Coffee tables and identity – truth and lies – question and answer

WEDNESDAY, 29 JUNE 2005

11:57

A man is in a relationship with a woman. After years of thinking about himself and about life he has decided who he wants to be, where he wants to live and in what style, with how much money he can be satisfied, and so on.

During the course of several months he spends with the special woman he forms an idea of what her vision looks like of a nice house. Some aspects correspond with his ideas. Other items he regards as perhaps too conspicuously “bourgeois”. He has also developed over the years an aversion to decor that seems to have been selected from a catalogue, and he is reminded of a Fight Club quote: “Flipping though catalogues, deciding which coffee table defines me the best.”

This man is comfortable with making a political argument out of a coffee table. Still, he loves the woman, and her vision of a nice house … is beautiful, stylish, aesthetically pleasing and warm. His question to himself: Should he admit that her suggestions of how to turn an apartment into a home are not in conflict with his basic idea of a pleasant living space that pre-dates her presence in his life, or should he continue to defend his vision of an intellectual’s lair to the last coffee table splinter because he would die of embarrassment if any other armchair revolutionary should express the opinion that he turned bourgeois the moment he lost his heart to a woman?

What is under discussion here is identity. Who and what you are in the environment where and at the time when your existence plays out find expression in your address, your clothes, your furniture, your mode of transportation and the ornaments and wall hangings in your living room. If any of these expressions of your who-and-what changes, what does it say about who and what you are, or have become, or is becoming? (And any reader who feels that a coffee table is just a damn coffee table obviously has not contemplated the finer points of existence.)

People change, everybody knows that. One enters into a relationship with someone special, and your existence is transformed overnight (and over the course of months), from single amateur academic/writer to … amateur academic/writer in a meaningful relationship with a beautiful woman who does not like broken toilet seats and second-hand couches with piles of newspapers under a sheet to prevent anyone from falling in.

Relationships, compromise, politics, coffee tables … whatever. Let the shopping begin!

14:10

Why do I write? Why am I sitting on a train? Why do I clip my nails, eat breakfast, put bags of garbage in the corner of my kitchen, move my furniture around, hang pictures on my walls, look at the number on the scale, remind myself that I must go for a haircut later this afternoon, and try to be friendly and polite?

Because … seriously? Because? Better, prettier, thinner, richer, smarter, healthier … better, prettier, thinner, richer, smarter, healthier … better, prettier, thinner, richer, smarter, healthier! Cheap train, express – a track remains a track!

Boxes full of junk that can’t be discarded, wet towels, new bedding to replace torn sheets and old pillow cases, people that rush around you making a noise in your ears, eating and drinking and smiling and buying and eating and rushing around and sitting and sleeping and buying and eating and drinking and rushing around and lying and talking and eating and drinking and sleeping and buying and making a noise and rushing around and eating and sleeping and sitting and talking … Sex and death, and in between people try to convince themselves that other things are also important.

Art, entertainment, garbage, people and trains and flowers, cigarettes and vegetable soup … Oh god! Please do not let this be my final entry!

* * *

Truth and lies. Am I on the train?

(It is 15:37.) No.

Sometimes I die in the truth and am born again in the lie. Sometimes the lie is more important than the truth. Sometimes the lie has more value than the truth.

Before the word “truth” came into existence, the truth had already existed. What we call the truth is thus more or less accurate; it corresponds more or less to the real truth; it strikes the bull’s-eye more or less.

Am I on the train?

(It is 15:42.) Yes.

What is the point? My environment has changed. According to a pre-arranged plan I took an action, and my truth changed. At 15:37 the truth was that I was not on the train. At 15:42 the truth was exactly the opposite – I was on the train.

One can be smart and ask for a proper definition of “train”. Or you can debate the correct use of the preposition “on”. “On” would strictly speaking mean on top of the train, on the roof. You have after all entered the train. It is therefore more correct to say that you are “in” the train, right?

No degree of semantic mud slinging will however change the truth that my truth changed between 15:37 and 15:42.

THURSDAY, 30 JUNE 2005

09:51

Yesterday I passed a bulldozer that had been loaded on a truck. For a moment I was deeply impressed with the machine, all the tubes and arms and steel and dry mud bearing witness to a hard day’s work. I realized I did not know the person who had designed the machine. I knew absolutely nothing about him or her! The thought did not upset me too much though, because I could make the reasonable assumption that the machine had in fact been designed, and that it had been designed by a person, and that this person actually exists, or had existed at some point.

I then realized that I had no idea of the people who had built the machine …

* * *

Do I live in a time of war or peace? I myself have never been involved in a war. I have never seen war firsthand. Most of the people I know and with whom I have contact on a daily basis have also never seen or experienced war. It therefore appears to be a reasonable assumption that I live in a time of peace. Yet, I see footage of war on TV. I have also met people who had experienced war firsthand, although they had experienced it years before our paths crossed.

The point of this piece of text is neither war nor peace – it is to illustrate a phenomenon common in human communication. A question is asked, and without much hesitation we usually continue to provide the most appropriate response. But was the question a reasonable one? What assumptions were made that the person who is supposed to provide an answer would not necessarily agree with if they had to think about it for a while? Were there implications inherent to the question that the responder would not be in accord with had they realized it? For example, what is “war”? How does the interviewer define a “time of peace”? What answer would be correct? Would opinion outweigh factual accuracy in this case? What would be a reasonable opinion and what sophistry?

Questions and answers (or opinion) are ways in which we collect information about ourselves, the environment we inhabit, the time in which we live, and the people with whom we share the environment. Questions, or to how the question is asked sometimes influence the answer – or how the questions are answered.

Last sentence: information is important; information is gathered by asking questions; accurate, sensible and reasonable answers are the most common result of well-formulated, reasonable and meaningful questions.

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