An Essay On Nothing


Nothing is sweeter than doing nothing. That’s exactly what I want to do now: write about  nothing! In short, it is my considered opinion that any writer who cannot write on  nothing has learnt nothing!

Yes, there are so many nothings scrambling my brain. The fire that burnt my house  the other time thought it would leave me with nothing not knowing that it could not burn  one particular book in my library entitled The Quotable Nothing Book, and subtitled  “Being a Book of Quotes about Nothing and Nothingness” which was published at $3.95 in  1980 by Running Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This so-called book actually contains  nothing save a quote on top of the left hand side and at the bottom of the right hand  side of it, thus leaving the entire page blank. The largely empty nothing book which  bears no page numbers such that one cannot even talk of odd and even number pages was  given to me in Canada by two lovers, Mike Anderson and Tina Novotny of 350 Dundas Street,  London Ontario, Canada N6B 1V7, and they wrote the following words therein: “Send us  stuff you write in here!” Since the book contains nothing but quotes from some wags and  philosophers and suchlike who enjoy writing only about nothing, I felt it amounted to  indulging in nothing writing back to my friends Mike and Tina; until now that nothing is  inspiring me to write on nothing!

The Quotable Nothing Book gives the definition of nothing taken from The Century  Dictionary and Cyclopedia thus: “NOTHING (nuth’ing), n. 1. No thing; not anything; not  something; something that is not anything. The conception of nothing is reached by  reflecting that a noun, or name, in form, may fail to have any corresponding object; and  nothing is the noun by which its very definition is of that sort.” Given this kind of  nonsensical, if complicated, definition of nothing, little wonder Paul Valery has this  quip: “God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through.” And who am  I not to trust Socrates when he says: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”  Soren Kierkegaard of course echoes the master: “The something which I am is precisely a  nothing.” Against the background of the father of philosophy and his sons knowing nothing  and being nothing, Ambrose Bierce defines Philosophy this way: “A route of many roads  leading from nowhere to nothing.”

Bear with me, for as Edward Dahlberg knows, “It takes a long time to understand  nothing.” After all, this exercise in nothing is only a thousand-word piece as opposed to  an entire book of umpteen pages written by Joop Berkhout entitled What Men Know about  Women which contains nothing but blank pages to show what everybody already knew: that  man knows nothing about woman! The great Lord Byron sums it up thusly: “A book’s a book,  although there’s nothing in it.”

Genius has a lot in common with nothing, as Gertrude Stein opines, “It takes a  lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing  nothing.” The fear though is that “there may not be no nothing”, as H.L. Mencken  declares. Jonathan Edwards ups the ante in this wise: “That there should absolutely be  nothing at all is utterly impossible. The mind, let it stretch its conceptions ever so  far, can never so much as bring itself to conceive of a state of perfect nothing.”

Frederic Amiel has this different take on the subject of nothing: “Almost  everything comes from almost nothing.” And wallowing in nothing, Madame du Deffand  declaims: “I hear nothings, I speak nothings, I take interest in nothing, and from  nothing to nothing I travel gently down the dull way which leads to becoming nothing.”  Alas, the words of Henry Fielding ring true: “To whom nothing is given, of him nothing  can be required.”

As though inspired by nothing Mussolini sums up his foreign policy this way: “Nothing for  Nothing.” Jean Paul Richter would rather have it thus: “A variety of nothing is better  than a monotony of something.” For Penelope Gilliat, “There are times when nothing has to  be better than anything.” Trust good old Jonathan Swift to get into the nothing fray: “He  asks for nothing; and thinks, like a philosopher, that he wants nothing.” Crucially Lady  Morgan asserts the inevitability of nothing: “Nothing’s new, and nothing’s true, and  nothing matters.” The mathematics of nothing engages the attention of Joseph Glanvill:  “All the ciphers of arithmetic are no better than a single nothing.”

“What then is man?” asks Edward Young, and he supplies the answer: “The smallest part of  nothing.” The politicos who hold the world by the jugular are deep into the nothing game,  as Oscar Wilde explains with aplomb: “It is to do nothing that the elect exist.”  Beaumarchais weighs in with this choice admonition: “People who wish to make nothing of  anything advance nothing and are good for nothing.” Of course before opening the mouth to  condemn me for wasting the time of the world on nothing it is crucial to remember the  words of Charles Caleb Colton: “When you have nothing to say, say nothing.”

I have dabbled in this essay on nothing mindful of Edmund Burke’s immortal words: “The  only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As I take my  leave with nothing, the Good Book beckons at The First Epistle of Paul: “We brought  nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.”

•Uzor Maxim Uzoatu writes from Lagos

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