Logical And Beautiful

Evening. A gentleman is walking in front of a house: three steps to the left, three steps to the right. He examines the building, then the street, and again the building. He rubs his red eyelids. Three steps to the left, three steps to the right. A gentleman with a bamboo cane is just passing by. A lit cigarette is hanging at the corner of his mouth. The gentleman with red eyelids stops him."Have you got a match, by chance?""Sure. With pleasure."He extends his lit cigarette to the other, who makes a gesture of refusal."I was asking about a match."The man who was asked for a match searches his pockets, but doesn't find any."I'm sorry. You can light your cigarette from-""It's useless. I don't smoke.""You don't? How strange.""What's so strange? Has anyone informed you that I do?""I made a deduction. Syllogistically. If someone is asking for a match, it means that he wants to light something up. Therefore, that person is a smoker.""The first part of your reasoning is acceptable: if someone has asked you for a match, it means he wants to light something up. Although, in passing, I would say that a match may serve other purposes as well. Further on, however, you will excuse me, but you're brain dead. How did you conclude that someone who wants to light something up is a smoker?""If he wants to light something-""Sophism! An ordinary sophism. All the people who want to light something up are not smokers, just as all the people who smoke do not want to light something up. How can you live with judgments that are wrong to the bone?"The gentleman with the bamboo cane is hurt: "Judgments have no bones, so they can't be wrong.""Your outlook of things seems to be too abstract," the first gentleman observes. "I shall try to explain to you.""Thank you. There's always someone trying to explain to me.""You mustn't take offense. Socrates, old Socrates, explained all the time too, but no one took offense. Or maybe some did, only the history of philosophy did not record the offenses, but only the explanations.""Sir, I've got no time to waste.""Learning is not time wasted, sir. You claim that all the people who want to light something up are smokers, and all the smokers want to light something up. This is structurally false."The other is stubborn, like all the people whose thinking is rather abstract."No way, there's nothing structurally false. It's a structural truth."The former gentleman, nevertheless, shows patience."Don't be upset. Let's take some examples. Herostratus, who set fire to the temple of Artemis, or Nero, who set fire to Rome, did not smoke. You, on the other hand, if you don't mind the comparison, are a smoker, but do not want to light anything up.""If you're not a smoker, why the hell did you ask for a match?""I explain, I give examples, and you still suspect I'm a smoker.""So you are not a smoker.""I'm not.""Let's take it systematically, or else there'll be confusion, and confusion has always been my worst enemy. Let's examine the facts. You were strolling in front of this house, more or less like this: three steps to this side, three steps to that side. Will you be so kind and stroll?"The gentleman number one strolls."Good. I came from that direction. Wait, don't stop! I'm going that way to come from that direction." (He goes and comes from that direction.) "Now you stop me. Stop me!" (The gentleman stops him.) "That's it. You ask me for a match. Ask!""I'm not asking any more, 'cause you haven't got any.""Please, sir, don't fuddle me, it'll only generate confusion again. When you stopped me, you didn't know I didn't have a match." (He throws the cigarette, stubs it out under his foot.) "I looked for a match, but didn't find any. True?""Right.""Consequently, I offered you the cigarette, but you refused it, stubbornly insisting for a match.""That is true. With one amendment. I did not insist stubbornly, but in a leisurely way.""This is a matter of nuance, and if we slump into nuances, confusion will arise. You told me you did not smoke.""Exactly. But I asked for a match.""Quod erat demonstrandum! To light your cigarette.""Not at all! To set this house on fire."The other gentleman makes an idiotic face:"I don't get it.""To set this house on fire.""Why would you set it on fire?""Because.""No reason? It's an aberration.""There could be a reason. A logical one."The other gentleman seems suddenly interested:"Logical?""Of course. As I have asked you for a match, it goes without saying that I am about to light something up. Consequently, I shall set this house on fire.""Logically speaking, it's logical." After a moment's thought: "But why set this house on fire?""As I cannot set all the houses on fire, I selected a certain house, a particular one, a prototype, if you wish.""Therefore, as you could not set all the houses on fire, you extracted the particular from the general and opted for a specific house, the abstract symbol of all the houses.""Exactly.""Your ratiocination is flawless. From general to particular and back. I have no objections… it's impeccable.""I have always liked to have a clear, essential, logical thinking.""The lack of confusion is remarkable. I don't know if I told you, I am horrified by confusion.""Me too. Although I do not despise nuances."The gentleman with the bamboo cane sizes up the house."Are you concerned about something?" the gentleman with red eyelids asks him."I was thinking that if all the people reasoned in the same way, it would be possible to pass from the particular to the general, meaning that all the houses could be set ablaze, which would constitute the crowning of a remarkable reasoning.""Oh, it would be too beautiful! It would mean perfection! No, please don't talk to me about ideal, unattainable things, for they give me unbearable pain. You don't even begin to realize how much it pains me, how tormented I am by the idea of absolute… I beg you, have mercy! I have my human weaknesses, my soft spots." (He wipes his eyes.) "Look, I'm crying. Please, be kind, don't rouse my nostalgia for the absolute!""I'm sorry I stirred up this secret pain… my intentions were good. Forgive me!"The gentleman with the bamboo cane begins to walk in front of the house, following the pattern of the other gentleman: three steps to the left, three steps to the right, and thinking aloud:"Where do we get a match? Oh, there goes a gentleman… hello!"The person called, a gentleman with a white beard, stops:"Has anybody called me?""Yes, I have," answers the gentleman with the bamboo cane. "Do you happen to have a match?""I'm sorry, I don't smoke.""What has it got to do with smoking? Can't you have a match?""You need something to light your cigarette?"The gentleman with the bamboo cane flies off the handle:"How did you infer that, when someone is asking for a match, he must light a cigarette? Look, this gentleman does not smoke, for instance. And he's not the only one. Herostratus, Nero were not smokers either. They were great non-smokers! So you don't have matches.""I know it's not nice to refuse – and I like nice things – but, a man can't give what he has not."The gentleman with red eyelids barges in:"I'm sorry I'm butting in. Are you an admirer of nice things?""Of course. I read poetry, I go to concerts, to exhibitions, to the theater, especially to the opera. Art gives me a special frame of mind." (He hums, transported, an aria by Verdi.) "What were we discussing?""Art," answers the gentleman with the cane, bored."Exactly. As I was saying, deep down I am an artist. Unfortunately, I could not make it in art. For objective reasons. So what's left for me is to enjoy it. I'm sorry I can't help you with a match, but I'm giving you this friendly piece of advice: quit smoking.""I did not have the intention to smoke anyway," says the first gentleman."Then why did you ask for a match?"The gentleman with the bamboo cane becomes the spokesman:"This gentleman would like to set this house on fire."The gentleman with the white beard stares, saucer-eyed:"Set it on fire? Why?""He has an unfailing logical reason."The gentleman with red eyelids adds:"There may be an esthetic reason too."The gentleman with the white beard shows sudden interest:"Esthetic?""Fire gives me esthetic emotions."But the gentleman with the white beard has his own esthetic opinions: "Why don't you set fire to a piece of paper, a candle, a stick, or a beautiful necktie?""It doesn't stand comparison! A burning house is a far more magnificent show!""I have never seen such a show before.""It's worth it," the other assures him. "I personally invite you to attend. You won't like it at first, because there's smoke coming out. The walls and the woodwork are usually moist, and they heat up slowly. The flames haven't become substantial yet. But as soon as the fire has become substantial, things change. You see it with your own eyes gathering momentum, freeing itself from matter, and living by itself and for itself, in supreme unawareness. There are no more burning walls, doors, floors, furniture, objects. It is the fire itself, pure, miraculous and elementary, that burns." (His eyelids got so red that they seem incandescent, betraying a great mystical rapture.) "Detaching itself from matter, the fire becomes spirit, it enters metaphysics. It is then that the revelation happens, the sublime contact with Beauty, with the Idea! And thinking you are the one who created this contact, emotion becomes incommensurable."The third gentleman ventures a stupid question:"What about the people inside?""To them, it's even more beautiful. They are in the very essence of the phenomenon, they have the privilege of being there, at the heart of the esthetic event, thrilled by each onslaught of the Idea, becoming one with It, burning for It!""Oh, if only you let me watch this show!""Why not?""I am very grateful, gentlemen." (He starts walking in front of the house, in the fashion of the other two: three steps to the left, three steps to the right.) "But… where will we find some matches? Maybe this gentleman has one. Hey, mister! Hey!"The accosted person, a gentleman in a black cutaway, falters:"I'm in a hurry.""Excuse us, we need a match," says the gentleman with the white beard."Is that all?" (He smiles.) "Here you are." (He takes a matchbox from his pocket.) "Who'll light up first?"The three are impatient. The gentleman with red eyelids takes it upon himself to clarify the situation:"In order not to be misunderstood, I must specify that we don't want to light our cigarettes, but this house."The gentleman in the black cutaway stares at them in stupefaction: "The house?""Logically speaking-" the gentleman with the bamboo cane tries to assure him."And esthetically-" adds the gentleman with the white beard."You're crazy!""Why?" wonders the gentleman with red eyelids. "The whole thing looks to us quite logical and beautiful.""Logical? Beautiful? I suggest you think twice before you-""I guess you have never seen a burning house.""I sure have! It's appalling! People scream madly, throw their things out of the window, desperately call their children, while their clothes are burning on them, their lifetime belongings are burning too, and they jump through the windows and scatter their brains on the sidewalk… it's terrible!""But they are at the very essence of the phenomenon," notices the gentleman with the white beard. "What essence? What phenomenon? You're irresponsible, crazy, criminals! I protest!"The gentleman with red eyelids considers that he cannot ignore this cry of humanity:"We shall keep in mind your protest. It is quite convincing, even touching. Now will you give us the matches?"The gentleman in the black cutaway hands them the matches, angrily:"I don't want to witness your crime! To me this house is a symbol of all the houses in the world! I cannot allow this crime to happen! NO!" (He starts walking in front of the house: three steps to the left, three steps to the right.) "I despise you! I hate you!"The gentleman with red eyelids strikes a match and walks towards the house. The gentlemen with the bamboo cane and with the white beard follow him, mesmerized. Only the gentleman in the black cutaway turns his back and screams:"It's horrible! How can such monstrosities happen in the 20th century? I PROTEST!"The house burns logically and beautifully. "An extraordinary capacity to transform the abstraction of ideas into a poignantly concrete, tangible, representative space of humanity" (L. Raicu) may characterize many of the plays (and prose) by Dumitru Solomon (1932-2003), which broke with stale tradition in Romanian drama in the 1970s, and – although some did not escape communist censorship – were staged in virtually every theater of Romania, as well as in East Europe, Germany, France, or the USA. An eminent critic and magazine editor as well, he wryly admitted that he had become a playwright because he thought he was not cut out to be a critic.

by Dumitru Solomon (1932-2003)