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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Unenlightenment Revisited

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Musician

Mozart was a child of the Enlightenment, living within the era of the American Revolution and the French Revolution, both of which movements represented a partial culmination of certain threads of thought that flowed from the works of Enlightenment writers.

I was writing to my friend, Signs, today, and I recalled how we had once a disagreement about Sir Flinders Petrie.  (
If I remember correctly, Signs was all sails set for some sort of Flinders Petrie museum, possibly including a visit to the local taxidermist, making dear, old sainted F.P. to be for all the world a latter-day Jeremy Bentham display therein.

I, being the voice of reason, said "No."
Actually, if I remember correctly, I said  "Piano, piano... pace... serenità..."  as if  I were Lorenzo da Ponte writing the libretto for Mozart's Don Giovanni.

I became aware how very few people I communicate with who have even a faint glimmer as to who Sir Flinders Petrie may be. Very few, actually... possibly none altogether.  So it is a precious thing to be able to talk with people who share a curiosity of the world so great that they feel inclined to discover and find out as much as they can about our world, people who find pleasure in the great details of the universe...
Not like those who turn back into their own private bastilles, far from the madding crowds, but more like those who wear their tricolored cockades of curious upon the battlements of life!

Which led us back to Woody Allen's latest movie, Irrational Man, for in the après ciné talk, I had made the mistake of mentioning the Leopold and Loeb trial of the 1920s, which gaffe on my part caused eyes to roll and dart about... rather like ten pins in a bowling alley, and I thought that I was no longer bowling against Pal in Uncle Buck, but had taken a turn to the dark side and now bowled against John Turturro in The Big Lebowski.
I mumbled Clarence Darrow to mute incomprehension, and almost said "You know, Darrow, like in the Scopes Monkey Trial?"

That would have been a disaster.

I was not at Chuck E. Cheese. We were at an adult establishment, and most people had college degrees.

What was irrational about Irrational Man is the fact that the main character tried to rationalize the irrational.
So did Leopold and Loeb when they tried their experiment in the Übermensch philosophy of Nietzsche.

I am trying to write an essay, I said to Signs, on the Enlightenment, Mozart, Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, and Woody Allen's Irrational Man, possibly throwing in William Barrett's book Irrational Man, which I happened to have read 50 years ago... and still possess.

There is a complement for everything: for every enlightenment, there is an obscurity. In Mozart's The Magic Flute, the Queen of Night is the enemy of clarity and light. Although she may be defeated in an encounter, she is not defeated forever.

Each state of our awareness may exist in light or in dark or in a multitude of states in between.

We tell stories and educate to narrow the choices down, hopefully to the good ones.

But we exist in a quantum logic of Enlightenment and Unenlightenment, and we do not know which will prevail, until we make a choice... and the wave function collapses... and we are in heaven... or not.

Ted Nugent, Musician


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