This is a series of rewritten, streamlined posts on the theme of shells and pearls, which I’m considering incorporating into my pamphlet. I’ll link to the originals. If you have time to compare, let me know if you think anything was lost in the chipping, sanding and polishing.
Announcing an exciting new vocabulary acquisition: evert. I have needed this word many times, but I’ve had to resort to flipping, reversing, inverting, turning things inside-out.
Evert – verb [ with obj. ] – Turn (a structure or organ) outward or inside out: (as adj. everted) : the characteristic facial appearance of full, often everted lips. DERIVATIVES:
eversible (adj.), eversion (n.). ORIGIN mid 16th cent. (in the sense ‘upset, overthrow’): from Latin evertere, from e- (variant of ex-) ‘out’ + vertere ‘to turn.’
With this wonderful new word I can say things like this:
“An oyster coats the ocean with an inner-shell made of mother-of-pearl lined. Anything from the outside that gets inside is coated, too. A pearl is an everted oyster shell, and an everted pearl is a shell’s inner lining. Outside the shell is ocean, inside the pearl is ocean. Between inner-shell and outer-pearl is delicate oyster-flesh, which ceaselessly coats everything it is not with mother-of-pearl. It is as if this flesh cannot stand anything that does not have a smooth, continuous and lustrous surface. We could call the flesh’s Other — that which requires coating — father-of-pearl.”
Minds secrete knowing like mother-of-pearl, coating irritant reality with lustrous likeness.
You are absurd. You defy comprehension.
That is, you defy my way of understanding. I cannot continue to understand my world as I understand it and understand you.
That is, you do not fit inside my soul.
I am faced with the most fundamental moral choice: Do I break open my soul? or do I bury you in mother-of-pearl?
(A meditation on Levinas’s use of the term “exception” in Otherwise Than Being.)
We make category mistakes when attempting to understand metaphysics, conceiving what must be exceived.
Positive metaphysics are objectionable, in the most etymologically literal way, when they try to conceptualize what can only be exceptualized, to objectify that to which we are subject, to comprehend what comprehends — in order to achieve certainty about what is radically surprising.
In my own religious life, this category mistake is made tacitly at the practical and moral level, and then, consequentially, explicitly and consciously. Just as the retinas of our eyes see things upside-down, our mind’s eye sees things inside-out. We naturally confuse insidedness and outsidedness. By this view, human nature is less perverse than it is everse.
Imagine, with as much topological precision as you can muster, expulsion from Eden as belonging-at-home flipped inside-out.
That galut in the pit of your gut: everted Eden?
A garden is an everted fruit, and a fruit, an everted garden.
The nacre inner lining of a shell is an everted pearl, and a pearl, an everted nacre lining.
The exception is the everted conception, and the conception, the everted exception.
The earliest mention of pearls from this blog was posted on December 14, 2008.
Pearls are inside-out oyster shells. Or are oyster shells inside-out pearls?
The oyster coats its world with layers of iridescent calcium. With the same substance it protects itself from the dangers concaving in from the outside and the irritants convexing it from the inside.
The earliest use of this mother-of-pearl metaphor I can find in my stuff was posted on another blog platform in December, 2006. (Again this has been edited. In my opinion, the original was uglier and more opaque. I’ll post it in the comments.)
Transcendence, non-understandings, misunderstandings
An unresolved understanding becomes a live question — an existential irritant. To ease the pain of non-understanding, the question is coated with an answer, like a pearl. Such answers re-explain away ideas which were never offered as explanations. What ought to be known internally and poetically is known about externally and factually.
Any surprise that the mezuzah I placed on the doorpost of my library is encased in mother-of-pearl?
Hanging the mezuzah inspired me to clean up my office! It’s nice to be in here, again.