Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


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B—The case of Nasruddin Hodja

3—Choice: The Two Wives

Nasruddin has two wives, his older wife Khadidja and her young cousin, but both quarrel a lot to know which one their husband loves best. They regularly ask him which one he prefers, but Nasruddin, who likes peace in the household and does not want to risk himself in such a dangerous endeavor, cautiously prefers to avoid answering their questions, answering that he loves both. But one day, the two women, tenaciously try to corner him and ask him the following question: "Suppose that the three of us are in boat and both of us fall in the water. Which one do you help first?" Nasruddin hesitates then answers: "Well Khadidja, I think that at your age, you must know a little bit how to swim!"

Once again, this story captures a number of different issues. In appearance, Nasruddin is a coward, lying in order to avoid problems, since we "discover" he actually prefers his younger wife, choosing the "newer" being a classical choice, like children do. And a most common way to lie is to deny having preferences, refusing to recognize our own tendencies and subjectivity, thus avoiding making decisions by claiming a certain neutrality in order to detain everything at the same time. Choosing is full of consequences, and any particular choice implies the finitude of self. Hence Nasruddin is very human again by claiming he has no preference. At the same time, the parallel issue is the one of recognition, for if we don't like to choose, at least not in a conscious way, on the reverse not only do we like to be chosen, but also we want at all cost to be chosen, one way or another, like the wives of the story. To be the elected one is to be special, it gives importance to our self and meaning to our life. Otherwise, we blend in the generality of humanity, feeling utmost loneliness, a perspective that is equivalent to a symbolic death. To be loved, or its equivalent, to be the first, or to be the only one, remains therefore a major existential issue. But although Nasruddin acts as a coward by not answering, as a liar for not admitting his choice, as a macho for not taking in account the sensitivity of his wives and as a brute for answering the way he does, he actually points out in a profound way to the resolution of the problem raised: autonomy—knowing how to swim—is here the key concept. Indeed, being "older", Khadidja should know better than look for outside recognition. She should have less worries about other's opinion of her, be more distant about the perception of her self, and deal with reality in a more autonomous way.

A frequent reason why one looks for the philosopher's company is the seeming meaningless of one's life. This absence of significance is often due to the feeling a lack of recognition: by the parents, the children, the mate, society, working place, peers, with the consequence of lack of recognition by one self. Many questions that will be asked, many issues that will be raised, have this situation as a background or as the only reason. At the same time, the reverse can be said, that the reason we look for recognition is that we don't accept or love our own self. And this is generally the case because we have a number of entrenched ideas about what we should be and what we are not. The role of the philosopher in all this is first to dedramatize the issue, but bringing in the reality principle in order to deflate the balloon, so actual thinking can take place in all sobriety. Especially since in general those issues, when one comes to discuss them, have taken quite an obsessive turn in the mind of their beholder. We are what we are, and life is not what our desires and fears make out of it. We know how to swim, don't we? We just forget that we know, and that is why we are often capable to drown ourselves in a glass of water. And like a drowning person who refuses to be helped, whom motivated by panic even threatens and molests the helping hand, the needy mind will throw every stick and stones at her disposal to everyone around in order not to think, before admitting that this was nothing but a big "schwärmerei", as Hegel calls it. The hustling and bustling of whirling emotions that looks like thoughts, but actually completely hinder any actual thinking. Therefore, how can the philosopher on those premises avoid being straightforward and rude? If in order to think one has to stop thinking—an excellent guiding principle—any indulging in a "nice discussion" might only reinforce the non-thinking. The reality principle is then an excellent master and guide.


Page created: 12.10.05. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:36.