Deep inside his new collection of essays Life Sentences, in a discussion of mimesis, in the middle of a paragraph about the Pythagorean world of numbers and the differences between perfect Forms and imperfect appearances, William Gass throws down a challenge: “Put yourself in their place.” He’s referring to the place of the Forms—those poor, elusive abstractions that, according to Gass’s concise rendering of Plato’s theory, are damned to have reality but no animation, Being but no life. To understand them, we can’t do less than consider their predicament from their perspective. And once we’ve come this far, we have to pity them. Think about it: how utterly wretched it must be to exist as a Form, stuck for all eternity as a law of motion that does not move, or as an object of knowledge that “will never know what knowing is.” It might be tempting to strive for the symmetry of something as impeccable as an equilateral triangle, but it would be grim never to experience, or even to conceive as a delicious fantasy, “what it is like to be seen, longed for, touched, loved.” Existence as a law of motion? As a triangle that’s impossible to draw? Only William Gass would propose that the best way to appreciate the misery of an abstraction is to put yourself in its place. And only Gass could craft a paragraph that begins with a discussion of the conceptual relationship between Forms and appearances and ends with the terrifying prospect of living a life devoid of love.
more from Joanna Scott at The Nation here.