Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


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B—The case of Nasruddin Hodja

5—Fault: The Turban

Nasruddin while on a trip stops late at night at the inn. There is only one room left, with two beds, one of which is already occupied. No problem, says our man. Just wake me up at dawn: I have to leave early. And don't make the mistake, I am the one with the turban, adds he, while taking it off and putting it on the chair next to the bed. At daybreak he rushes out and leaves on his donkey. At midday, seeing a fountain he wants to quench his thirst. While bending over, the water mirrors him, and he notices his head is bare. "What an imbecile this innkeeper!" exclaims he, irritated, "I told him explicitly: the one with the turban. And he woke up the wrong person!"

"I am fine and the world is wrong." Or "It's their fault," is a recurrent theme in the Nasruddin corpus, to shed light on a typical human mental habit. Especially when this takes place in the context of intense activity, when the busy little beings we are have no time to think, take no time to think. The "other" is the easy way out, like little children "He made me do it!". Other form, very classical, the Cassandra syndrome: "I told them and they did not listen to me!". Once again, the form of the "argument" or its internal localized "logic" is very coherent. After all, Nasruddin did tell the innkeeper to wake up a man with a turban, and he did not: he woke up a bare headed man... You really cannot trust anyone. What is at stake here, beside the question of avoiding personal responsibility and taking the time and liberty to think? It is once more the problem of universality, of objectivity, of reason, of reality. The tendency for each one of us is to produce a speech that fits us, that makes us feel comfortable. This usual speech, we don't even have to think about it, it comes naturally, as a defense mechanism, as a sort of conatus of our ego who wants to survive and protect itself: we are ready to think and say just about anything in order to rationalize our little self and the image it projects. And if someone dares attempt to interrupt it, either we claim his speech makes no sense, or we just send him back to his own reduced subjectivity, which is not more legitimate than ours: it is just his opinion. His against ours.

The insight or help Nasruddin provides here to the philosophy practitioner is the understanding of the gap or discrepancy between any "particular reason" and the wider ranging reason which Descartes claims is "the most widely shared thing in the world". When someone comes to meet the philosopher, he outlines a "home made" rationality, a sort of personal architecture that he inhabits, in which he might just be a blind prisoner. So the role of the counselor here is to invite his interlocutor to momentarily step out of himself, by proposing to conceive some other imaginary self which would think otherwise, or that would have to entertain a discussion with the neighbor, with the common man, with a group or persons. At that point, it can be hoped that the guest will glimpse the arbitrariness or foolishness of his own path, the limitedness of it. And if for some reason, which may seem legitimate or not for the practitioner, the interlocutor wants to maintain his position, he will do it with a more conscious mind, and that is the whole point. The requirement here is therefore to dedouble ourself, as Hegel invites us to do, as a condition for consciousness: in order to think, we have to see ourself thinking. The mind has to become an object to itself, on which it can act. It has to dare see itself thinking, in particular in all those little ratiocinations it knows so well how to concoct. And the role of the philosopher is here nothing but to create the conditions of this visibility.


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