Existentialism, Fatalism, Ontology, Truth

An Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy

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Jablonski’s writing “employs secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force. … [He] is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. An engaging narrative.”  Publishers Weekly

When his classic Pontiac is abducted by a deity who lives in the depths of Lake Michigan, Petronius Jablonski is offered Enlightenment in compensation. To obtain it he must decipher the coded features of an odyssey. He neglects to share these minor details with his longsuffering girlfriend, Sandy, who accompanies him. Home-schooled by an eccentric father, Petronius holds the modern world in contempt, the demise of polytheism and eighteenth century English in general, the plague of democracy and “internets” in particular.

Despairing of his ability to understand the journey and rarely paying attention, he engages the Reader’s assistance. His propensity for digressions complicates the search for a solution while making a mockery of first person narration. He anticipates absurd questions and adds chapters in response, he accuses the Reader of being smitten with Sandy and makes her less attractive, and he revolutionizes Philosophy by superseding Occam’s overrated Razor and Plato’s much-ballyhooed Cave with the paradigm-shattering contributions of Petronius’ Shovel, Petronius’ Blender, Schadenfreude Before-the-Fact, Petronius’ Garage, and Petronius’ Wheelbarrow.

As he subjects the Reader to increasingly demanding prerequisites it becomes clear he is wandering the remorseless hinterland between genius and madness, which raises questions about the accuracy of his chronicle. Sandy’s terrified warning that he’s behaving like his tragic father elicits rage: “What Cato did, and Addison approved, cannot be wrong.” But is Petronius a victim of ancestral fate or wisdom? What if Truth is poison? Perhaps a big sedan is more precious than “enlightenment.”

Face-Melting Excerpt

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The history of this novel would bring comfort to John Kennedy Toole, Job, and Sophocles. Three agents tried to sell it. One lost his mind sparring with illiterate editors and depraved accounting departments. Then the Sentinels of the Chandelier blocked a Kindle deal. Further hardships will be interpreted as Divine intervention, deserved.

Petronius Who?

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Climbing, Existentialism, Fatalism

Mount Silenus

A Vertical Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril

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Jablonski’s writing “employs secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force. … [He] is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells.” Publishers Weekly

When novice climbers Trevor and Gaspar attempt Mount Silenus they discover that inspiration from a famous book makes a poor substitute for experience. Accuracy is important on mountains, especially one darkened by legends of a prehistoric sloth — the Abominable Unau — and the indigenous people who make sacrifices to it. As the text bears less and less resemblance to the terrain, squabbles over its interpretation become a battle of faith vs. reason. Those are best fought on flat surfaces.

Why does a man climb a mountain? To taste the distilled essence of life, to glimpse the clandestine maneuvers of his soul, and because he believes everything he reads. For two high school teachers who skipped their climbing classes, a masterpiece advocating spontaneity over skill proves irresistible. Unknown to them, the reclusive author honed his technique scaling barstools and brooding over the unjust fame of Nietzsche. He ignored eyewitness accounts of the Abominable Unau for stylistic reasons. Stories about wrathful apparitions infesting a labyrinth of caves didn’t make the cut either.

During a quixotic journey in the general direction of the summit,  Trevor and Gaspar join a scientist investigating paranormal activity on one of the plateaus. The book fails to warn about traps set by the mountain people to protect the sacred site from desecration. When they fall into icy catacombs they must confront the source of the legends to survive.

“Like a surreal existentialist crisis” PW

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Chapter One

They squeeze between amber stalagmites and squat beside a man whose patience abandoned him before his spirit. An ice axe remains frozen in his hands, its tip slathered with the red lacquer coating his face. The holes in his forehead could be mistaken for spider eyes.

“What was the hurry?” says Trevor. “I heard death by hypothermia is painless.”

“How does anyone know that?” says Gaspar. “Were volunteers assigned different ways to die and asked to rate them?”

Their breath expands and dissipates in the cave, joining frenzied thoughts long ago freed from the ice man’s skull. The flashlight summons forms from the void like a wand brandished by sorcerers. A mushroom of ice towers over them, its oak-thick stem withering below a luminescent rotunda. The shapes on the ground are not rock formations. Not yet.

“Look what some of them are wearing,” says Trevor. “I’ve only seen gear like this in old pictures.”

“They didn’t fall in at the same time. Look what else they have. Does that book look familiar?”

“What an interesting coincidence.”

“I see the beginning of a pattern,” says Gaspar. “I’d say this warrants skepticism of the remaining chapters.”

“What else would they have been reading, a book on beekeeping?”

“They should have. It’s an interesting hobby with few casualties.”

“How could waiting to die be the lesser evil?”

“No accounting for taste. Maybe they came back after going down there.”

The passage descends toward a purple light surging beneath chandeliers of fused crystals and aborted supernovas. Calcite nubs protrude from the path like hands reaching for their ankles.

“Let’s wait for help,” says Trevor.

“My survival instinct says we should be a bit more proactive. Patience hasn’t been an effective strategy here. I’ve heard of waiting rooms but this is ridiculous.”

“Dr. Zardeen was next to us when the crevasse opened. There’s no sign of him.”

“What’s the bad news?” says Gaspar.

“Gentlemen,” calls a distant voice.

“Doctor, did you notice a group of climbers in the passage back here?” shouts Trevor.

“They might need first aid,” says Gaspar, “but take your time.”

“They are quite dead. They were probably too frightened by what’s over here. Hurry, gentlemen. This is what I have been looking for.”

Strange light caricatures Gaspar’s and Trevor’s silhouettes as they approach, as if in mockery, making them appear no less fantastic and alien as the indigenous formations. In darkness the ice men continue their vigil, rebels holed up against the army of time, saved by an intercessor no less ruthless.

“An engaging narrative” PW

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Petronius Who?

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Canes pugnaces, Existentialism

In Search of Proust’s Basset Hound in the Library of Babel

The Library of Babel contains all possible books — every combination of letters and punctuation marks. You can check out only one. The choice is obvious. Hurry. It’s a big place and there’s no catalog. The chances of finding it are astronomical. Most books contain nothing but gibberish; trillions more involve vampires. But you’re feeling lucky.

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“The unicorn impaled the elf on its horn, thereby expunging him from the memory of elves.”

It’s a children’s book by Cormac McCarthy. Your niece would love this, and it would prepare her for life better than most of its condescending ilk. Keep looking. Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas as written by Dostoyevsky? Meh. You want something sublime, the greatest story never told. Put The Decline and Fall of the American Empire by Gibbon back. Slow down at a car wreck instead.

There will be many alternate versions of In Search of Lost Time, some the same as the familiar one except for a single punctuation difference, others with unusual variations where Marcel doesn’t go to bed early. (No, you’re not looking for the one where he falls in love with cannabis instead of hawthorns. Think big.)

Why Proust? It’s the sorcerous powers of description. You don’t need to keep a flow chart of the characters or study the Dreyfus affair. You want to read how the moon in the afternoon sky is like a beautiful actress who sneaks into the audience to watch a portion in which she does not have to appear. Virginia Wolfe said the best thing about life is reading Proust. That ignores some conspicuous contenders, but he’s the only writer who cracks the top five. There’s only one way it could be improved and you don’t have to feel like a Philistine for saying this.

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Other patrons rush past you, some deranged. They’re not homeless; they live here. Most have never seen a book containing a coherent word and you’re holding The Bridges of Madison County as written by Faulkner. Who knew Robert and Francesca had such rich inner lives? Don’t wave it around. Some of the residents believe there’s a Man of the Book who knows where everything is. Being mistaken for him will only slow you down.

One patron stops and tells you he’s read the completed versions of Dead Souls and The Castle and a readable one of Atlas Shrugged and Animal Farm by Peter Singer. He obviously hasn’t spoken to anyone in ages. Is anything worse than listening to someone blather about his favorite fiction? He says Douglas Adams’ version of “The Library of Babel” is an improvement, but The Hitchhikers Guide as written by Borges is too short, little more than an outline. He starts to summarize the true account of what caused the Big Bang but his phone chimes and he has to take it.

It’s been a long day. You heft a few safeties in case you can’t find The One: your biography as written by Plutarch, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Henry James, Newton’s response to Einstein, War and Peace by Laurence Sterne.

Stop. Back up. On the top shelf of the previous hexagon. Open the book. Marcel’s potty training a puppy with copies of Le Figaro all over the floor. Read how it galumphs through Combray and Balbec, growing into its tree stump feet, not quite keeping up with the growth of its ears:

“Basset Hounds, followers of the scent from a golden age, keepers of the promise that reality is not what we can see, companions to our children, guardians of our homes, prodigal sons of Saint Hubert, beloved ones of Napoleon III, their consummate loyalty and stoic tolerance a beacon, do they not speak with the voice heard by Augustine: ‘We are not God, but He made us’?”

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If that sentence has a verb it’s wearing camouflage. Score! You found the alternate version where Proust dumps Albertine and adopts a dog. Credit where it’s due: the original is beyond praise until The Captive and The Fugitive, when empathy fatigue sets in. Obsessive jealousy over your girlfriend’s girlfriends? Death, where is thy sting?

Skip ahead a few pages. Make sure this isn’t a version that turns to gibberish. “Children of wolves, abandoning their family to join the children of apes, shifting their shape to guide and protect them, enabling the transcendence of the apes, as though both blueprints were left out in a storm, smearing the designs as if some careless chronicler neglected to fix the boundaries, the ink of which was not indelible and remains wet, our relationship becoming one of mutual dependence, yin and yang, synergistic, not that of gods and pliant subjects, our paths crossing then merging in the manner of two themes converging in a symphony.”

No writer had more aptitude for canine phenomenology, a talent never realized in the original, two volumes of which were devoted to cursing the daughters of Gomorrah and fearing the conspiracies of their evil coven. It’s more than a stretch for anyone who grew up reading Penthouse. In the Babel version he turns his attention to seeing the world through his dog’s nose. Watching the dog nap, he wonders if its dreams are governed by scents the way its waking life is. There is an entire universe humans cannot access. We are illiterates surrounded by the classics. Delusions of our central importance are no compensation for the inability to smell rain before a storm, to read the history of a trail, to smell the spiced opiate of an excited mate.

Who but Proust can show the elasticity of Time, how it travels faster for dogs. In the span of a decade he changes little but his dog grows old. The difference between our concept of mortality and a dog’s awareness of its increasing feebleness is a difference of degree. They know something’s happening. Death approaches with a drunken swagger. We all hear it.

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Basset Hound Copyright Sharon Cummings

Remember the part in the original when you had to put the book down? After his grandmother dies he returns to the seaside resort they visited and the immensity of the loss hits him like some agoraphobic horror of empty space and all the grief you ever felt in your entire life returned. In the same way, only Proust could do justice to the heart-gouging agony of losing a dog, how it hurts worse than losing a person. (Shhhhh. You’re not supposed to say that.) Maybe he could tell us why. Hopefully your answer is wrong, that the worst dog is better than all but a few humans. Don’t bet that he disagrees.

Perhaps their time together gave him vicarious access to a world of joy unmitigated by anxiety, a paradise free from regrets of the past and fear of the future, a place outside Time. The madcap ecstasy a dog feels upon greeting its master, which human joy approaches it? The pleasures of the mind that allegedly make us superior are the ones that spoil the intensity and appreciation of bliss. How many systems of meditation are concerned with focusing on the all-encompassing nature of Now, the default state of mind for dogs, the one humans are programmed to avoid? Good luck attaining it by non-vicarious means.

Proust eventually came to a dim view of friendship, wondering how a man of Nietzsche’s intellect could have held it in high regard. This was only because he didn’t have the ideal friend. In the version you’re carrying, he does. Instead of slouching through a lull, this draft hits its stride, galumphing like a Basset Hound.

The first volume just turned one-hundred. Read all of them, even though he’s not accompanied by a faithful pooch. Some people have shattering religious experiences from Proust. Join them. This six pack version remains the gold standard, though the new Penguin one is not bad. This online version is great for work (if not the best thing about work).

Read Hitchens’ article: “We know from Proust’s haggard original editors, as we do from the memoirs of his naive and devoted housekeeper, that the first manuscript might have come from someone more than half insane, including as it did interpolations, marginal additions, excisions, scrawls, and—the worst sign of all—strips of fresh paper stuck at odd angles onto exhausted pages.”

The average page contains sentences like these:

And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Sweet Sunday afternoons beneath the chestnut-tree in our Combray garden, from which I was careful to eliminate every commonplace incident of my actual life, replacing them by a career of strange adventures and ambitions in a land watered by living streams, you still recall those adventures and ambitions to my mind when I think of you, and you embody and preserve them by virtue of having little by little drawn round and enclosed them (while I went on with my book and the heat of the day declined) in the gradual crystallization, slowly altering in form and dappled with a pattern of chestnut-leaves, of your silent, sonorous, fragrant, limpid hours.

The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

***

Jablonski is the author of An Odyssey of Historic Proportions & Priceless Treasure of Philosophy.

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Face-Melting Excerpt

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Existentialism, Nihilophobia, trypophobia

Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

Hidden among the caves stands a temple whose ice-white walls and ceiling are pocked by 11,111,117 holes.* By the light of torches blooming orange blossoms of light its monks contemplate the packets of emptiness. Paper-thin rock demarcates one from another, slivers of geometric perfection. One circle is a miracle; millions are a conspiracy. If the monks wonder who made them they do not ask it aloud. Questions are not conducive to enlightenment. Petronius Jablonski asked too many when studying here. He wishes he could un-ask them. Read his expose, analysis, and harrowing saga of deprogramming.

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Like any tradition, the commandment of silence evolved for the purpose of survival, perfected by the architect of trial and error over a span of centuries. Like all commandments, few obey it. A zealous monk once asked would it change the nature of emptiness if the holes were smaller, larger, shaped differently, or if the dividers were removed altogether.

His master refused to answer. The monk persisted until the master said you cannot alter the nature of emptiness. Disputation is irrelevant. The very question is a distortion. To address it is to dignify ignorance. There are no good questions. Ask and you fail.

Other monks stirred, wrested from their silent vigils. The uncanny appearance of the tiny holes made them uneasy. If the truth is to be found here is it worth having? Perhaps they wondered what would become of them if the creator of the ancient hollows returned. The zealous monk proclaimed that a lack of borders would mean a lack of holes, ensuring the presence of True Emptiness unmediated by illusory boundaries.

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The master said the borders were neither illusory nor arbitrary nor did this mean they existed of necessity, but it was too late. It is easier to prevent heresies than to suppress them. The master banished the inquisitive ones and they formed a rival sect and searched the mountains and found a cave with no holes and consecrated it in the name of true emptiness and began their own meditations.

Soon a monk among them asked if contemplation in darkness was superior. Surely the light of torches desecrated the emptiness. And how could they disagree? By rejecting the teachings of their predecessors had they not dissolved the protectorate of tradition itself, making all boundaries deserving of disregard? They expelled the heretic and his followers on utilitarian grounds, if those can be described as “grounds.”

No sooner had the apostates found a cave when one of their own asked why there needs to be a temple at all. Could they not contemplate the emptiness of space? And he and those similarly persuaded roamed the countryside by night. And like all sects they were soon divided hydra-style by more inquiries.

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In the Temple of 11,111,117 Holes a novice lights a torch and enters the gaping mouth of the cave and the holes consume him. Each step requires great effort as though against a strong wind or into a place of great danger, its nature unknown and perhaps unknowable. In the center he stands and takes deep breaths before looking up into the millions of black eyes watching him, dissolving him.**

This is when the greatest fortitude is required. Novices before him have lost their nerve, never to return, not free of emptiness but haunted by it. He regards the thin membrane separating one hole from another, its nebulous and transitory nature, as if existence is less substantial than nothingness. Paradoxes and riddles overwhelm the feeble abacus behind his eyes.

Some monks use a walking stick to steady trembling knees and accommodate greater depths of thought. Others criticize the practice, saying the holes would never give a monk more than he could tolerate, that to artificially enhance indulgences is a crime against nature. Brethren of the Stick say it is more unnatural to ascribe intentions to the holes. A third group dismisses both on the grounds that naturalness has never been established as a criterion of contemplation.

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The novice’s teachings may not be sufficient for the attainment of enlightenment but they are all he has. They seemed profound when the master spoke them. In the center of the temple they are dreams of shadows compared to the holes in themselves.

By what measure is Something preferable to Nothing? Which is more fundamental? How could the first Maker have pronounced his concoction of Something “good”? Compared to what? If the proclamation entailed its own truth, the pre-existent void could have been affirmed instead. Unless His very essence is good and all manifestations share this intrinsic nature. Or is it the gratuitous nature of all non-primary causes that makes the Source benevolent: that which is self-sufficient and self-sustaining has nothing to gain from anything contingent.

Does the novice understand the teachings? Are they meant literally or as detonations to destroy the rigid tracks of his thinking? How are you supposed to know enlightenment when you find it? We’ve all been wrong before.***

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The monks were stunned when the author told them that perception of many holes, when accompanied by dismay, is considered a form of derangement in the West. They said, contrariwise, to respond with anything other than awe and terror is proof of spiritual poverty. Even animals who have wandered into the temple have been overwhelmed, incapable of leaving on their own.

One monk suggested that meditating on less than 11,111,117 holes was the problem. Others chastised him, saying it was not the exact number but what it manifested. The monk stood firm on the ground that the number of holes in the temple could not be irrelevant and a new order was christened. Removed from the temple they meditate upon the number in the abstract, to the extent that it’s possible, for no tooth is sweeter than idolatry.

One novice confided to the author that you cannot find God in a temple cluttered with icons. He said the emptiness acted as a conduit or channel but would not discuss it further. He feared, not only the origin of new heresies, which this Western idea surely is, but being forced to leave the Presence.

Parallels between these monks and the Sentinels of the Chandelier defy coincidence, a theme of Schrodinger’s Dachshund, where security guard Alex Jitney solves the twin prime conjecture in a life guided by abstract constellations.

Petronius Jablonski’s tragic encounter with Enlightenment is chronicled here. Wisdom should come with a list of its lethal side-effects.

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* The location has been redacted as a condition of spending time with the monks. The precise number of holes is disputed. It is said there are 11,111,119. A rival sect keeps a respectful silence on this question since both numbers are joined by an imperishable and mysterious bond, separated by an insubstantial divider.

** Another schism arose from the suggestion that each hole divided the conscious essence of the observer. To stand in the center is to recognize how one’s soul is composed of 11,111,117 lesser parts. Consequently, the unity of consciousness is an illusion. When the author studied with the monks the controversial teaching had yet to be extinguished. Another subdivision has subsequently branched off. It treats the number 11,111,117 as symbolic of infinity, not the exact number of soul-parts. They do for the soul what Zeno did for motion.

*** The author was scolded for asking these questions, though other novices admitted being dumbfounded by them. The master said they bespoke arrogance and narrow-mindedness, ignoring why emptiness is contemplated: the Void “existed” prior to creation and will survive it for all eternity. These holes, a sacred number of partitions of the void, do not render it comprehensible but more manifest. Your “understanding” of it is irrelevant. It is not here to entertain or be comprehended. Your enlightenment has less importance than grains of dust on the moon. Forming a new sect to accommodate every question isn’t the answer. There are no answers. There is only silent contemplation of the holes.

Petronius Who?

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The Visitors List

After a night of Observance, a monk and I watched crimson guts spill from the belly of the night. “If you write that Ramanujan was here we won’t confirm or deny it,” he said.

“His name was in the guest book. Did it facilitate his mathematical insights or inhibit them?”

“Fireworks of equations filled the holes, but he had trouble focusing on one at a time. He denied fainting. Said he tripped.”

“So which is foundational, numbers or Nothing?”

Nothing is an illusion. The persistence of numberly existence — regardless of what happens to the physical universe — proves there’s no such thing as Nothing.”

“You mean even if there had been no Big Bang or even a quantum vacuum, 11,111,117 and 11,111,119 would still be twin primes.”

“Even in that ontological darkness the mysterious truths of math and logic and geometry would glow with life like bio-luminous creatures of the deep, keeping Nothing forever at bay.”

“Rumors persist that the Pentagon is developing weapons and interrogation methods in Operation Temple. These pictures were allegedly taken by an an agent and shared with his girlfriend shortly before his untimely death in a motorcycle accident.”

“The Holes are neither good nor evil in themselves. Evil men can make evil out of anything.”

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