Monadology

November 14, 2012

…[T]he only way for monads to begin or end…is instantaneously.
—Gottfried Leibnitz
The cold sets her old teeth to chattering.
That taste in her mouth is more formidable than she
can ever know. It seems like a clam that has been stored
in the side of her cheek, too sore to swallow.
Each breath rasps at her lungs, like each one must be
the last in a long line of lasts: last kiss
last laugh, last honeydew melon sliced,
the last seeds scraped away, a last dream,
the last time she’d wet the bed, as if
in triumph, the last blink of her left eye
frozen in Stroke City by the last Jinn
of Bagdad. Like it was childhood and she could
do it all again: the last time
she’d read the Monadology,
the book of monads—
that last sly smile—
Suppose, she thought, all of existence
could reflect all of existence,
that the monads could see each other…
Suppose it was like that.

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5 Responses to “Monadology”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    Yes, Thomas, you’ve got the idea of monads right as I understand them: bits of what logically must exist if my buddy Gottfried is right about things. Of course if you ‘understand’ by dividing things, you’re going to have to posit a logical place to stop. It’s surprising Leibnitz hasn’t caught on with the re-enchantment of the universe crowd—or has he? I’m sort of in that crowd myself. I’m certainly no Leibniz scholar, by the way. I read Coplestone’s History of Philosophy years ago and I’m sure he has a chapter on him—but I do mean years. Still, the concept is interesting
    And yes, a meditation on consciousness. And, yes, while ‘she’ is a specific woman, the obvious point to make is that she is at the end of her life, and maybe consciousness is returned to the monads, maybe things are sort of getting universalized. (Using ‘he’ did not feel right somehow.)


  2. Jim, as I understand monads (and I would not really claim that at all) they are singular units that are aware of each other (thus are conscious) and make up existence beyond existence, consciousness and spirit and the world that is not physical even though it interacts with the physical universe.
    As a meditation on consciousness, which I take this poem to be, then, the old woman–who could by any old woman, or I suppose, a symbol for humanity as a creationist species, as are all living beings, reflects the spirit that is made up of monads as she ages beyond the scintillations of good health and youth:
    Each breath rasps at her lungs, like each one must be
    the last in a long line of lasts: last kiss
    last laugh, last honeydew melon sliced,
    the last seeds scraped away, a last dream,
    the last time she’d wet the bed, as if
    in triumph, the last blink of her left eye
    frozen in Stroke City by the last Jinn
    of Bagdad.
    In this summing up contemplation, she has a transcendent thought:
    Suppose, she thought, all of existence
    could reflect all of existence,
    that the monads could see each other…
    That in the end the singularity making up the spirit, or the soul, could see the other singularities…
    that our spirit is part of a larger universe of spirit and consciousness that, in a way, allows us to exist into infinity within this larger monad community, or something like that.
    As John says,
    this poem is enough to bend the monad of the mind.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    I didn’t know about David Chalmers, but I think the tag “the hard problem” is a beautifully understated labelling of the mystery you are writing about here. It’s a very big theme – the biggest. Trying to think about it leaves me teetering on the brink of absurdity.
    I’ve reread your poem. Give us another one, do.

  4. extrasimile Says:

    John, you’re a brave man to venture into this poem. It seems so somber—and it is—but I was also having a little fun with the whole monad thing. Monads are, among other things, a theory of consciousness. Science has made a living describing the world in terms of physical processes. Consciousness doesn’t quite fit the model. It seems so different. It has what come to be called ‘qualia’, properties that are not explained by physical processes—sounds, colors, sensations, intentions. This has lead to what the philosopher David Chalmers calls ‘the hard problem’: how do you get from the material processes that science seems confined to, to the qualities we all know (by simple experience) exist? One way to do this is by positing a situation where consciousness is not created by the brain (which seems the only real candidate, short of God) but actually exists in the universe. We go back to Descartes. Where he offered the dualistic view of the universe—body and mind—that got us into this problem, Leibniz offered a monistic view. The monad is conscious. Enter my humble poem (or obviously not so humble poem): a little bit of consciousness winking in and out of existence…instantaneously!

  5. John Stevens Says:

    This poem, Jim, sent me on a trip through Wikipedia’s sites on monads, the book of monadology, Leibnitz, the early Enlightenment and all that. Your poems are very good for my education. I suppose Leibnitz is a figure of professional interest to you, as a kind of patron of IT. Could the world wide web be said to be a monad? But who is the mysterious ‘she’ in your poem? Simply any old lady, or someone in particular, or a symbolic personage? Clearly she is highly erudite and I hope she is being shown proper respect in her vulnerable old age!


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