It may seem to the least demanding of readers that this column, though generously meandering of thought, is short of action.  The trouble, I must admit, is that I have no sense of perspective.  There may well be more references to current events in a couple of pages of Plato’s Dialogues than in everything I have written in this space.

It is worth remembering, however, that our culture did not begin with Socrates.  Telling me that I don’t know how to write is a little like telling the artists decorating the temple at Karnak that, according to the laws of perspective, the more distant objects and figures must be made smaller than those in the foreground, whereas they have used the relative size of these objects and figures to reflect their political or social importance.  Yet geometric perspective, like the keystone arch so rarely seen in their architecture, was known to the mathematically minded Egyptians, who simply chose not to apply it to their painting.  Nor did the Greeks, and it was not until its usefulness in theater set design was first appreciated by them that it can be said to have been invented or discovered.

To be at all useful, perspective must have a captive audience, such as the viewer positioned directly in front of a Mantegna hanging on a flat wall or the seated spectator in the theater transfixed by a new Sophocles tearjerker.  Without insult to either, it may be argued that a Byzantine icon has an inner and sacred life that is not dependent on a captive audience, and that the triumphal figure of Ramses must be great irrespective of where his people happen to kneel.  The icon works miracles even when the believers in them are at home sleeping, for it is miraculous all by itself.  The pharaoh’s greatness is objective, with the consequence that all of Egypt is but a subject.  But why stop there?  It may be argued that Western culture has already been flooded by verisimilitude, and that perspective, insofar as it favors a mass illusion over the particular truth of life, is not unlike money, which likewise aims at the vanishing point in whatever is priceless in nature as well as in man.

The balance between contemplation and action, in life as in art, is something the individual soul must pass through the eye of the needle to find, and the good news is that mine has.  The laws of perspective are as nothing to me now, because the axioms and the lemmas which I want to bear my name are 99.99 percent metaphysical.

I would describe myself as a picaresque thinker, a writer of essays full of farcical capers and improbable escapades of the mind, an author born to the art of misgiving as Fielding and Smollett were born to the art of causerie.  Why this is so I cannot say, but such is the nature of my doubtful gift.  To ask me to describe an incident in the street, limiting myself strictly to the events observed, is as ungrateful a proposition as asking a Trappist oblate to cover a football match on the radio.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I have always been a wanderer, a vagrant, an immigrant, evermore in several places at once, heart here, soul there, liver and kidneys somewhere else again.  A deracinated writer is drawn and quartered by life, and even if, at the end of it, his ashes should find a safe resting place in Westminster Abbey, this is but trifling compensation for leaving one’s tongue in somebody’s kitchen in Moscow when one’s eyes are on San Marco in Venice and there’s something that badly needs saying.

Such experience is only half-comic, reminiscent as it is of the plight of the half-mortal fairy in W.S. Gilbert’s Iolanthe.  It is also half-mortifying, like the tales of the undead in Yiddish folklore.  At times, it is an amusing dinner-table pastime, something like the game of Broken Telephone we used to play when I was a child.  At other times, it is a cruel ordeal of broken troths, repeatedly interrupted truths, and barely audible, garbled truisms, for the very grave reason that if one is ever in several places at once, one is left with a very few absolutes.  Almost everything under the sun seems to have a latitude and a longitude.

The turning point in this life full of lost connections came upon my meeting a young woman who believed nobody except known liars and in nothing except the proved power of her beauty.  Every value to her was relative, apart from her weight on the bathroom scales and the color of the highlights in her hair.  She loved neither sunsets nor jewels, she trusted neither in God nor in man, and she feared only emotion, which, apart from giving a woman wrinkles, she knew had a way of rendering itself absolute in the dead of night.  Yet outwardly, she functioned as normally as the rest, and seeing through this façade was as edifying an experience as watching a film dubbed masterfully into another language and wondering how in the devil’s name this kind of thing can ever be done at all.

To win her, I realized, I had to go straight.  To win her absolutely, I must at last define my own absolutes.  For every one of her head-shrinking relativities, I needed to find a Newtonian incantation.  For every one of those barbarous untruths, I had to sing her a song of Solomon.

This is not the time or the place to remember how it all ended, but to go straight I did.  A rich man gets stuck in the eye of the needle not so much because he is fat, but because he is crooked.  The experience was my narrow gate, my redaction, and the reason I still believe in being a writer, and now that I have earned the right to tell a truth as awkwardly as I please, it would be silly not to exercise it just because the expert on geometric perspective in the third row is getting ready to hit me in the eye with a rotten orange.