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VOL. 38 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 21, 2014

Reminiscing about nothing – and its long history

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Season 4, Episode 3: “The Pitch.” The show: “Seinfeld.” The theme? Let’s call it “the absence of anything.”

It’s actually the first half of an hour-long show that ran during the show’s normal TV lifespan. It has run as a half-hour episode in syndication for the past 100 years or so.

Essentially, the “pitch” refers to Jerry and George’s trying to sell NBC execs on the idea of a sitcom, to be written, in part by George, that will be “a show about nothing.”

At one point, George rants at the suits: “Look, if you want to just keep on doing the same old thing, then maybe this idea is not for you. I, for one, am not going to compromise my artistic integrity!”

Which is funny, because George is no artist and he has no integrity. And never will really create something – from anything, let alone nothing.

The concept fascinates me. For, in the same way that the guy who seeks to have humility fails the moment he proclaims that he has succeeded, one who writes about nothing succeeds only after creating something.

There are times when I, as a columnist, have nothing. No column in mind. No plan. No strategy. No energy. No memory of recent interesting events. No urge to wrack my memory for meaningful childhood or young-adult experiences.

And, to boot, no time.

Not really, anyway. There’s packing to be done for the trip to New York, the subject of next week’s column. Yes, next week, I will write about something.

This week, though, I continue my fascination with the absence of anything.

That which many religions teach existed before creation.

Except that these same religions hold that at the time when nothing existed at all, a creator God was somehow there, pre-existent, and had been around for, like, forever. Which, for present purposes, implies – or, at least, from it I infer – that there was always something. That there was never really just nothing.

“Nothing” has been the topic of some deep, diligent philosophical study. I have no desire to research this at the present time, but I’m going out on a limb and guessing that shortly after we humans got a grip on this thing we call communication, and shortly before creating the first word games, riddles and puzzles, we started waxing about that which we understood only because of its absence. Which is, to say, nothing.

Nothing being absent, we came to appreciate anything. Or something, at any rate.

Am I making myself clear? Without looking it up, I’m saying Plato, Aristotle and Socrates all had something to say about nothing. And that they were not the first to do so.

They probably acknowledged the great minds before them who also thought about nothing.

Now, as I come to the end of my allotted verbiage, I remind you that, because I’m looking nothing up – or, rather, I’m not looking nothing up – I will not subject you to the obligatory list of nothing-synonyms, phrases that include nothing, etc.

Nothing of that sort today. So, there.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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