The replacement of Purpose with Possibility: I’d die happy if I could convince the known world to drop one chief aim, one meaning-lender, for the other. Possibility rather than Purpose. It cuts quick to my own chief aims, my own meaning-lenders, and my own personal sense of sublimity… Sublimity as the momentary grasp of infinite possibility.
The first time I picked a six-tumbler lock, the first time I ever heard Lightning Bolt, the caffeined eureka when I saw how richly natural and democratic metaphors interwove, the very second a fellow freshman taught me how to cut-and-paste from view source— you see a zillion half-formed possibilities before your eyes and cannot wait to get started. The meeting of inner and outer horizons. The staggering thought that the Future might not be big enough to hold it all. This is the Sublime. Pure energy expressed.
The shift from Purpose to Possibility comes as a totalizing, gestalt shift in the whole mechanics of Meaning itself. Not meaning as in signification, but meaning as in motivation, as in “the meaning of life” and “the meaning of things.” The most popular keystone of this kind of Meaning has been, for ages, Purpose— telos, a true and proper end to any and all things. The purpose of the iris is to regulate the level of light on the cornea. The true end of marriage is the family. The purpose of the nose is to hold up your glasses. To be meaningful meant performing your duties well, whether you were a king, pawn, or doorstop. Meaning was something to be learned and inherited and followed.
Whether it was because I was born on the other side of some historical accident or what, this idea of meaning has always been meaningless for me. Purpose has always chafed me. I have always preferred the more pragmatist idea of Possibility, as a written invitation for endless, exciting, clever transformation, to any purpose fixed by Eminent Design or Natural Order. I echo F.A.S. Schiller when he conceived of the world as essentially plastic, that is “what we make of it” and readily adopted his field strategy of “acting as if it were wholly plastic… stopping only when we are decidedly rebuked.” Only a systematic testing of our power and liberties, personal and collective, could pave the way for something that was previously unknown, unthunk, and impossible. That seemed like something I could work toward.