A Prayer For The Inquisitive In Times Of Violent Certainty


“I have a right to be confused about the current state of politics. I have a right to pursue all threads. That doesn’t make me anything but an intellectually curious and open minded person. I refuse to hate myself for having a seeking spirit. I didn’t realize how alienating curiosity is.”



–Alexandra Gatsis


I asked my Facebook friend Alexandra if I could post this prayer she posted on FB, at The Truth Barrier. She said yes.  I call it a “prayer,” because it seeks an interior safety as violence approaches. I’ve never known a time when intellectual terror was as unleashed as it is now, including here. That’s why Alexandra’s prayer is so vital.

Sometimes I see words, things people have written, and they just appear luminous, right, simple and expressive of the interior voice that resists all “usage” by forces that wish to paint over it with the red angry paint of the propagandists.

This is what the American Transcendentalists–Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Alcott, et al–wrote about so passionately, as well as our “founding fathers.”  Justice Learned Hand stated: “The spirit if liberty is the spirit that is never too sure that it is right.”

And this interior space is what Tomas Tranströmer so brilliantly called “The Truth Barrier,” hence the name of this website. Many poets “know” the truth, whereas Tranströmer wrote about the stormy voyage (which never ends) on which we are given a chance to watch ourselves trying to find truths. Are they subjective, objective, both? Do they “exist?”

The late, legendary Yale mathematician Serge Lang also devoted his life to this–the discipline to discern “..a fact from a hole in the ground.” To each freshman class he gave a test called “The Huntington Test,” which was a reading of an article about social unrest (or lack thereof) in apartheid era South Africa, which he famously fought with Samuel P. Huntington about. (Huntington measured lack of street protest as a sign of a “satisfied society” without taking into account that black South Africans had restrictions on when they could even be on the streets. Serge, a member of The National Academy Of Sciences, successfully had Huntington blocked from membership, which the left never forgave Lang for.)

It’s an eternal struggle that never ends. Am I seeing? Have I stopped seeing? Have I developed blind spots?

Here’s my own translation of a famous and utterly stunning passage in Tranströmer’s  1970 collection “Seeing In The Dark,” from the poem Preludes:

“Two truths approach one another. One comes from inside,

one comes from the outside

and where they meet one has a chance to see oneself.

He who notices what is happening hollers

in despair: “Stop!

anything, so long as I don’t have to know myself.”


Note: “The Swedish word “känna” means both “know” and “feel.”

Here is an article I wrote about Tranströmer in Lapham’s Quarterly, in 2012.


L-R: Urban Sarbäck, Celia Farber, Erik Bergqvist, Tomas Tranströmer, Runmarö, 2011 [Looking at translations, I got a chance to tell Mr. Tranströmer why Robin Fulton’s are to my ear the best in English.]













5 thoughts on “A Prayer For The Inquisitive In Times Of Violent Certainty”

  1. There is a passage in John Holt’s How Children Learn that shows how young children take on broad ideas as generalities, unoncerned with the ambiguities of them. For example, young Lisa describes all four-legged animals grazing in fields as cows. Later she learns some of them are horses and others are sheep. The ability to keep learning depends on navigating that area of ambiguity. The ability to take on ideas that you are uncertain about is the beginning of investigation. We have lost that, I fear, in the insecurity of being declared “conspiracy theorists.” It is killing curiosity.

    1. ” We have lost that, I fear, in the insecurity of being declared “conspiracy theorists.” ”

      It’s truly strange how loaded language works isn’t it? There’s this prevailing wisdom that because one theorizes that a conspiracy is afoot, that one therefore must be paranoid and or insane.

      How can the modern world work without certain people being conspiratorial? If it’s illegal to leak state secrets, and it is, how is the state then not behaving conspiratorially? Conspiracies are a necessity if a country or a large business or a military is going to be run at all.

      So, being a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is simply trying to connect the dots in some entities motivations, dots that emerge while back stories are being actively hidden from the general population, the ‘crime’ then is simply to have bothered to think at all.

      Every huddle in football is a conspiracy to move the ball forward. The 11 players on the field are trying to advance the ball. It’s not paranoid or insane then to see that when there’s a football game happening, that that’s what they’re doing.

    2. “Afterwards I slept uneasily in the hotel bed.
      I was like the needle in a compass carried through the forest by an
      orienteer with a thumping heart.”

  2. “Anonymous ” If you are truly interested in truth, you could start by having the balls to stop hiding behind the Anonymous label.

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