opa


On a recent visit to Beijing with his parents, my grandson took quite a liking to a Dutch children’s song. I bounced him vigorously on my knee and sang a chorus, ‘Hop, paardje, hop; hop, paardje, hop’. When I stopped, he dug his heels in and jumped up and down for more:

For some reason, I remember my maternal grandfather doing the same thing, with a final gallop in which the rider is lifted up and then down to the floor with a huge ‘wheeee’.

Next time I will sing him the whole song in Dutch, which I have now found goes as follows:

‘k Heb mijn wagen volgeladen vol met oude wijven
Toen ze op de markt kwamen begonnen zij te kijven
Nu neem ik van mijn levensdagen
Geen oude wijven op mijn wagen
Hop paardje hop, Hop paardje hop

‘k Heb mijn wagen volgeladen vol met oude mannen
Toen ze op de markt kwamen gingen ze samenspannen
Nu neem ik van mijn levensdagen
Geen oude mannen op mijn wagen
Hop paardje hop, Hop paardje hop

‘k Heb mijn wagen volgeladen vol met jonge meisjes
Toen ze op de markt kwamen zongen zij als sijsjes
Nu neem ik van mijn levensdagen
Steeds jonge meisjes op mijn wagen
Hop paardje hop, Hop paardje hop

The translation of the this delightful song goes roughly as follows:

I have loaded my wagon full with old wives
When they came to the market they started to scold
Now I will never in my life
take old wives on my wagon
Go horsey, go. Go horsey, go

I have loaded my wagon full with old men
When we came to the market they started to conspire
Now I will never in my life
take old men on my wagon
Go horsey, go. Go horsey, go

I have loaded my wagon full with young girls
When we came to the market they started to sing like birds
Now I will take all my life
only young girls on my wagon
Go horsey, go. Go horsey, go

(ht cp for the great photos)

As one does, I have been reflecting on how I relate to my grandson, Zac, while reading Jameson’s The Hegel Variations. What fascinates me is the way Zac looks intently at me (all over my face, I’m told), responds and gurgles and chatters, knows my voice and smell and so on, and yet he is not conscious of being a person.

IMG_2806 (2)b

I have seen him now four times in his first five weeks of existence, so we have become quite familiar. OK, so he’s a baby. But the fascinating catch is that what is happening now, absorbed in the sheer immediacy of encounter on a daily basis, constitutes the building blocks of an identity. It’s the most formative period of his life, precisely when he has no consciousness of being anyone. My youngest daughter, who is in her senior years of studying psychology, tells me that if a baby is neglected in these early days – left perhaps with a bottle in a crib – then it will never catch up for the rest of its life. No risk of missing out on attention for Zac.

So where does Jameson come in? Riffing off Kant and Hegel, he explores the paradox that “consciousness is one of those philosophical problems which human beings are structurally unfit to solve” (p. 32). We know it exists at some level, but it remains perpetually unknowable as a thing-in-itself. So Zac’s current state is really the situation of all of us, except that he has the advantage of not yet having a consciousness. When he constructs one, he won’t be able to know it anyway, since it will then be a constitutive part of his being. The only way to know a consciousness as a thing-in-itself is not to have one, but then you are unable to know it.

I might discuss this with him when we next meet (in a few days).

Yes indeed, I will be a grandfather, a little after the half-year mark. I must admit I have been looking forward to at least two things about grandkids.

First, I get to enact my longstanding wish to be addressed as ‘opa’ – in good dutch tradition.

Second, when people ask me in various parts of the world, ‘do you have children’? I can now reply, ‘yes, and grandchildren!’