Doug Bruns

My breakfast with Michael.

In Creativity, Mythology, Philosophy, The Examined Life on January 21, 2013 at 6:00 am

I’m away from home, back in Maryland, where I used to live, and have just finished breakfast with one of my oldest and best of friends, Michael. I’ve written before about Michael, specifically our climbing life together, as well as the question he once put to me, “Is that all there is?” He is, to state it candidly, a constant source of interest. He has a keen mind that is curious to exhaustive degrees. Too, he exhibits a natural and uncanny ability to make unique and surprising observations. This from a man without  a lot book reading or higher education. He is one of those rare raw individuals that addresses life without the pretense most of us, for one reason or another, construct around our existence.


Socrates, instigator of “the examined life.”

Upon sitting he declared that he was keenly pursuing “the examined life.” I was not aware that he was a member of “…the house…” and he smiled broadly at the declaration. An hour into our conversation he had a revelation. Our conversation had roamed widely: tribalism, religion, Stoicism, biology, creativity, evolution, Zen. We were off and running when he had a unique and creative thought.

I saw the idea unfold in front of me. “Like you,” he said, “I don’t subscribe to the notion that everything happens for a reason.” He said he found this notion, though comforting to so many, to be nothing more that a self-imposed fashion of mind-control. “I don’t believe in the mystical either,” he declared. “Yet,” he continued, “there is a place not mystical but beyond irony. I don’t have a name for it.” I put up my finger. “Wait,” I said. I thought out loud: “Beyond irony?” I was captivated by that idea, though I had no inkling of what it meant. “…but short of mysticism.” He smiled. I smiled. I asked if he could give me an example. There was a long silence, accompanied by head holding.



We had been talking about Camus’s take on the story of Sisyphus. Was it beyond irony, I asked, that Camus, the saint of the absurd was killed in a car crash after declaring that he was afraid of cars? We didn’t think so. That was just coincidence too close to simple irony. Perhaps it was like a Zen koan, I suggested: a thing that cannot be explained with the rational mind, but yet can be known intuitively? We agreed that that was closer. And so the conversation continued without resolution. We parted ways with Michael promising to come up with an example.


In search of the land north of irony, south of mysticism.

An example–what is beyond irony but short of mystical?– would be nice and I will be thinking toward one as well. But more I like the notion that the thing is ineffable–which is not to be mistaken with the mystical. Although I want to explore this territory beyond the land of irony that stops at the foothills of mysticism, I was more energized by the process of our discussion than the construction of a new idea.

We began our conversation bemoaning the atrophy of creativity in our lives, then launched into one of the most creative of dialogues, resulting in a thing or two worth pondering. The point is, at least as it settled on me, that the things we value–in this instance creativity–do not exist without our effort to sustain them. To sit and moan over a loss that can be, indeed was, reversed–is that not perhaps a thing “beyond irony?”

  1. Beyond the land of irony but short of the foothills of mystical. This puzzled me and sounded like something I should comprehend…and did not. So, I began with googling “irony.” Fortunately, the first selection said “Even smart people get confused with the definition of irony.” ( And then went on to some very interesting examples taken from a website ( where one can post a question and get an opinion of whether somme event is or is not ironic.

    Anyway, this bit of real estate between irony and mystical, has been explored in a book I had just finished when you posted this. It is a light comedy by Eric Weiner (former NPR reporter) called Man Seeks God. After what Eric experienced as a near-death event (turned out to be an attack of gas) he decided to seek god (or God or gods) in:
    — Istambul through Sufism,
    — Kathmandu through Buddhism,
    — SanFrancisco through Franciscan monks,
    — Las Vegas through the largest UFO based religion (yes, there are more than one says Weiner), Raelism (where, I might note, they believe all life on earth was created 25,000 years ago by a benevolent alien race called the Elohim who basically want us humans to have an outrageous amount of fun. Hmm. Echoes of past.
    — China through Taoism,
    — Pacific northwest through Wicca or withcraft,
    — A Shamanic Workshop outside of Washington DC through shamanism, and
    — Jerusalen through the Kabbalah

    Weiner was actually seeking the mountains of the mystical,but seldom got beyond the ironic.

    Thanks for reigniting the inquiry.

    • I should comment by saying that it does not surprise me that a man with the name Weiner must go in search of god. There is great logic to that which I see straight away.

      This journey of this Weiner seems most excellent, if for no other reason than the accumulation of passport stamps. Isn’t it odd that we climb the mountain in search of enlightenment when any nextus of being would likely be in front of our nose? That would be the irony of the universe we count on, no? Perhaps that is what Michael was getting at with beyond irony.

      I confess that I did not, nor yet, comprehend this beyond irony stuff, but it has a ring to it that excites me. When I get this way, I tend to lose my cap of critical thinking and put on my explorer’s hat, setting out for uncharted territory. This has on occasion delivered me to a world of hurt and misunderstanding, but I cannot still, even with that modicum of wisdom, resist!

      Interesting that said Weiner did not go to Rome, that from your list only, I assume he dismissed Christianity entirely. His travel was certainly of the mystical. Just this morning I was reading the classic, The Way of Zen by Alan Watts (friends of Ginsburg and the beats): “Zen Buddhism is a way and a view of life which does not belong to any of the formal categories of modern Western Thought….It is an example of what is known in India and China as a “way of liberation,”…a way of liberation can have no positive definition. It has to be suggested by saying what it is not, somewhat as a sculptor reveals an image by the act of removing pieces of stone from a block.” I like that very much.

      Thanks for kicking up the heat on my gray matter. Badly needed on such a “brisk” day.

  2. LOL. H. and I have pondered whether he pronounces it:
    weiner as in whiner,
    or weiner as in weenie?

    No good choices.

  3. […] found the word in a post on doug burns’s blog …the house i live in… i have edited the relevant bit of the post down to its essentials for clarity because, i love him, […]

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