Conclusion: Into the Fourth Dimension

 

    The solemn tone and religious emphasis of my exploration into

the coincidentia oppositorum conceals the basic humor that

springs from such an affront to common sense.  Like most jokes

and riddles, the coincidentia oppositorum both fulfills and

thwarts expectations.  The burst of laughter that follows a good

joke erupts from the coming together of two opposing forces in

the punch line: the listener is surprised at the ending but

simultaneously pleased by its appropriateness. 

    Two eighteenth-century gentlemen observe a coach with three

passengers inside.  "Behold," says the first gentleman, "an

emblem of the Trinity: three persons in one vehicle."  "Not so,"

responds his companion.  "If you want to see an emblem of the

Trinity, you must see one person in three vehicles."<1>  Anyone

who finds this joke funny is struck first with the surprise; like

Samuel Johnson responding to the metaphysical poets, she may

wonder how anyone could ever think of something so unusual.  At

the same time, the laughing listener must admit that the punch

line follows inevitably from the set-up.  This combination of

surprise and fulfillment of expectation is exactly the pattern of

the coincidentia oppositorum. 

    Every knock-knock joke uses a pun to follow this same

structure.  "Knock, knock."  "Who's there?"  "Orange."  "Orange

who?"  "Orange you glad to see me?"  Children especially delight

in the potential of language and the sounds of language to

surprise and to fulfill expectations at the same time.  The

coincidentia oppositorum is the grand cosmic laughter of our

universe, both absurdly impossible and logically coherent. 

Living under the sway of ideologies that tell us what is natural,

we seldom question the status quo.  And as we see so often, in

the French Revolution and in Animal Farm, apparent rebels who do

seem to challenge the powers that be often reveal themselves to

be tyrants as bad as the ones they overthrew.

    The Law of Non-Contradiction insists that we must live an

orderly, respectable spiritual and mental life.  Cusanus's vision

of God and Blake's vision of the divine humanity laugh in the

face of such consistent respectability, but they are not at all

nihilistic, for even while mocking, they build an alternative way

of existing that bases itself on freedom and creativity.  The

laughter of the artist, the smile of the saint, the sparkle of

the mischief maker infects us when we read them.

    The idea of the coincidentia oppositorum is a very simple

geometrical, logical one.  We can have it both ways: the square

can be a circle, the triangle can be a line; good can be evil, a

sin can be a blessing, a blessing can be a sin, God can be man,

man can be God.  And even if a reader of Blake is not herself

religious, she can still admit the simple fact of life that

impossibilities and improbabilities happen every moment, around

us and in us.

    As I prepare to send my manuscript to the publisher, the

cover of The New Republic features "A Plea for Higher

Dimensions."  [[ ftnt 12 July 1993 ]] Jim Holt's article, "The

Newer Paradigm"  [[ 22-25 ]] whimsically wonders how we might

pass beyond Aristotle's limitation that "the three dimensions are

all that there are."  Sounding remarkably like Blake, Holt

explains how mathematicians produced a "triumph of the

imagination over the senses" and "an antidote to the evils of

materialism" when they demonstrated "the mathematical reality of

higher dimensions." 

    "How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way, / Is

an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?" asks

Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  "Might we not be

surrounded by wondrous caverns of possibility that our eyes do

not yet behold?" muses Holt.  Evoking the world of E.A. Abbott's

1884 Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions, in which two-

dimensional beings have trouble imagining a third-dimension, Holt

uses geometry, as does Cusanus, to try to raise our imaginations

beyond its current limits.  And as does Blake in the quotation

from Jerusalem 5 near the beginning of my chapter 7, so Holt

suggests that the way out is the way in:

 

    Maneuvering oneself into the fourth dimension means moving,

    in a rather special sense, toward one's inside, in the

    direction of one's heart. . . . The fourth dimension will

    permit all contradictions to be resolved.

 

In an article in College English, Hazard Adams declares that he

reads Blake to feel "the dizziness of freedom."  Part of that

dizziness certainly must arise from the raucous disturbance

caused by the cosmic guffaw of Blake's coincidentia oppositorum.