'Whoever has no ground under his feet also has no God.'
These are words from an "Old Believer" according to the Prince according to the narrator according to Dostoevsky. And in the entirety of The Idiot it's these words that have the greatest impact on me.
Is this why I have no God?!?
And by "God," let me clarify, I don't mean the biblical one. I mean, a framework. I mean a grid which I can lay upon reality and use to draw conclusions, build theories, gain understanding. I don't have this. And maybe Doestoevsky is right. Maybe I don't have it because the ground under my feet is always changing.
During my last semester at St. John's I audited a preceptorial (a semester long course on one book) on Einstein's Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. I loved the class, but I won't claim any true understanding of physics. I did (to my surprise and with the help of colleagues) solve the Lorentz transformation, but this was a fluke. I have no real talent or understanding in this field.
What I do have is an intense admiration and fascination and that, coupled with a tendency to search for the poetic, explains my brief and extremely limited foray. I'm writing all of this as I blush, because despite my better judgement, I'm about to tell you about something I think I gleaned this book that was so far out of my reach. I'm rolling my eyes at myself for you, so save yourself the energy!
Alright. Enough apologizing.
One of the things I came to understand from Einstein* was that in order to draw conclusions you have to have a thing to measure against. Of course. Of course. But what Einstein makes so perfectly clear is that no matter what it is you're measuring against it is not a constant. For so long we thought a constant was possible, but we were wrong. There absolutely is no constant, but we have to make one up or we can't do anything!
And perhaps here Dostoevsky is saying the same thing. A man with no ground, no framework is a man with no God, no understanding. Because if you haven't yet chosen a ground, then you can't do any measuring, concluding or building.
Is it a stretch to take this literally? But what else can he be saying? How can one build a life and a self without first choosing a place in which to do that?
I'm experiencing the excitement now that comes when I believe I'm on the verge of understanding something important, but I can't adequately communicate that thing yet; which of course means I don't adequately understand it yet. So I'll return to the book for a moment. The Prince continues:
That is not my phrase. It is the phrase of a merchant, an Old Believer, I met on my travels. True he didn't put it that way, he said: 'Whoever has renounced his native land, has also renounced his God.'
How complicated it becomes. First, why does the Prince misquote the merchant? And then, why does the second "correct" version feel false to me?
It must be, at least in part, that in this second version the native land and God are equated with one another. And this is too simplistic for my liking. Too patriotic (gross). And perhaps also I find it repellent because it contradicts the understanding presented by Einstein. For surely he would say it doesn't matter what the land is, but only that there is a land. It is upon this only that a God is dependent.
I think what I need is a land. A literal place that will become the place I am from. The place upon which I can begin to measure things. And, if I understand Einstein correctly, it doesn't matter which place it is for none is more correct. It only matters that I choose one.
BUT HOW DO I CHOOSE ONE IF IT DOESN'T MATTER WHICH ONE I CHOOSE?
You all are so kind to entertain my musings. I explained part of this dilemma to a friend recently and he encouraged me to choose a place where I am most loved. But there are so many of you! And you're everywhere! What a lucky fuck I am.
Thank you and thank you for being my friends even when I don't have a place.
*It's impossible to type his name without feeling like a pretentious asshole. Don't you wish you could put that on your resume? "So intelligent that people feel like pretentious assholes merely by typing my name."