Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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The anonymity of everything

Imagine a machine -- a mechanical stenographer -- jotting down everything that ever happens, second by second, on an enormous scroll of paper that keeps rolling.

It records everything: every word I’m saying; every thought you're thinking; every car passing by outside: color, make, down to the mileage and Blue Book value of each; it records the weather this instant in every nook and cranny of the world ...

The machine writes down everything on an enormous endless scroll. Everything. What would you have?

You’d have nothing. At least you’d have nothing that makes sense – because all you'd have is the anonymity of everything.

The anonymity of everything.

Think about it: In order to have any meaning at all -- in order to make a story out of all possible events -- you'd need to have LESS than everything. In fact you need to have very very few of the things on that scroll.

Somewhere on that enormous scroll are a few facts that, if picked out and strung together... Aha! -- Washington crossing the Delaware!

Aha!: There's the young Abe Lincoln living in a cabin in the Illinois woods. What's that? Look! He walks miles to borrow some books; walks miles back with them; reads them by candlelight; walks miles to return them...

Aha: Look! My life and yours ...

You must have less than everything to make what you have meaningful.

I remember half a century ago when my family first came to this country. Both my parents worked to make ends meet. After school, my sister and I would walk back home -- it was an upstairs flat we rented from somebody -- and we'd share one bottle of Coca-Cola as an afternoon treat.

We'd share just one bottle between the two of us.

Pour it into glasses and watch it fizz...

I still remember how meaningful that was. I still remember looking forward to it.

Now I can't tell you the number of soft drinks I have in the refrigerator out in the garage ...


1 Timothy 6.6-8 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Psalm 87.5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”

The mechanical stenographer that records everything was proposed by the philosopher Arthur Danto in Narration and Knowledge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985) 152.


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