Nabokov’s advice

If I had known in 1970 what I know now of reformational philosophy, it is very, very doubtful that I would have pursued it. I was unaware of the bad blood, political infighting at the Free University of Amsterdam, and its atmosphere of theological narrowness. And, like everyone else, I wrongly assumed that Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd were saying the same thing. Nevertheless, I am not sorry that I have spent such a large part of my life studying Dooyeweerd, learning Dutch, and studying at various institutions. I am comforted by what Nabokov told his students:

“The more things we know the better equipped we are to understand any one thing and it is a burning pity that our lives are not long enough and sufficiently free of annoying obstacles, to study all things with the same care and depth as the one we now devote to some favorite subject or period. And yet there is a semblance of consolation within this dismal state of affairs: in the same way as the whole universe may be completely reciprocated in the structure of an atom,…an intelligent and assiduous student [may] find a small replica of all knowledge in a subject he has chosen for his special research….and if, upon choosing your subject, you try diligently to find out abut it, if you allow yourself to be lured into the shaded lanes that lead from the main road you have chosen to the lovely and little known nooks of special knowledge, if you lovingly finger the links of the many chains that connect your subject to the past and the future and if by luck you hit upon some scrap of knowledge referring to your subject that has not yet become common knowledge, then you will know the true felicity of the great adventure of learning, and your years in this college will become a valuable start on a road of inestimable happiness. “

I have indeed found many interesting byways and branching paths. By concentrating so much of my work on Dooyeweerd, perhaps I have found a small replica of all knowledge. I have discovered the sources of his philosophy in Christian theosophy, and I have been able to relate many of his ideas to nondualism. I hope that my work will be of help to others.

One thought on “Nabokov’s advice

  1. Thank you for expressing your grief so constructively. I bear it with you while enjoying the fruit of your labors.

    Theoretically speaking: if the ground-motive power of ‘fall’ explains anything at all then shouldn’t I expect to experience “bad blood, political infighting … and theological narrowness” corrupting even “the lovely and little known nooks of special knowledge” in ANY subject of special research I choose? Isn’t it more than consolation to consider if the Christian ground-motive is true then where else should I expect to find “the true felicity of the great adventure?” What subject of special research IS sheltered from ‘the dust of death’? Perhaps a posture of deep humility will somehow embolden my thrill and mitigate the occupational risk of philosophical shipwreck.

    The story is told how the God of Israel counseled Jeremiah (15:19) to “extract the precious from the worthless” (NASB) if he wants to be a spokesperson. “Before me you will stand” that God said. That Jeremiah (43)! He stood with his people even after forced emigration to Egypt. When Jeremiah made the prediction at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, do you think he knew what was happening in Babylon between Belteshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar? I’m not yet bold enough to imagine participating in such a great adventure. It’s astounding to consider who the God of that story will work with in order to establish a “tree in the midst of [his fallen] earth” (Daniel 4:10) and “shade[the] lanes that lead from the main road.”


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