Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


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B—The case of Nasruddin Hodja

4—Morality and logic: The Rooster

A couple of young men, known pranksters, wanted to play a trick on Nasruddin at the public bath. They each take one egg, hide it, and then propose to Nasruddin a wager. Each one will try to lay an egg, and the one who cannot will have to undress in front of everyone. Nasruddin accepts, and the two start wiggling their ass, clucking like hens, and finally drop their egg. Seeing this, Nasruddin lets down his towel, and visibly animated by an intense physical desire starts pursuing the two "hens". The two young men, scared and scandalized at this sight, start screaming. "Nasruddin! What are you doing? Have you gone crazy?" "Well my little chicks, calm down!" answers the Hodja. "How can you lay an egg again if you don't let the rooster climb on you?"

A major theme covered by this story is actually a very common one in the Nasruddin story: the question of logic, of consistency and coherency, of sense, up to its limits, the confrontation to the absurd, to the senseless. A confrontation of meaning to meaninglessness, which explains why in so many of those stories, Nasruddin has all the appearance of a lunatic, of a fool, of an insane person. What is happening here? Two persons want to be smart, smarter than a third one, and the gain they get is that by making the latter a fool, they will prove their smartness to themselves and everyone. But the trap closes down on them, since Nasruddin takes their "game" even further, to such an extremity that they recoil and shriek: they fear for themselves and rules of morality are being breached. Who knows what can then happen! The reaction of the "master" is to teach not with words and explanations but with actions, unwholesome actions, with theatrics, for this will speak more, in a more striking and efficient way. In this case Nasruddin runs after his "students" in order to sodomize them in public. They thought he would be scared of exposing his nudity, and he exposes even more of himself, thus exposing them!

We are here at the heart of antiphilosophy. Nasruddin shows rather than demonstrates. The immorality or foolishness of the pranksters initiative is not denounced by some kind of lecture or rational discourse, but by setting a course even more foolish or immoral, although some "open minded" modern readers might have a hard time with this aspect of things... Ironically, there is a pharisaic dimension to these two young men, very typical of immoral behavior: who, more than the immoral is more willing to denounce immorality, as they do here? Is it not a nice and easy way to pretend or regain certain "virginity"? Or simply because one is scared of pursuing or just envisaging the consequences of one's actions. "This goes too far!" they will say: they are shocked! Just like if they were not already well engaged in this path. Nasruddin here is a teacher of the cynic kind, who wants to act as a mirror, by putting into light and amplifying a certain way of thinking. True morality laughs at morality.

The philosophical consultant has for major obstacle in his work what many a philosopher has called "good conscience", although this "good conscience" has a mirror image: "bad conscience". Moral conscience—a fundamental faculty—is often contrary to consciousness, although funnily in a number of Latin languages the word is the same. Since there is a "bad" judgment put on some of our thoughts and actions, we don't want to see them for what they are. We want to feel good, we want to enjoy the feeling that we are on the right side of things, with the "good guys", when the "bad guys" are way on the other side. As a result of this pressure, be it of personal origin, familial or social, the subject does not dare think what he thinks, does not want to recognize his own thoughts, or will refuse to pass judgment on them. There is a powerful form of self-denegation, a denial of one's own thinking or desires, just to conform to some established principles or values. Nasruddin is here useful, since he invites us to freedom of thought and action, he incites us to abandon at least momentarily any fear of the "others", their glare and their judgments. If one wants to please the others, look moral or intelligent, the chances are he will think and act stupid and immoral, even if the "others" grant him the expected award. Convention is a pact where by everyone agrees to act and think in the same way in order to congratulate each other. In order to think freely, the question is not simply to denounce systematically the conventions: this could amount to a mere reactive adolescent behavior. It is necessary to examine them, recognize their statute, evaluate them, their pros and cons, and determine with a "free" mind if they are worth abiding by. But unless one is capable in some way to break the law, the law is only a reign of terror, since no law, moral or legal, can pretend to any kind of absolute. Therefore one should learn to respect the law, learn to violate the law, and especially learn when either is appropriate and necessary. At least in the perspective of philosophical counseling as we see it.

As for logic, the interesting point is that logic, often perceived as a constraint that "limits" our thinking, is here used as a crucial tool in order to become conscious of one's own thinking. For indeed, as Nasruddin did, if we prolong the "logical" course of any perspective, we will have a good insight into its value or significance. As absurd as the ideas are, we will be able to think them instead of shutting our eyes in order to protect our good intentions, through pseudo-reasonable rationalizations. But we have to transgress certain well-established principles, for example the prohibition to exaggerate. The "logical" projections of our own ideas, however absurd they seem, is always a liberating and enlightening thought experiment, a simple procedure very useful for the philosophy practitioner. This is what the two young men should understand from their teacher.


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