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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel


Finding is the reaching by a person of something other than what, at the time, is himself.

      There are three words related to the word find, which can help to explain its meaning. These words are get, take, see. When we get or take or see something, we may be also finding that something. But the words get and see and take don't have the newness, the difference, the otherness—even the drama—of the word find.

      For example, Hazel Stearns got or took a toothbrush every morning. She expected the toothbrush to be where it was, and it usually was. But once somehow the toothbrush fell and got into a strange place. Hazel Stearns got the toothbrush, even though for a while she couldn't. There was an interruption, a little suspense, a feeling of difference or otherness. So when Hazel, after about ninety seconds of looking, got at the toothbrush, she may have felt she found it. If the toothbrush had vanished for forty-eight hours, Hazel, when at last she reached it, would have had a greater sense of finding—not just getting or taking or seeing.

     In all that we do, there is repetition, the expected, sameness; and also surprise, the unexpected, otherness. For example, right now, if we look at where we are and what we're doing, we, no matter what it is, can wonder a little—and much, too. If we're doing a trivial thing, we can ask ourselves, How in the world did we come to be doing this? This goes, as I said, for anything. —This means that on any occasion, we can see ourselves doing something and also find ourselves doing something. If the predominant sense in us is of customariness, the looked for, the repetitive, well—we perceive; if otherwise, we perceive and find.

     Finding is of what our body does and what that form of our body, mind, does. We see that a thing is true. With a little suspense, drama, otherness, we find that a thing is true. We get our shoes in the morning; in an earthquake, or with the presence of a careless maid, we find our shoes.

     So the word find expresses the otherness-drama of everyday doings. It also is a word akin to imagination. (Poets have been called finders quite accurately: the medieval term trouvere and the term troubadour, meaning "finder," for poet, can be deeply justified.) It is like the word invent. A person, in his mind, can come to new possibilities of how the world can be, people can be, events can be. He finds an order in possibility; something new in reality as possibility; and he has used imagination.

     Desire is related to the word find. Desire is what we're looking for; and if we look successfully, we find, although if we look unsuccessfully, we find, too. For we can find that a place is less wonderful than we expected; and the less wonder is here the unexpected. Dullness can be the unexpected. And we can find that there was something we hadn't looked for in a situation.

      All finding is seeing. When seeing has in it not enough of finding, the self doing the seeing is growing less, is becoming weak. For existence is old and new, the surprising and the monotonous; and so our finding should be seeing, and our seeing finding.

      Likewise, when we get a shoe, or take a match from a box, we should feel that we find, too. For the getting and taking should not just show the universe with monotonous smoothness, temporal routine. We can find a blaze of the unexpected, a widening spark of the miraculous, in taking a nail from a box, or food from a dish. The universe is never other than frisky and undetermined. It presents one side, but that is never all.

     When a person has a feeling that seeing, getting, taking, are also finding, there is the normal imaginative response to things. For if the universe always has wonder to it, not to see it is to be maladjusted as to the universe; and this is not normal. To be imaginative is to find; and to find is to have a sense of otherness, drama, as we get and see; and so to be imaginative is to behave in decent fashion as to the world of anybody's being in.

© 1945 by Eli Siegel

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