Sunday, January 25, 2009

Our Note-Book Contest, Part II

“You are fire and ice,
The touch of you burns my hands like snow.”

--Amy Lowell, “The Opal”

Although these verses definitely express the feelings of the small boy, featured in the Omaha World-Herald, who stuck his tongue to the lamp-post, they definitely do not express the emotions of those who observe him. There is no paradox or dichotomy in our emotions, we either think the action definite foolishness or definite wisdom, but neither both nor somewhere in between. For foolishness can be wisdom, but not quite foolishness and not quite wisdom definitely is not wisdom, though it might be foolishness.
Conceivably, there might be some persons who would call the sticking the tongue to the lamp-post wisdom, such as those lazy artistic sadistic philchaosophers who would make money by exhibiting in the Guggenheim frozen mouthlar muscle torn from the tongue by the artistic medium itself. That would be the ultimate way for the artist to have no control over the art, even more so than the infamous 4’33”, but that is a topic for another day and a different blog. Those who style themselves as more saintly or strong persons might also approve of the action, for just as saints and strong men flagellate the outsides of their body literally and metaphorically (and note that it is the saints that do it literally), why should not the ordinary person flagellate the inside (or the outside, as the mouth, like a door, is both) of their body? If I were to believe this, I suppose I should also ask my tongue to run like it was a leg, or, if I were a bishop, to ask everyone to be a priest, and everyone to be a mother, and everyone to…get the picture?
But besides the fact that the tongue is not a back and is not made to be whipped cream (those who think it is must be confusing “eat” with “is” and thus would say that a carrot eats a carrot, or that a diamond eats hard, or that the tongue is whipped cream), there is another reason that one should not, even in the name of strength or holiness, treat a bar of frozen metal like a bar of frozen chocolate, namely, that the exercise does not strengthen and the mortification does not mortify.
The experiment of changing agua de lengua to agua de connecion with the result that one finds frozen blood on one’s back the next time one leans up a against the nearest object while waiting for the bus can only be done for one type of strength: strength of the will, a commodity much desired by Napoleonists, Niechtzcheians, Prussians, and even the opposite of all three, convention-crashing-Chestertonians. We all that it seems like a way to make the will stronger.
But there is something to this daring deed that makes it peculiar: it is practically useless to try to do the deed with proper motive, the motive of strengthening the will, without falling into the traps of unwisdom. For it is the peculiar thing about the deed that if one contemplates the action for any significant length of time, it does one of two things. It begins to fascinate them; they could be seized with a desire to taste its madness, to, (if I may plagarize) put on the ring on in front of the ringwraith; or it presents itself as a completely unwise course of action, one that , though it strengthens the will, would leave doer better off doing something like their tongue to a frozen confection, or going to New York and walking on stilts instead of legs. In this case, there is either no good to be gained by doing the action (for a harmless action could strengthen the will just as much), or the only good to be gained is that of peace from a devouring passion, a good that does not strengthen the will when it is gained. One could become addicted to winter self-sadism, and either have to go to the asylum every spring or end up deliberately skiing into a tree.
A change of motive, even less than a change of season, does not solve the problem. Every true mortification is done for purposes of holiness, and to prevent pride, gigantesque mortifications can be indulged in only under obedience. And any priest who would allow his directee to torture their tongue would be better off letting them flagellate their feet. At least they can gain a second penance by walking on the feet, but one cannot taste even things as unpleasant as the stews of Rohan with the absent taste=buds of an ice-burned tongue.

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