Changing My Mind: An Autobiography


Vincent van Gogh, Long Grass with Butterflies, 1890

by M. Munro

We seem rather to be before a musical theme, which had first been transposed, the theme as a whole, into a certain number of tones and on which, still the whole theme, different variations had been played, some very simple, others very skillful. As to the original theme, it is everywhere and nowhere.[1]

Desire makes all things bloom, possession withers them all; it’s better to dream one’s life than to live it, although to live it is still to dream.[2]

ZHUANG ZHOU DREAMS HE IS A BUTTERFLY: it’s well known that on awakening he wonders whether he might be a butterfly dreaming s/he is Zhuang Zhou. What’s less well known is where the story goes from there. “Surely, Zhou and a butterfly count as two distinct identities!”[3] Surely. And yet the next and final sentence reads: “Such is what we call the transformation of one thing into another.”[4] Is the distinction the transformation? But is it—are they—“one,” do they count as one, let alone a “thing”? Or is such not rather a blossoming?


Coda: What is Philosophy?

The same dream came to me often in my past life, sometimes in one form and sometimes in another, but always saying the same thing: ‘Socrates,’ it said, ‘make music (μουσικὴν ποίει) and work at it (καὶ ἐργάζου).’[5]

How do you translate désœuvrement? Whether as idleness, inoperativity, or worklessness, or as something else again entirely, something unheard of (even in Blanchot, Nancy, Agamben), the question is: What is given to be understood by désœuvrement in the very unworking of its concept? Might something be carried over by it, preserved in it, stowed away, fugitive, unsounded?

“Two Alaskan Kodiak bears joined a small circus,” so begins an apposite tale, “where the two appeared in a nightly parade

pulling a covered wagon. The two were taught to somersault, to spin, to stand on their heads, and to dance on their hind legs, paw in paw, stepping in unison. Under a spotlight the dancing bears, a male and a female, soon became favorites of the crowd. The circus went south on a west coast tour through Canada to California and on down into Mexico, through Panama into South America, down the Andes the length of Chile to those southernmost isles of Tierra Del Fuego. There a jaguar jumped the juggler, and afterwards, mortally mauled the animal trainer, and the shocked showpeople disbanded in dismay and horror. In the confusion the bears went their own way. Without a master, they wandered off by themselves into the wilderness on those densely wooded, wildly windy, subantarctic islands. Utterly away from people, on an out-of-the-way uninhabited island, and in a climate they found ideal, the bears mated, thrived, multiplied, and after a number of generations populated the entire island. Indeed, after some years, descendants of the two moved out onto half a dozen adjacent islands; and seventy years later, when scientists finally found and enthusiastically studied the bears, it was discovered that all of them, to a bear, were performing splendid circus tricks.

On nights when the sky is bright and the moon in full, they gather to dance. They gather the cubs and the juveniles in a circle around them. They gather together out of the wind at the center of a sparkling, circular crater left by a meteorite which had fallen in a bed of chalk. Its glassy walls are chalk white, its flat floor is covered with white gravel, and it is well drained, and dry. No vegetation grows within. When the moon rises above it, the light reflecting off the walls fills the crater with a pool of moonlight, so that it is twice as bright on the crater floor as anywhere else in that vicinity. Scientists speculate that originally the full moon had reminded the two bears of the circus spotlight, and for that reason they danced. Yet, it might be asked,

“what music do the descendants dance to?

“Paw in paw, stepping in unison . . . what music can they possibly hear inside their heads as they dance under the full moon and the Aurora Australis, as they dance in brilliant silence?”[6]

About the Author

M. Munro is author of the open access chapbook, The Map and the Territory (punctum books, 2021).


[1] Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1998), 171-2.

[2] Marcel Proust, quoted in Colton Valentine, “The Madeleine’s Metapragmatics: On Michael Lucey’s What Proust Heard: Novels and the Ethnography of Talk,’” Los Angeles Review of Books, April 14, 2022,

[3] Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings, trans. Brook Ziporyn (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 2009), 21.

[4] Zhuangzi, 21.

[5] Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1, trans. Harold North Fowler (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966), 60e,


[6] Spencer Holst, “Brilliant Silence,” in Flash Fiction: Very Short Stories, eds. James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1992), 17-18 [17-18].

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