Belief and Contingency (VN Diary No. 13)

It's very hot today, in the nineties, and having gone out early for breakfast, I'm going to wait until late afternoon for an early dinner, then come back in. Vietnam continues to exert this weird pressure on my psyche. It's hard to describe, except to say that it has always, in each visit, forced me toward self-appraisal. Maybe it's just being cast into a city by myself where I speak the language only haltingly and where everyday customs are so different from what I am used to. Because I put little faith in the idea that any particular event is meant to be, I have a hard time accounting for my love of Vietnam and its effects on me. Philosophically, I am committed to the idea that contingency rules our lives as human subjects. I have no rational belief in larger purposes or patterns; I take a more Sophoclean attitude toward the relationship between humans and the world, that we make our fate in the face of contingency. That is, we do the best we can with what is given to us. (No piety intended here by the slightly pious language.) So I have been given Vietnam and it's necessary to make something out of the gift. Poetry in my case, or sentences, at any rate. Sentences as gestures toward comprehension. Given by whom? Given by chance, which I think makes my responsibility more imparative that if the gift had come from the gods or the predictable machinery of fate. Still, even in the absence of the gods, I am here to make my soul.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

2 thoughts on “Belief and Contingency (VN Diary No. 13)”

  1. I am really enjoying these Vietnam posts, especially the contemplative nature of this one. I recall hearing William Stafford say, “It’s not what life gives to you, it’s what you do with what life gives you.” Words to live by. Puts the responsibility back into one’s own hands.

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