René Descartes

Vulnerability as Truth:
Working "without a conscience or an aim"

Story Evolution

A dialogue extending Grobstein's
Writing Descartes ...

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Bob Brookover has just retired after many years as a Methodist minister, including time spent serving the church in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, where Anne French Dalke's family worships. He officiated at the funeral of her brother in 1981. He and Anne met again last summer, when Bob conducted the wedding of one of her French cousins, and again this summer, when he conducted another. They began a conversation....Perhaps others would care to listen in? And join our conversation?

June 2, 2005

I have written three books and am about to complete the fourth book of the sequel. This endeavor has taken the better part of four years. It is a result of reading hundreds of Civil War era letters and listening to every Civil War family story I could get anyone in the valley to tell me. Usually, individuals and families were very willing to tell their stories but not always.

Having majored in history I am a firm believer in the adage that, 'the victors write the history.' The political/social/economic portrayal of the Confederacy written by mostly Union authors and journalists is very different from what I have found from a southern perspective in newspapers and books. Those differences permeate and are reflected upon throughout the books....

PS - Someday, I wouldn't mind sending you a sonnet or two for your evaluation. We'll see.

June 3
Anne:'s very interesting to me to hear about your various projects (though i don't share your fascination w/ re-writing history; am myself always on the lookout for new stories that open up spaces for the future.....)

Maybe you'd be interested in some of this? I'd especially like to hear your reactions to The Life of Faith is Not a Life Without Doubt. It's a piece written by an Episcopal priest in Richmond, Virginia. I like it very much, and have been sharing around w/ friends interested/not interested in the religious life.

June 5

Hey: I have some very strong Quaker roots. My maternal grandparents were Quakers though they did not die as such. They are, however, buried in the Quaker cemetery in Baltimore.

I understand if this is beyond the pale and you would prefer not to engage in this. These are just some 'ramblings' in response to some of the suggested articles you posed.

I read the sermon excerpt or article you designated written by the Episcopal Priest. The problem with Descartes is rudimentary. For Descartes, to think was proof of existence. And, proof --what can be proven -- comes to be labeled and accepted as truth within a couple hundred years after Descartes. I could be wrong but I doubt Descartes ever meant his, "I think, therefore I am," to be a truth. He would have seen it as a fact.

Kant, in the Prolegomena of Any Future Metaphysics helps us understand that what is proven has nothing to do with truth but simply fact as we know it at the time. Your minister/scientist is immersed in the above mentioned point of making fact truth. Theory is formulated from fact as we know the facts at a given time. Theory is neither based on nor formulated from truth. He can have his theory of evolution or even his theory of God because he has a need to steep his faith in fact, which he in turn erroneously labels truth. Our culture as opposed to eastern cultures or even the culture of art has denigrated truth by allowing truth to be based on fact.

Truth, for a 'wild poet' or an artist has nothing to do with fact. Truth has to do with vulnerability. What is the truth of the Mona Lisa? The truth is not in her face (the object of everyone's fascination because they mistakenly thing all portraits are about heads and faces); the truth is in her hands. They are the most beautifully, exquisite hands in all of art. It is her hands she is baring. I wonder what the truth is regarding her hands. What truth (vulnerability) regarding herself did she bare to and for the artist through her hands?

What is the truth of Venus de Milo? Her womanhood is all shrouded in a robe or sheets. What is she baring? Her breasts! I wonder what truth her breasts revealed to the sculptor. What truth (vulnerability) regarding herself did she bare to and for the sculptor through her breasts? And, why are her arms missing? Was he so intent on her breasts that he did not leave enough marble for arms or are her missing arms intentional? Has the sculptor realized the truth of how a woman's arms can keep one from a woman's breasts?

Tennyson wrote:

This round of green, this orb of flame,
Fantastic beauty, such as lurks,
In some wild poet when he works,
Without a conscience or an aim.

What is he baring? I wonder what poems he ever composed, 'without a conscience or an aim.' I'll bet you he destroyed every single one. He knows what it is to be vulnerable but except for that verse there is not a truthful, vulnerable couplet or verse in any of his known work. His known and published works all have 'conscience and aim.' It is as if he is grieving for all the poetry he has written with a 'conscience or an aim' and grieving for all that he wrote and never shared because he could not bare his being. John Donne, on the other hand, seems bent on revealing every ounce of his being to the extent he, as a clergyman, gets thrown in jail for awhile.

Truth is the experience of vulnerability; baring one's being to another. The question is always, 'how far will one go in baring the truth?' One can steep his/her faith and theory in facts and call it truth with your minister/scientist but one will waste his/her being in doing so. A wasted being is one that has never been laid bare in naked truth. Fact is the outward journey and a valid journey toward theory while truth is the inward journey toward being.


If beauty were the source of all pleasure,
Then I in thee wouldst have my pleasure filled
With abundance and beyond all measure,
For beauty is the gift thy truth hath willed.
If splendor were the source of all delight,
Then I in thee wouldst have thy splendor framed
With abundance and beyond all insight,
For splendor is the gift thy truth hath named.
If sorrow were the source of all sadness,
Then I in thee wouldst have my sorrow armed
With abundance and beyond all gladness,
For sorrow is the gift thy truth hath charmed.
I'd die for thee in all the truth we share.
I live for thee in all the truth we bare.

"Beyond the pale"? I have no idea what you're talking about. This is the landscape I live in. So--
look next @
Fundamentalism and Relativism: Finding a New Direction.

What strikes me--reading your response--is how akin our thinking is. I eschew "truth" because I think it involves a search for something foundational, something immutable and fixed that cuts off the searching--which I think is death.

I don't think we ever get the whole story, not ever.

You claim and value truth, but you call it "the experience of vulnerability; baring one's being to another," and refuse to equate it with "fact": "Fact is the outward journey... while truth is the inward journey toward being."

So: is that which is within fixed, unchangeable? Is it shareable? Or is there something in each of us that will always remain private, untranslatable?

If I understand what you wrote above, I could not agree with you more. If the intelligentsia becomes satisfied that facts and verifiable data are truth and allows truth to be demeaned into "a search for someting foundational, something immutable and fixed that cuts off the searching" our culture is doomed to die a horrendous death. I 'eschew' that search and definition of truth.

On the other hand, I have probably spent 80 to 100 hours during the last three months on that one verse from Tennyson. If I ever get to meet him in Paradise, I'm going to slit the old bastard's throat. (I know such expression is not rooted in being a Quaker. However, it may be rooted in knowing a certain French I met along the way.) Truth, such as is in that one verse, that guides me to reveal (bare, make vulnerable) who I am and likewise, possibly bare and make vulnerable another is life and life to its fullest. I love scientific research and know we need more and more of it but truth IS naked and makes us naked before God and others to whom we choose to bare ourselves. That is when I am most alive and very, very far away from death. It is what my friends call, 'living into the depths of being.' To put it another way, I read your entire email with a huge smile on my face. I was living into every word you wrote. The smile that results from such life is uncontrollable.

There's a line in McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, Lonesome Dove when Gus says, "Woodrow, you just don't ever get it. It ain't about dying; it's about living."

Thanks for writing back. I will spend the next few days delving into the rest of what you wrote and the articles.

June 8

In the meantime....?

I want to think out loud a little bit about whether we have found some common ground, what it actually looks like, how steady it really is. I was quite struck by your observation that "truth is the experience of vulnerability"--in part because I myself often seek out the vulnerable (I trained and worked, for instance, w/ the Quaker Ministry to Persons with AIDS) and I think it's because--under stress--people are willing to open up, to be vulnerable, to invite me to explore new things with them, things "beyond the pale" of the everyday.

The point of the exchange, for me, is that it brings us both into a new place. Now, I have some *very* large thoughts about this, which have to do w/ how language works: not as a direct translation of information we want to convey to one another, but as an invitation to see how another, different brain works. And a range of *other* thoughts about how best to invite this kind of exchange in a classroom. I'm wondering if these ideas are directly connected to your ideas about not writing (or speaking?) with "a conscience or an aim": not being too directive, being open to what arises among people who are willing to be open in conversation with one another.

What do you think?

Well, this is bordering on the metaphysical. First, I have been with four AIDS patients throughout their final days and was the only one preent when they died. Each experience was excruciatingly vulnerable for both the person and me.

Second, this is what you have to endure if you desire this encounter. I am in Tampa for a few days taking care of some concerns with regard to retirement and moving here. Monday night before I flew here on Tuesday, I spent some time with your suggested readings. For some reason, Snow White came to mind in such a way I have not been able to escape her. The attached poem came out yesterday evening (Tuesday). You may or may not understand this, but your vulnerability to this point produced this poem. I tried to explain this to you that sometimes I have no control over the poetic experience. Actually, it takes control of me and issues forth as if I am only its means to reality. What I have attached is somewhat 'dittyish' as I am prone to say but the more I read it the more fascinated I became. The issue is really, 'Can you endure this?' Some have been able to and some have not.

About the web, you will have to determine the outcome. If you believe this will help or encourage anyone, especially women, to hold forth for their own experience of truth, I am game.

If men were all they say they are,
Snow White need not be kissed!
No witch would dare invade her space,
With poison dwarfs dismissed.

A jealous queen to mirrors turns,
When beauty white as snow,
Emerges to confront her realm,
With answers mirrors know!

"Who is the fairest of them all?"
That question she did ask,
Bred bitter thoughts of death and loss,
That set her to her task.

A jealous queen cannot withstand,
Pure beauty she perceives,
And so, she thinks within her heart,
As she her heart deceives.

So, beauty fled to free herself,
From danger and despair,
And found herself with a world,
Where men as dwarfs just stare.

Why doth a man when beauty shines,
So often fail to see,
That beauty is the gift love gives,
To one as tall as he?

But sneezing men and grumpy men,
Know not where dangers lurk,
And sleeping men and dopey men,
Just whistle while they work.

And happy men and bashful men,
Pretend that life is good,
And doc, if he be man at all,
He be not understood.

When beauty lives within their midst,
She lives for them alone,
And they in truth refuse her due,
So beauty lives unknown.

But others in the realm of life,
Know only all too well,
That witches make and stir their brew
That they might cast their spell.

When men avoid dear beauty's fate,
Mere dwarfs they then become,
And they in turn refuse to see,
She will to death succumb.

A dwarf may love who beauty is,
May love her all the more,
Her prince will kiss her soul awake,
Tis he she will adore.

I just watched 'Hotel Rwanda'. What a disaster I am at times that such an atrocity could be going on in the world and I know nothing of it.

I do not think I asked you this question in the email I sent you about Snow White. It is puzzling me greatly. What was it in what you wrote and suggested I read that led me to think of her? I cannot figure it out for the life of me. However, I could not stop thinking of her. Then, I wondered if the issue had less to do with Snow White and more to do with what really happens when men stand before beauty? This is really running me ragged.

My issue with our culture is that males are taught to judge a woman by how physically beautiful she is...but what her beauty (vulnerability) ....I believe every woman is an inherent beauty. Men become dwarfs in the face of womanly beauty. It is so much easier for males to relate to physical beauty than to the depths of a woman's being. However, when a male relates truth to a woman there is no limit to the gift of beauty she will bestow upon him. On the other hand, how vulnerable does a prince have to be to kiss a Snow White or Sleeping Beauty?

I guess that's enough. You have caused me to descend into a realm where I have been many times but that I very rarely reveal to anyone. It is wondrously fascinating even for a preacher with some Quaker roots.

See on-line forum for continuing conversation and to leave your own thoughts.

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