Monday, February 21, 2011

Jacob Klein on Wonder

"I have said before that within the confines of our horizon there is the expected as well as the unexpected, the old and the new, the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar. We do, however, experience a kind of question which, as it were, tends to smash the bounds that limit us. We do occasionally stop altogether and face the familiar as if for the first time — anything: a person, a street, the sky, a fly. The overwhelming impression on such occasions is the strangeness of the thing we contemplate. This state of mind requires detachment, and I am not at all certain to what extent we can contrive its presence. We suddenly do not feel at home in this world of ours. We take a deep look at things, at people, at words, with eyes blind to the familiar. We re-flect.

Plato has a word for it: metastrophe or periagoge, a turnabout, a conversion. We detach ourselves from all that is familiar to us; we change the direction of our inquiry; we do not explore the unknown any more; on the contrary, we convert the known into an unknown. We wonder. And we burst out with that inexorable question: Why is that so?

To be sure, we have raised the question "why" before. I can certainly ask: Why did it snow yesterday and does not snow today? Why did Mr. X say this or that to Mr. Y? But this "why" I am talking about now is of a different kind. It does not lead to any discovery or recovery. It calls myself in question with all my questioning. It compels me to detach myself from myself, to transcend the limits of my horizon; that is, it educates me. It gives me the freedom to go to the roots of all my questioning.

I can begin to understand that even our gossiping may ultimately rest on the transcendent power of this "why"; that even the children's "why", repeated endlessly to the disgust of their mothers and fathers, may ultimately derive from the human possibility of a total conversion."
-Jacob Klein "The Idea of Liberal Education"

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