Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Matter of the Balcony Railing

There’s been a lot of talk about the balcony railing lately. Is it up to code? Does it have a soul? What secrets does it hold? Does it have reality? Does it have anyone to blame but itself? What are we to do with it? Why does it have to appear at all? Personally, I don’t really care. It’s not our balcony. But as an external feature of the building we are to share in its fate and responsibility. In philosophy, this is called the problem of identity over time, or the doctrine of preformation. You may remember the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Well, this has nothing to do with that. This is an HOA situation. I feel the slow crackle of metamorphism. This is called hydrothermal alternation. I feel the clutch of the sublime when I say this. There is a balcony in all of us that develops by rumination. It becomes lost in its arabesques. Though perhaps it may be more accurate to say that it comes to itself in its arabesques. It honors the élan of its own extravagance. This is what gives the balcony railing its humor of increasing subtlety, of understatement and overstatement, of empirical dance and dynastic abstractness. Whenever I’m feeling parenthetical it helps to think of something prominent and wet. I think of the balcony railing. Its lucidity and inertia. The convivial curves of its filigree. There’s a certain implication involved in making an appeal to the vitality of carrots. It is, after all, a balcony railing under discussion here and not a catwalk. If this were a catwalk rather than a railing, I might mention decimals, or pylons. There are intermediates in protein metabolism that will serve as motivational tinfoil. Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities, said Aristotle. But did Aristotle have a balcony? Did Aristotle cook hamburger on an open grill? Did Aristotle own a single spatula? It is enough that the balcony railing strikes the eyes of the passerby with eloquence. Everything else is morality. No one knows what a belief is. No one knows what a truth is. We just go on pretending that the balcony railing has all the answers. And open our books and read.

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