retro-custodial chic. On either side of a tool-adorned workbench, tall metal shelving overflowed with a wide array of parts, pipes, fittings, and the like. A vintage pinball machine was piled high with tattered manuals and instruction sheets. Antique calendars featuring buff auto attendants hung above a cluttered desk.
As we smoked, he wandered around the spacious boiler room showing me his prize possessions: a plaster cast of the key to Mr. Voltaire’s cell in the Bastille; a left-over simulacrum from Mr. Baudrillard’s trip to America; a link of the gold-plated chain from Mr. Kant’s pocketwatch; and a terrycloth fragment from the towel used by Mr. Thales after he stumbled into a well as he contemplated the starry heavens.
“What great relics,” I said. I needed to get him talking, loosen him up. “The Institute is fortunate to have a custodian so dedicated to the heritage of Western philosophy.”
Johann took a hit and passed me the bong. “More than they know. The professors and students come and go. But me? I’m the one who keeps it all functioning around the clock, all year long.”
He gazed into the distance. “Even Phineas Q. Testascrittore, the mightiest pillar of Sartreanism, has passed – yet the Institute will not only continue, it will flourish. Why?” He leaned closer, and his voice fell to a whisper. “Not least because of my work.”
He reached across his workbench and picked up a huge ring of keys.
I could hardly believe my eyes. The keys! Maybe this was going to be easier than I’d thought. “That’s quite a key-ring,” I said.
He held them aloft like Bacchus contemplating a stem of grapes. “Power,” he said deliberately. “Raw power.”
“Indeed,” I said, forcing myself to smile. “The keys to the empire.”
“I’m surprised, though, that you have so many keys. Why not just a couple of masters?”
His eyes narrowed. “You are a custodian, aren’t you? You’re right – only three of these keys actually open anything. The rest I just carry for effect.”
Johann set the keyring on the work bench and got us each a bottle of Sycamore Blossom Ale from the icebox.
I eyed the big keyring, picturing how impossible it would be to “borrow” it without risking disaster. If Johann caught me it would destroy all chance of cooperation, and even paint me as a suspect if he, like I, saw Mr. Testascrittore’s death as a murder.
No, I needed to proceed slowly and gain his confidence. Opening my newly-purchased weed I poured out enough for a cigar-sized joint.
“What brought you to the Institute?” I asked as I rolled it up.
He accepted the joint from me. “I came here to study with Mr. Grosskase. That was back before he was Rector.”
“So you were a student under him? He sure looked beat when I saw him yesterday.”
Johann nodded, perhaps a bit quickly. “This is too much for old Grosskase. He’s no longer up to this sort of crisis. I’m afraid we may lose him.”
I pictured life at the Institute with neither of my sponsors. “You don’t think he’d retire, do you?”
“He will at some point,” Johann said. “The main reason he’s still around is that the various factions can’t agree on a new Rector. Every tendency has its own candidate, any of whom would tear the Institute apart. There is no compromise candidate. Unless there’s resolution soon, they’re going to have to look outside the Institute.”
“Is that so bad?”
He gave a cold laugh. “Are you serious? The Institute is the foremost epistemological foundation in the Western world. Paris, Santiago, Alexandria, and Cambridge send their brightest and most creative graduates to Terre Haute for advanced studies.” He directed a withering stare at me. “And you suggest we look outside the Institute?”
I hastily apologized for any aspersion I may inadvertently have cast on the exalted role of the Institute.
Johann pulled up a footstool and straddled it. “It’s a formidable challenge,” he said. “For the past generation the systematic philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre has served as the unifying force. All other thinkers adapt their ideas to fit the Sartrean paradigm in order to maintain the semblance of unity. Even those who critique it remain within the Sartrean fold.”
“This was Mr. Grosskase’s achievement?”
“Exactly. When he came on board, the Institute was torn among various tendencies which so divided Western philosophy, labeling entire colleges as ‘Analytic’ or ‘Phenomenological’ or ‘Behaviorist’ – as if any one approach or ‘method’ can alone produce truth!”
Johann took a long toke and passed the joint back to me. “The thought of returning to such chaos disheartens anyone who values the unity of the Western intellectual tradition,” he said. “Ever since the decline of Hegelianism the newer tendencies have proceeded in virtual ignorance of each other instead of seeking unity in the common quest to understand and articulate what life is all about. It’s that unity that Mr. Grosskase is fighting to save – a unity he believes is provided by Sartrics.”
I nodded solemnly. “That’s what drew me to Terre Haute,” I said. “I trust that Sartreanism will provide me with intellectual moorings.”
Johann laughed drily. “Didn’t we all! The whole time I was studying here, I clung to that vision – the belief that all of contemporary philosophy could be subsumed under the rubric of Sartrean Studies.” His eyes got a bit misty, and he seemed to gaze away. “I don’t think it was a mere chance that I ‘lost my focus’ around the same time as began to question Sartrics.”
My strategy of winning his trust seemed to be working. I leaned forward in the recliner and looked around the boiler room. “How did you wind up working down here?”
“Because I refused to be exiled from Terre Haute. I grew up in the very shadow of the Institute. I took my B.A. in Pre-Post-Structural Infra-Semiotic Hermeneutics at Indiana State, then began my graduate work under Mr. Grosskase, hoping one day to join him on the faculty.
“After I’d studied here for the better part of a decade, Mr. Grosskase and Mr. Testascrittore” – he spoke the latter name deliberately, filtering any emotion from his voice – “told me that I needed some ‘seasoning,’ and urged me to apply for teaching positions at other schools.
“But I had no desire to leave Terre Haute. My life is here, my haunts are here. I’m a creature of habit, a disciple of Mr. Kant. So I said to them, perhaps with a touch of passion: ‘I’d rather be a janitor in Terre Haute than the Dean of Harvard!’”
He paused and took a drink of ale, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “Back in his prime, Mr. Grosskase wasn’t one to be trifled with. An hour later, an application for building custodian was in my mail slot.”
I smiled involuntarily. “That must have been sobering,” I said.
“You might think so. But no, it had quite the opposite effect. In a burst of righteous anger I filled out the application and dropped it off personally at the human resources office. They called me that evening, did a two-minute phone interview, and I started work the next morning.”
“Wow, you must make a great impression over the phone.”
“It turned out that Mr. Testascrittore had already called them and given me a strong recommendation for the job.”
He gazed at the floor as if feeling again the weight of his decision. His face betrayed no emotion. Was he bemused? Resigned?
Or was he secretly seething at those whom he blamed for his exile here in the basement, far from the ivory heights?
Had he nursed a grudge all these years, and finally found the moment to dispose of one of his tormentors?
If so, was Mr. Grosskase next on the hit list? By Johann’s own assessment, Mr. Grosskase was just as culpable as Mr. Testascrittore. No wonder the Rector looked shaken.
Was I smoking weed with a would-be serial killer?
Was Johann the murderer? My suspicions hinged on the custodian’s secret seething.
When he looked up, though, his face showed the opposite. He shifted on the footstool. “Think about it,” he said, gesturing around his lair, “is this such a bad life? I work when I feel like it, study what I want to study, and get high when the spirit moves me. Who’s to say that mine isn’t the truly philosophical path?”
I felt a pang for my time at dear old USB. “If you believe in what you do, that’s what’s important,” I said.
He looked me directly in the eye. “ I know in my heart that I’m doing essential work to maintain the Institute’s most important endeavors. And in my spare time I’m pursuing unique, cutting-edge philosophical studies. That’s enough to satisfy me.”
Over by the workbench, a cluttered bookshelf caught my eye. “What are your present studies?”
He tilted his head slightly. “I’m working primarily in the field of Paralogic.”
Yes,” he said, his voice taking on more resonance. “Paralogic. An emerging discipline devoted to promoting clearer, more rational thinking from academia to Wall Street to the kitchen stove.”
“Well, you know how paratroopers are the first troopers into battle? And paramedics are the first medical people on the scene?”
I nodded, imagining logicians on the battlefield or in the operating room.
Johann paused as if summoning his fortitude. “Paralogicians will be front-line exponents of crisp, logical thinking in all facets of life. Whether it’s correcting the muddled reasoning of a Secretary of State or getting a house-husband to follow a Beef Stroganoff recipe, paralogicians will be on the spot, making the world a safer place for clear, rational thought.”
“That’s a great idea,” I said, more impressed than ever with Terre Haute. “This new science is honored with a department of its own here at the Institute?”
Johann took a deep breath and released it with a sigh. “Well, no, not yet. But I’ve been working on a syllabus, and I have both a basic text and an advanced treatise under development.”
His eyes glazed a bit. “Most of all, I have my vast experience here in Terre Haute, from the cobbled streets of the Historic Latin Quarter Preservation District, to the factories and warehouses that line the Index District, all the way to the marbled halls of the Institute. From the depths to the heights of this great city I have ploughed the fields of Paralogic. And while it is as yet a science in its infancy, I remain steadfast in my conviction that I have inaugurated a great discipline – one that will bring honor and renown to the Institute and to my native Terre Haute.”
I raised my Sycamore Blossom in tribute. “A most noble goal! Bravo!”
He bowed forward. “Thank you very much.”
I was touched that he had confided his dream to me. It was the first heartfelt conversation I’d had in the big city, and for a moment I felt drawn to open up and share my suspicions regarding Mr. Testascrittore’s death. Once Johann saw my true motive, he might not only lend me the keys – he might accompany me to the office.
But instinct said no. I barely knew him. Someone in this school was a murderer, and Johann certainly had a motive. I couldn’t take any chances. Just play along, ask the occasional subtle yet probing question, and see what I could learn.
I gazed at the keys for a long moment, trying to spot the masters. “Say,” I said slowly, as if the idea had just occurred to me. “I wonder if you could do me a favor. I’m, uh, I’m assisting the Assistant to Mr. Testascrittore’s Assistant, who is of course potentially liable for rendering all assistance with regard to Mr. Testascrittore’s entire course and curriculum, which is surely an awesome assistantorial responsibility. I need to – I want to help out by grading some test papers. It’s very important that the students get feedback on their work this early in the term. If I could borrow your keys for just a moment…”
He took a long toke, held it for a few seconds, then exhaled. “Not a good idea. Nothing personal. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, I see a risk with no corresponding benefit to myself. From the point of view of my potential well-being, the balance is negative.”
I finished my ale and set it on a wooden crate that served as an endtable. “I’d like to question your Utilitarian calculus. You say that lending me the keys would be of negative utility. I believe I can demonstrate the opposite.”
I nodded. “First, as to the alleged negative effects – an event which may never happen cannot be counted as a malady. An illness one may never suffer cannot be counted as having a dilatory effect on one’s health.
“Secondly, as to the benefits to you – humans are by nature social. We’re drawn to share our lives with our fellow creatures. Our happiness and well-being are not purely individual matters but are inextricably interwoven with that of our neighbors.
“That being the case,” I concluded, “a strict accounting will show that any increase in well-being for one person is a net gain for all, since it will result in a more satisfied, less frustrated fellow citizen. My satisfaction directly contributes to your well-being.”
He looked at me, then down at the bong resting on the coffeetable. “Well argued, I must admit.” He scraped the ashes out of the bong. “I think I see a solution whereby we can achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number. I’ll put my keys on the table. You put your weed on the table. I don’t ask what you do with the keys, and you don’t ask what I do with the weed.”
“Oh,” I said. “Don’t ask, don’t tell?”
“I believe those terms are acceptable,” I said. “Just save me a little for later.”
He was already taking another hit, and the bong bobbed up and down with his head. He tossed me the heavy ring of keys, which I deftly caught. “Which one opens Mr. Testascrittore’s door?”
He exhaled a huge cloud of smoke, coughed a time or two, then took the big ring from me and detached a penlight with a single green key attached. “This is the one you need.”
Leaving the boiler room, I made my way up to the second floor hoping at last to discover exactly which volume of Copleston might be indicated by the pointing foot and the white spot on the photo.
The building seemed deserted. The night-security system gave me enough light to find Mr. Testascrittore’s door. The key worked smoothly. Stepping quietly into the dark office. I pulled the door shut, switched on the penlight, and scanned the room.
Everything looked the same as I’d last seen it – the bust, the trophy, the chalk outline on the floor – but something felt wrong, as if the room were slightly off-balance. I scanned again, but nothing struck me.
I turned the light toward the Copleston shelf. Sure enough, underneath one of the volumes was a small white tag. I knelt down to read it, but the faded ink was illegible. Based on the angle of the foot in the photograph, I estimated two volumes to the right of the white spot – Volume Nine, Contemporary Philosophy.
Unfortunately, that didn’t narrow the search at all. I supposed I could eliminate the professors of Medieval or Ancient philosophy. But they themselves were, in a way, “contemporary philosophers,” bringing to present life the thoughts of yesteryear. Assuming they actually did some philosophy and didn’t just teach it by rote.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt on that count, I didn’t see how I could eliminate even the aforesaid professors of Medieval philosophy from consideration. Far from honing my search, the new clue seemed to widen it to include the entire Institute. Maybe I better stop before I found a clue that implicated everyone within a 50-mile radius.
‑So much for the Copleston clue. As I stepped back toward the door, though, something about the room bothered me again. I shone the light around the periphery. Nothing unusual. I stepped slowly toward the closet, then yanked the door open – nothing. The door to the small water closet at the back was open, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary there.
I turned toward the door, looking across the desk – the same view Mr. Testascrittore would have had if he had lived long enough for me to come into the office and meet him. His high-backed swivel chair was rolled away from the cluttered desk, which hadn’t been cleared off since he died.
Or had it? That’s what was wrong – the manuscript was missing! Where had Mr. Testascrittore’s manuscript gone?
Had it been removed for safekeeping? Or had someone stolen it?
Philosophy thieves. Hardly the first in history. During the collapse of the Roman world, pillagers and pirates stole precious classical manuscripts and sold them to Arabic traders, fortuitously preserving the treasures of declining Greece and Rome for later ages.
Renaissance humanists “borrowed” one-of-a-kind treasures from unsuspecting monasteries, often keeping them well past the due date.
Mr. Heidegger, under the guise of “getting back to the roots,” padded out his books by pilfering key Pre-Socratic fragments.
And what of the illustrious Mr. Plato, whose immense fame rested squarely on his appropriation of the legacy of Mr. Socrates?
Now the great Mr. Testascrittore’s ultimate screed was missing. Had a rival philosopher stolen the manuscript, meaning to claim Mr. Testascrittore’s ultimate observations for himself?
I shuffled through the papers on the desk, half-expecting to find the manuscript hidden under them. But I knew where I’d seen it, and it was gone. I looked around the room, even under the desk and couch, in case someone had set it aside. Nothing.
Maybe Mr. Grosskase had taken it for safe-keeping, although it seemed unlikely he’d been back, given his debilitated condition. Still, I needed to find a way to ask him without having to go through Perkins.
A shuffling outside the door startled me. Was it Johann? Maybe I was taking too long. But he had the weed. Why would he care?
A key turned in the lock. My breath froze in my throat. With nowhere to run, I ducked under the big desk just as the door opened.
Feet shuffled in. As the door swung shut, I shifted as far under the desk as I could get. The front panel covered all but the last couple of inches above the floor. I bent my head down to see through the crack.
Entering the room, the intruder coughed slightly – a man. Like me, he had a small flashlight. He came over toward the desk, but stayed on the front side.
Suddenly a heavy weight thudded to the floor. I jumped, banging my head on the underside of the desk. Wincing, I stifled a groan.
Footsteps slowly circled the room. I squeezed myself smaller. Papers rustled on the desktop. Then a file cabinet opened and closed.
There weren’t that many places to search in the lightly-furnished office, and presently the feet shuffled around behind the desk. I pressed myself against the front panel. The feet came up to the edge of the desk and stopped.
Drawers began to open and close. I should bolt out, knock the intruder over and run for it! But my limbs were paralyzed.
Papers shuffled again on the desktop. Then the noise stopped. The shadowy figure bent down. As the light angled toward me, he suddenly coughed sharply. The light jerked upward, and more coughs followed from that height. A foot kicked at the chair. The coughing subsided, and the footsteps shuffled back around the desk.
I didn’t budge an inch. At last the door opened. I heard a final muttered curse, followed by the door closing.
I waited just a moment before venturing from my refuge. My instinct was to get out of the office. But I couldn’t help wondering what had made the loud thump.
As I shone my light around the floor, I tripped over a bundle the size of a thick phone book, carelessly wrapped with twine.
I opened the bundle and recognized in an instant – Mr. Testascrittore’s handwritten manuscript was back!
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