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The Eternal Tickles

The pain caused by a sword or the tickling caused by a feather indeed tells me nothing whatsoever of the quality or even the worldly existence of a sword or a feather. (Arendt, tHC 114)

What if some bright, promising morning you awoke to discover a demon sitting on your chest, and the demon said, “I will stab you once with a sword now, and I leave open the chance I may stab you again another day, and you must bear the pain and the anticipation for as long as you must; or I will tickle you with a feather for eternity. You must choose.”

What would you say?



That’s easy, the sword.

But I guess it depends on how you feel about tickling.

Yeah, I thought so, too. If I’d constructed it properly, of course, the only choice would have been to curse or worship the demon or to force you to admit the worldliness of the sword or feather, but I was pressed for time this morning, and clearly, the title was more important than the demon’s choice.

The sword is not even as bad as a real fact of tHC: that we will all die some day. We know it must come, but we manage not to think about it most of the time.

Oh, mortality’s not so bad. It’s natural, anyway.

One thing that’s weird about this tickling business, by the way, is that in tHC, it comes up out of the blue. It’s apparent to me that, in likening tickles to pain, HA is referencing moments of being—what she calls worldessness, akin to Nietzsche’s sickness or Heidegger’s/Sartre’s nausea—fully unaware of anything but the body. It makes sense, but prior to the sentence above, she emphasizes pain as the only feeling that can cause such worldlessness. Why tickling all of a sudden?

I read the passage two or three times last summer before skipping it for greener pastures.

BTW, I hate you because you’re not in grad school anymore and can read books for pleasure.

There’s an easy way to fix that, you know.

(Of course, the only time I have set aside to read tHC is when I’m on the bus. I read between five and fifteen paragraphs a day. The rest of my reading is Henry James.)