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A Bird, a Boy, and a Bat

Marge Lurie

... of tables and chairs and pigeons

Proposition 1. "The world is all that is the case."
Okay, Ludwig. With you so far. Trivially true. Or something like that.

Proposition 1.1. "The world is the totality of facts, not of things."

Fact 1. Things were getting murkier by the second. "Okay," I told myself, "don't get upset. The guy was writing this stuff while tromping through battlefields. All he had was little index cards to write on. And who knows the last time he'd had decent sex, what with a war on and all. He'd write a proposition and pop it in his rucksack." Or so the story went. "You'll read the sequel, written when the war was over and he had a lot more paper at his disposal–not to mention a nice, cushy university position at Oxford, it must have been Oxford unless it was Cambridge–and it'll all snap right into focus."

Proposition 1.11. The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.

I lit a cigarette and tried to imagine a world in which all the facts could be assembled, lined up index card to index card. How many cards would you need? And would that fact–the fact that you'd always need one more card on which to write down how many cards made up all the facts of the universe–be accounted for? Would there be a card for it?

I could tell I was getting sidetracked, but still I was feeling rather proud of myself for tripping on what seemed to be my very own paradox. Having a paradox named after you in philosophy was like having a disease named after you in medicine, or an airport if you were a president, it was kind of an acme, so I was feeling tickled with the thought, when a bird flew in my window.

Fact 2. A bird flew in my window.

Fact 2.01. Birds don't belong indoors, particularly not NYC pigeon-birds. (Was that a fact or a simple, unexamined prejudice?)

Fact 2.011. I was starting to panic. In truth, I often panicked. Stuck elevators made me panic. A simple line at my cash register at the bookstore at the beginning of the semester could make me panic. I'd see all those students with their books and their irritation at having to stand in a bookstore line at all, and my fingers would start hitting keys randomly. The more spastic I became, the more irritable my fellow students became. And getting lost could make me panic. But I told myself that I was not lost. I was where I belonged. It was the pigeon that was in the wrong place. Quite possibly the wrong place at the wrong time–an expression which has never actually made any sense to me. Right place at the wrong time made sense to me. And right place at the right time made sense. And even the wrong place at the right time. (You're meeting a friend, and with the best intentions you get there on time, say, but you go to one coffee shop and they go to another. The wrong place at the right time.) But I was letting myself get sidetracked again.

I told myself that I was a person and the pigeon-bird-thing was not. Surely with all the accumulated wisdom of my species at my disposal, I would be able to restore my dorm room to the sanctuary of philosophical inquiry it had been before this feckless intrusion.

Fact 2.012. The pigeon looked like a flying rodent or a bat. But bats were smaller, I thought, and blacker.

I'd never actually realized just how big pigeons were. My eyes lit on proposition 2.01 of Wittgenstein's Tractatus: "A state of affairs (a state of things) is a combination of objects (things).

Fact 2.0121. This was definitely a state of affairs.

Fact 2.0122. Pigeons get cranky when they're cooped up in college dorm rooms.

Was I anthropomorphizing? And if I was, could I really be blamed for it under the circumstances? The pigeon was flying like a woman in a rage from one side of the room to the other. It batted itself from one wall to the next. And the more it hit the walls, the more crazily it flew, as if it were punch-drunk. A boxer who didn't know when to leave the ring.

Proposition 2.0123. If I know an object I also know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs.
(Every one of these possibilities must be part of the nature of the object.)
A new possibility cannot be discovered later.

Fact 3. It was becoming more clear to me by the second that I did not know this bird.

It was a Saturday night. The dorm was virtually empty. Everyone in their right mind was out enjoying one of the first warm nights of spring after a winter that wouldn't quit. I lifted my copy of the Tractatus, dodged the flying rodent/object/thing, and slid open the window it had just moments before sailed through. I waved Wittgenstein's early masterpiece at my interloper, ushering it graciously–more graciously than the situation required I thought–in the direction of the window. The pigeon flew away from the direction of my swing, deeper into the room.

I glanced longingly out the window, wishing I could fly away.

Fact 4. I knew without even having to ponder the matter that I could not fly away. I made a mental search of the room for blunt objects. My mental search produced nothing. The pigeon was getting weirder by the second, like it was sorry it had ever flown into my window. Its turns were getting wider and sloppier, it movements slower and jerkier, like me at the cash register at the start of a semester. The bluntest weapon I could think of was my dictionary. It wasn't the OED, but still it was weighty and filled with possibility. I lobbed it at the unsuspecting pigeon and it thudded to the floor, its wings flapping still. Then, as I watched, the pigeon stopped moving. I imagined I could see its little body stiffening before my eyes. I felt sick.

My roommate walked in then. "How's it going. You finish your paper yet?"

I was crouched over the dead bird.

"What are you doing anyway?" she said when she saw first me and then the bird. "Oh my god," she shrieked.

"The world is all that is the case," I said. I glanced over to the window then, in time to see a cousin of my dead pigeon-friend perch on our window sill. I flew across the room and slammed the window shut.

"I'm sorry," I mouthed through the window pane.

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