To think critically is to awaken the faculty of irony. Since the artistic eye sees as many contraries as harmonies, irony arbitrates not only between harmonies and contraries but also between existence and nonexistence, or absence and presence, and virtually all opposites.

But art and literature, while encompassing and being informed by irony, pass beyond it to Keats’s zen-like formula that truth is beauty and there’s nothing more to know about either. Not exactly true, of course, but beautifully put—and functional in a zen-like way, as I say. In a way that reconciles truth and falsehood, or all that feeds truth or falsehood (arbitrated as they are by irony).

Yet it also identifies truth and beauty, reconciles them—as if they too were opposites. They sometimes seem so. But the reconciliation is like that between harmony and contradiction. Leaving irony in the dust, it solves the riddle of an existential sphinx, making life seem sweeter for untasted mysteries and absurd logic that makes angels weep, wise men fly, and the rest of us find consolation in poetry.

What I have to say, however prosaic, is best said poetically. I dont always manage it, but I feel I’ve communicated my meaning best when I’ve delivered it with a touch of madness. When it appeals not just to the ratiocinative brain but to the rhythmic and intuitive viscera, the vibrating nerves, the obliquely beating heart. When what I’ve said is apprehended—if not understood—with one’s entire body, in fact ones’ entire history.

As if one were equally and in every respect both mind and sense (which, in fact, we are), as well as the faculty of amazement, the openness to original, unorthodox utterance which the best listeners, the best readers, have not lost.

Much about youth was vanity, but it was beautiful and thus had reason to be vain (not “in vain”). Age, as it loses that beauty, gains the wisdom or insight death confers (if only death anticipated, meditated upon), and there is something beautiful about that, too. Perhaps maturity is nothing other than an acceptance of this metamorphosis of beauty.

Or is that just madness?