oblique

…approaching an acute problem from an obtuse angle      

Oscar couldn’t see any merit in the theory that the meaning of life is written in the clouds, that if you were to look at the sky at any moment, and if you knew what you were looking at, if you could just read the clouds in the sky, if only you could – their shape and colour, the subtle shades of grey and white – then you could understand your life, as well as life in general.

Of course, the promise of life being understood, being laid bare and opened up to examination, was in itself reason enough to look into this theory; but this reason didn’t especially appeal to Oscar.

Understanding was in itself not such a laudable thing, as far as Oscar was concerned. Though understanding that a double-decker bus in the distance, the same double-decker bus which happened to be getting bigger and bigger, was in fact coming towards you, and would shortly knock you to your death, was knowledge worth having, knowledge of such things as “life”, “souls” and “meaning” was another matter altogether. Oscar didn’t think that knowledge of such grand things would materially improve his lot, should he decide to improve his lot in the first place.

Besides, Oscar had such a hatred of theories, a dread of theory, of the word “theory”, of the constituents of every theory, every if-then-and-therefore, that he could feel a damp patch of sweat on the back of his neck if his thought processes were to meander that way – towards the intricacies of one theory or another, be it Plato’s theory of forms or Smith’s theory of relativity or any other theory of anything else. Though his thoughts did invariably meander towards thoughts theoretical whenever he came across more than two things which stood in relation to each another… he’d catch himself forming a theory, say a theory concerning the appearance of black bananas in the supermarket, and have to stop himself, give himself a shake, shout at himself, give himself a final warning and tear the incipient theory to shreds – only in theory, of course.

Now, it could simply be a matter of comprehension – that Oscar’s mind was incapable of dealing with the multifarious ups and downs and ins and outs of the average theory. It was this thought, a thought which did occur to Oscar once or twice – that he was intellectually incapable of appreciating complex theories – which critically injured his dismissive faculty – a wondrous faculty, which enabled Oscar, and others like him, to dismiss things from their mind, things from everyday life such as the increasingly precarious pile of dishes in the kitchen, or the decaying body of a cat stretched out on one’s back lawn, to things of a less substantial nature, such as the moral implications of gross inactivity and the ultimate anxiety relating to one’s own death.

So Oscar went along to the meetings and poured over the literature.

Even though his participation in both of these activities was erratic and half-hearted, Oscar did manage to absorb the rudiments of the theory – that the shape and colour of the clouds lay bare the meaning of life in general, and of our own life in particular (if one was to be so selfish and self-obsessed to focus on he narrow confines of one’s own individual existence at the expense of coming to an understanding of life-with-a-capital-letter).

Appreciating the manner in which cirrostratus and cirrus clouds intermingle and fill up the sky was the first step in understanding this theory. Such wispy and insubstantial clouds were the backdrop for the more obvious events in life, they were the background noise which people should listen to but very often ignore, especially when the more obvious and dramatic cumulonimbus and nimbostratus clouds come rolling in. Luckily for Oscar, his life was relatively free of such cumulonimbus and nimbostratus happenings, so he was at an advantage over those people whose lives were brimming over with wine, sex, postcards, friends, car accessories and diary entries.

The more vulgar practitioners of cloud theory become obsessed with the shape of stratocumulus clouds, seeking out facile similarities with objects from their own life – oh look, there’s Aunty Mary, there’s Peru and there are Jasper’s wide eyes and inane grin before he was shot by the farmer for killing sheep. The most vulgar practitioners of all see in the fluffy whiteness of altocumulus clouds a promise of a soft landing in the after life – that, Oscar was told, in no uncertain terms, is just seeing what you want to see.

We must be ever on our guard against simplistic wish fulfilment, Oscar was warned at the end of the second meeting he attended. The earnestness of this advice immediately made him suspicious.

Therefore, consequent of such facile suspicion, because he could, as he was wont to do, since he had nothing else to do, Oscar jumped in, head first, without looking, eyes closed and without a thought for objectivity, subjectivity, mental-captivity or common-sense-ivity. Though before he closed his eyes and jumped in head first, he carefully chose stratocumulus clouds to be the name of his obsession and only then proceeded towards obsession at a fierce pace. But he wasn’t to be obsessed with their shape – such an obsession had been obsessed to obsession a number of times previously, just as the obsession with the fluffy-whiteness of altocumulus clouds had been – all rather shallow obsessions in Oscar’s opinion of obsessions. The only stratocumulus obsession worthy of his obsessiveness was an obsession with the almost imperceptible dark lines which gave what would otherwise by bland white shapes their puffy stratocumulus appearance.

Oscar’s arrival and taking up-residence amidst the depths of obsession could be noted by the mad look he acquired, his hungry eyes, the continual jerky movements of his head and limbs, his even more tattered clothes and his even longer stubble – which showed up in the usual irregular clumps.

His stratocumulus-cloud-theory couldn’t be summed up in a few basic tenets, nor could it be easily summarised or even subdivided in any way – Oscar had toyed with, or threw around, or was pulled along by subdivisions of verses, chapters, premises and conclusions, paragraphs, sentences, pages, numbered aphorisms, themes, parts of the body, levels and sublevels, alphabetisation and finally random accumulations of words and phrases – but all to no effect. The complexity of the theory he managed to construct was so vast, so intricate, so…

It was just that Oscar had lost himself as soon as he began to theorize, rendering any attempt to make sense of it useless, so summing-up pointless, and so continuing, never-stopping and constant theorising the only alternative.

Not coming up for air was the price he willingly paid, especially if that air proved to be little more than a pollutant to the more rarefied atmosphere of the grand concepts he was dealing in (souls, being, clouds, nothingness, morality, rain, forms, shapes, points and lines, infinity, absolutes and such like).

When asked a direct question by his favourite neighbour (an inquiry into the availability of sugar, vinegar and baking-soda), who had to push his way past piles of balled up paper, discarded books, crumpled newspapers and grease stained takeaway wrappers and boxes(the very stuff of grand theories), Oscar finally hit the ground. Amongst the randomly shaped stratocumulus-clouds of his theory, Oscar was once again a broken man.

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