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A Game of Marbles

“It is the game that is ingenious, ingenious Kircher, not the marbles.”—Quirinus Kühlmann,* letter to Athanasius Kircher SJ (aka “The Last Man Who Knew Everything”)


However our free will may be

conceived of, it can't properly

perform the role that Destiny

assigns us—thus, I imagine,

Père Kircher must have reasoned

contemplating Kühlmann's cruel fate:

burned as a heretic spy in Moscow,

where God must have made him go.

The wised-up Jesuit knew everything—but there's some stuff too fierce to know!

"It’s not about the marbles but the game,"

Kühlmann insisted. A pity, he

didn't see that our wills are only optionally free.

You yourself must somehow nab that frame.

Who knows how you do it, since it's all the same,

the Catch-22 of our hominid ontology.

Upright apes on Earth are born to fetter.

On other planets—as people used to say of France in the nineteenth century—they manage things much better!


*On the German poet, mystic, and (possibly) imperial secret agent Quirinus Kühlmann (1651–89), seen by some as a precursor of surrealism, see

Kühlmann's assertion that it is the game that is ingenious, not the players, echoes the Niederdeutsch adage “It’s about the game, not the marbles” (in modern Dutch, “Het gaat niet om de knikkers, maar om het spel”).

Before language there was music, and poetry came before prose—something ancient Greeks called πεζός λόγος (pezos logos): “pedestrian logic [or words].”


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