27th September, 2010
Nothing is sweeter than doing nothing. Thatâ€™s exactly what I want to do now: write aboutÂ nothing! In short, it is my considered opinion that any writer who cannot write onÂ nothing has learnt nothing!
Yes, there are so many nothings scrambling my brain. The fire that burnt my houseÂ the other time thought it would leave me with nothing not knowing that it could not burnÂ one particular book in my library entitled The Quotable Nothing Book, and subtitledÂ â€œBeing a Book of Quotes about Nothing and Nothingnessâ€ which was published at $3.95 inÂ 1980 by Running Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This so-called book actually containsÂ nothing save a quote on top of the left hand side and at the bottom of the right handÂ side of it, thus leaving the entire page blank. The largely empty nothing book whichÂ bears no page numbers such that one cannot even talk of odd and even number pages wasÂ given to me in Canada by two lovers, Mike Anderson and Tina Novotny of 350 Dundas Street,Â London Ontario, Canada N6B 1V7, and they wrote the following words therein: â€œSend usÂ stuff you write in here!â€ Since the book contains nothing but quotes from some wags andÂ philosophers and suchlike who enjoy writing only about nothing, I felt it amounted toÂ indulging in nothing writing back to my friends Mike and Tina; until now that nothing isÂ inspiring me to write on nothing!
The Quotable Nothing Book gives the definition of nothing taken from The CenturyÂ Dictionary and Cyclopedia thus: â€œNOTHING (nuthâ€™ing), n. 1. No thing; not anything; notÂ something; something that is not anything. The conception of nothing is reached byÂ reflecting that a noun, or name, in form, may fail to have any corresponding object; andÂ nothing is the noun by which its very definition is of that sort.â€ Given this kind ofÂ nonsensical, if complicated, definition of nothing, little wonder Paul Valery has thisÂ quip: â€œGod made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through.â€ And who amÂ I not to trust Socrates when he says: â€œAs for me, all I know is that I know nothing.â€Â Soren Kierkegaard of course echoes the master: â€œThe something which I am is precisely aÂ nothing.â€ Against the background of the father of philosophy and his sons knowing nothingÂ and being nothing, Ambrose Bierce defines Philosophy this way: â€œA route of many roadsÂ leading from nowhere to nothing.â€
Bear with me, for as Edward Dahlberg knows, â€œIt takes a long time to understandÂ nothing.â€ After all, this exercise in nothing is only a thousand-word piece as opposed toÂ an entire book of umpteen pages written by Joop Berkhout entitled What Men Know aboutÂ Women which contains nothing but blank pages to show what everybody already knew: thatÂ man knows nothing about woman! The great Lord Byron sums it up thusly: â€œA bookâ€™s a book,Â although thereâ€™s nothing in it.â€
Genius has a lot in common with nothing, as Gertrude Stein opines, â€œIt takes aÂ lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doingÂ nothing.â€ The fear though is that â€œthere may not be no nothingâ€, as H.L. MenckenÂ declares. Jonathan Edwards ups the ante in this wise: â€œThat there should absolutely beÂ nothing at all is utterly impossible. The mind, let it stretch its conceptions ever soÂ far, can never so much as bring itself to conceive of a state of perfect nothing.â€
Frederic Amiel has this different take on the subject of nothing: â€œAlmostÂ everything comes from almost nothing.â€ And wallowing in nothing, Madame du DeffandÂ declaims: â€œI hear nothings, I speak nothings, I take interest in nothing, and fromÂ nothing to nothing I travel gently down the dull way which leads to becoming nothing.â€Â Alas, the words of Henry Fielding ring true: â€œTo whom nothing is given, of him nothingÂ can be required.â€
As though inspired by nothing Mussolini sums up his foreign policy this way: â€œNothing forÂ Nothing.â€ Jean Paul Richter would rather have it thus: â€œA variety of nothing is betterÂ than a monotony of something.â€ For Penelope Gilliat, â€œThere are times when nothing has toÂ be better than anything.â€ Trust good old Jonathan Swift to get into the nothing fray: â€œHeÂ asks for nothing; and thinks, like a philosopher, that he wants nothing.â€ Crucially LadyÂ Morgan asserts the inevitability of nothing: â€œNothingâ€™s new, and nothingâ€™s true, andÂ nothing matters.â€ The mathematics of nothing engages the attention of Joseph Glanvill:Â â€œAll the ciphers of arithmetic are no better than a single nothing.â€
â€œWhat then is man?â€ asks Edward Young, and he supplies the answer: â€œThe smallest part ofÂ nothing.â€ The politicos who hold the world by the jugular are deep into the nothing game,Â as Oscar Wilde explains with aplomb: â€œIt is to do nothing that the elect exist.â€Â Beaumarchais weighs in with this choice admonition: â€œPeople who wish to make nothing ofÂ anything advance nothing and are good for nothing.â€ Of course before opening the mouth toÂ condemn me for wasting the time of the world on nothing it is crucial to remember theÂ words of Charles Caleb Colton: â€œWhen you have nothing to say, say nothing.â€
I have dabbled in this essay on nothing mindful of Edmund Burkeâ€™s immortal words: â€œTheÂ only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.â€ As I take myÂ leave with nothing, the Good Book beckons at The First Epistle of Paul: â€œWe broughtÂ nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.â€
â€¢Uzor Maxim Uzoatu writes from Lagos