Two ducks at a standstill in a wind storm. Paddling, treading water, their webs invisible. Lightly dancing, a perpetual motion machine.




Anyway, these two creatures managed to escape the fate that befell their brother or sister. A buzzard as the perpetrator? Or a fox perhaps.




I was never a bio-detective. I am usually pretty alert for things around me. But ever with my bird-watching parents on walks out in nature, they saw everything – I saw nothing. With or without their binoculars they would point to a forest and call the names of this or that species of fowl. What I saw was only a green wall.

Yet, there was a time when I wanted to become an ethologist and study animal behaviour. Ten days I was registered as a student at Groningen University, even had a room there. Then I decided that I really wanted to study philosophy – which my bird-watching father forbade me. In Leyden I studied social sciences, by this detour becoming a social philosopher.

That is why, at the sight of these two ducks, I am now able to throw in some Plato and Banville. Quoting not John Banville the novelist, but Banville’s alias Benjamin Black, the detective writer:

A strong shaft of sunlight through the window beside them had reached the corner of their table and was striking down through the polish and into the wood itself. Like a trout pond, Quirke idly thought, heather brown and agleam, the grain in the wood like underwater weeds drawn out in streels by the slowly moving current.

The eye just caught a glimpse of the swimming membrane of the ducks’ webs. That little orange thing you see is merely a twig. However, the camera did not manage to penetrate underwater, taking the appearance of its surface for the whole of reality. In the eye of its lens these ever moving ducks at a standstill become even more of a miracle than they already are in the eye of a man.

Idealistic Greeks used the example of a stick inserted in a water surface, thus seemingly broken, as a warning that all perception on this earth is sheer illusion. Horses around us are not the real thing; they are mere appearances of THE HORSE in a Heaven inhabited by their Ideal.

These ducks do not even give you that illusion; their body in that standstill perpetuum mobile simply are unreal. However, their floating tremble over the waters is such a miracle that – with a variation on Plato – I believe each one of them to be THE DUCK, that original of the duck supposedly existing only in the Heaven of Ideas.

Heaven on earth, that’s for sure.

Sierksma, december 2016 Elswout


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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