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The Uses of Not

Jacques Derrida wrote, when we speak of one thing, we invoke its opposite and what it is not. For example, to speak of a man or woman I speak of its opposite a woman or a man. Instead of understood as opposites, things, including words and ideas, complement each other, making them whole.

Albert Camus suggested “there is no love of life without despair of life.” Without one, we cannot have the other. Compassion means to share one’s love and suffering with each other. When we look deeper and are mindful of what we see, we recognize the how what is not readily evident is needed to make the whole of something.

This is not a new idea. Lao Tzu wrote this poem about what makes something useful is what complements it: the hub and spokes of a wheel; the hollow of a pot and the clay; and doors and windows and the room. Each profits from what it is not.

Often, there is paradox in understanding how things and people complement one another, making them whole.

Thirty spokes

meet in the hub.

Where the wheel isn’t

is where it’s useful

Hollowed out,

clay makes a pot.

Where the pot’s not

is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows

to make a room.

Where the room isn’t,

there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is

is in the use of what isn’t.

About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and taught for 15 years in a wonderful hybrid school. My dissertation topic and research were how certain teachers experience becoming who teachers. In teaching and leanring, I am a boundary-crosser who understands moving ahead is a leap of faith. Teaching is a calling and vocation to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what calls me next. I am an educator, phenomenologist, scholar, boundary-crosser, published poet, author, parent, grandparent, and spouse.

9 responses »

  1. Also the use of the word “but.” My Auntie said never ask, “Can you do this.” Just say, “Will you do this.” I love things like this. It’s really changed the way I write and communicate when asking someone to do something. I love this “NOT.” This makes me think a lot! Wonderful share Ivon! 🙂

  2. Beautifully penned… I loved Derrida´s ideas. It also reminds me of Hegel´s dialectics… We need the thesis and antithesis to reach the synthesis! 😀 (Heraclitus made some good points as to the unity of opposites too!. I will share a link on Twitter and tag you…. Happy new week! 🙂

  3. Yes, we live in a world of contrasts, polarities. I often ponder how I could appreciate nature’s beauty as much as I do, were it not for voggy days when the volcano sends us its own brand of smog. The cool of winter mists without the blistering hot jungle heat. Aloha.

  4. I sincerely believe we value things because we know impact of the opposites but this “NOT” is a hard poem. I will have to read it again to really get it.


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