HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Two Poems
by Jacqueline Marcus
Author's Links

René Descartes

Three centuries ago, René Descartes
had nothing better to do than to contemplate the proof
of his existence. This was not an easy matter
by any means.
He was locked in for the winter
with only a fire, the table, his pen, paper, ink,
and the bed where he dreamed of the fire, the table,
the pen, paper and ink so vividly that he was forced to ask
the infamous question, "How do I know if, at this precise moment,
this is a dream or waking reality?"
He stared at the fire. He looked at his hands. He raised his hands.
He folded his hands on the table. He hit the table.
"None of this proves that this is waking reality.
And if I am dreaming-then,
then what? Then nothing is at all certain."
Predictably, Descartes despaired,
doubting everything in sight, the pen, the table, his handsę
when suddenly, he taps a ball of wax and holds it to the fire,
postulating its essence. "What is this thing called, wax?
Is it something more than its secondary qualities?
And when I hold the wax before the fire,
the wax melts. It is messy.
It is not the same wax. And yet, it is the same wax.
But how do I know it's the same wax?
! Reason allows me to know the unchangeable essence of the wax."
And so the days passed in this fashion for Descartes,
as he meditated and kept a diary of his thoughts.
One morning, Descartes began to believe
that he was being deceived by an Evil Genius.
It was one of those dark, winter mornings,
and he was rather temperamental.
His hands were cold and no wood for the fire.
(This was after the conclusion of the First Meditation
when he could not prove the existence of the external world
nor could he prove, with certainty, his own
He woke up cold and hungry. He opened the door
and called for his breakfast,
"Plus de bois! Mon petit déjeuner, s'il vous plaît!"
That is when he sat down at the table, tipped his pen
into the bottle of ink, and began to write,
"God is a miserable Deceiver. He has led me to believe all sorts
of things, all kinds of foolish things:
That tables exist, chairs exist, and this pen!
He makes me think that two plus three are equal to five
when two plus three could be equal to six! Cruel Deceiver!"
At that moment, a knock is heard on the door.
He panics. "What am I saying?" What was I thinking?
The Church will torture me!" He quickly rips the paper and burns it in the fire.
Fortunately, it was only the girl with his breakfast.
Eventually, the snow thawed and the first leaves of spring, flowered.
Descartes opened the door to his flat,
and walked into the brightness.
Sometimes, he could be seen jumping up and down
the avenue, as if he were in a dream,
attempting to prove otherwise,
but for the most part,
Descartes lived an ordinary life until Queen Christina
asked him to instruct her in his Meditations
at five o'clock in the morning, which led to a terrible fever,
and he died one cold, indubitable night-
just when the sun was beginning to break across the horizon.


"Socrates is at it again," said Cebes to his friend, Phaedo.
"He's been standing in front of the Acropolis, motionless, all morning.
What do you suppose it means, Phaedo?"
"It means that his daemon is preparing him for death." replied Phaedo.
"It does?!" asked Cebes with curious alarm.
What do you mean to say, Phaedo-that Socrates is going to die?"
"Yes. That is exactly what I mean," said Phaedo.
"But how do you know?" asked Cebes.
"Because," answered Phaedo, "That's the way Plato wrote the dialogue.
And whatever Plato says-goes."
"That is certainly true," said Cebes.

(Socrates overhears the conversation and steps out of character)

I'm getting a little tired of Plato taking the credit for my ideas!
Just because he wrote my ideas down on paper-
does not make him the author of those ideas.
am the author of The Allegory of the Cave. I came up
with the theory of the Forms.
the one who drew the line between appearances and Reality!
Plato is the biggest plagiarist in the history of philosophy!
By Hera - he is!
And now he's making me pay the price for it
by hanging me up in court-by forcing me to defend philosophy
as if it were a matter of life and death.
How many times have I told Plato not to put words into my mouth.
Cebes? Answer, my friend,
and tell me if you ever heard me say
that the unexamined life is not worth living?

(Cebes turns to Phaedo, perplexed, confused)

Is this part of Plato's dialogue, Phaedo? Am I to answer?
I don't quite understand what's happening?

(Socrates facing his readers)

Do you see what I mean? Look at that. It's despicable.
Cebes can't think for himself without Plato's instructions.
It's always, "Yes," and "Certainly," and "True," for Cebes.
That is the extent of Cebes' vocabulary
under Plato's dictation.
In any event, I never said that the unexamined life
is not worth living. I told Plato
that there are times when I wish to be left alone.
I never wanted to be a martyr nor did I want to drink hemlock.
All of these events took place in Plato's imagination.
I had my ideas. I liked to question conventional opinions and customs-
all of that is true enough, but Plato took the matter
into his own hands. He went too far.
(Socrates walks back to the Acropolis)


(Cebes runs towards the readers in dismay)

Phaedo? I don't understand? What's happening? Should I say something?

HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.