The darkness is light enough

Let me begin with four examples of a curious phenomenon:

1. In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, the chief instrument of persuasion is the enthymeme, which is a defective syllogism. The defect is that one of the premises is withheld, so that the listener must provide or assume the missing premise. Aristotle:

The enthymeme must consist of few propositions, fewer often than those which make up the normal syllogism. For if any of these propositions is a familiar fact, there is no need even to mention it; the hearer adds it himself. (Rhetoric, Book I, Chapter 2, 1356a)

Why is a defective syllogism more persuasive than a complete syllogism? Why wouldn’t supplying the missing premise have more force?


2. Heraclitus claims in one of his fragments that:

ἁρμονίη ἀφανὴς φανερῆς κρείττων
(A unapparent harmony is more potent that an apparent one.)

Why isn’t an apparent harmony better?


3. In the John 20:29, Jesus tells Thomas: “You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Is this a similar phenomenon to the previous examples — that the potent harmony not-seen is greater than the one seen?


4. To use another verse from John 1: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not comprehended it.” Could “light shining in darkness” point to the same phenomenon: the greater power of the implicit over the explicit?


The core principle of Defective Reading is that defects/imperfections can only be experienced as such if there is operative within the soul a prior sense of wholeness/completion. We experience the defect first and yet can grasp on reflection that the immanent criterion must somehow be prior. Platonic philosophy is the struggle to direct our attention on this light that somehow always shines behind us.

This metaphorical light has two chief effects: shadows and reflections. Experiencing defect is the shadow of occluded light, whereas the seeming-true of opinion is the reflection. Shadow is an unapparent effect of light whereas reflection is an apparent effect, but both are effects. But beholding the reflected light is passive, whereas inferring the light behind the shadow requires an active and fuller understanding of the light’s power. We can allow ourselves to be satisfied with the dim light of reflection, but the felt absence of light can shake us from such small satisfactions. The understanding that grasps a defect, a shadow, a hidden harmony as deficient is one that is energetic (in Aristotle’s sense). Reflected light is more evident, but the inferred light is more potent. A fault-finding power also seems to be a protreptic power, guiding us to greater perfection.

Let me end with some lines from Wallace Stephens that should make perfect sense in the light of my theory of Defective Reading:

The exceeding brightness of this early sun
Makes me conceive how dark I have become,


And re-illumines things that used to turn
To gold in broadest blue, and be a part


Of a turning spirit in an earlier self.


Happy (belated) Easter, everyone!

Links to a Few Favorite Essays

A cold, grey, drizzly day in Augusta, Georgia today — a day that reminds me of my six months spent in the Aleutian Islands in 1990. The gloom was unrelenting. Soldiers stationed there during the Second World War often developed the “Aleutian stare,” eyes set at a thousand-mile focus as if looking through things. But I actually liked the Bering Sea environment — I think I was the only one of my squadron mates who did — for the simple fact that it was a great place to read.

As a balm for the gloomy days that face you, here are some links to some of my favorite essays, an off-the-cuff selection limited to what is available online: