The Philosopher’s Nose

Rene-Descartes

The man sitting by the window in a meditative pose was on the verge of solving the mystery of the universe when he suddenly sneezed. That last piece of the puzzle had finally occurred to him in a flash but the faint thought he was about to grasp disappeared into air, lost again. It had been happening for years, just as he was about to understand everything about everything, right at that moment a damn sneeze would disperse his carefully arranged line of thought, making his eyes weepy for hours afterwards, and sometimes a blinding migraine accompanied this madness. He never told anyone because it was embarrassing; a great philosopher like him prevented each time from revealing the final meaning of existence by a sneeze. No, no, who would believe such a thing? People would think the almost-old man has gone mad. The end of genius, it was generally believed, was usually a descent into madness, maybe this was the beginning. He had been to numerous doctors and healers over the years, he had visited gypsies and sometimes, secretly, even fortune-tellers enquiring if there was any end to this strange ordeal of his. The doctors were of the opinion that excessive wine consumption was the cause, though it was equally likely that too much thinking over the years had corrupted his brain and soul and there was nothing that could be done. He stopped visiting the fortune-tellers after one of them, peering into a crystal ball, had told him that whatever it was that was bothering him, its full extent would only be known in the year 2014. After hearing this, he had understood that this mystery-sneeze had pulled him into the depths of unreason, and for quite a few days afterwards, he could not see himself in the mirror without lowering the eyes, feeling an immense shame at betraying his own rational philosophy just for a sneeze.

 

And then, liquid flew from his nose. His doctor, a Dutch trained in Padua, called this epistaxis. A heavy, fat, opaque blood, black as death, metallic like war, warm as love. A blood that did not stop flowing drop by drop, staining clothes, books and manuscripts. In the beginning, he played, drawing with his pen in it, making kabbalistic forms, drawings that others would have called alchemical. But he stopped on the edge of reason, a man like him could not get lost in these meanderings of thoughts. Yet this blood, that blood which kept flowing, transforming his pillow periodically into a vermilion tissue, would this blood cause him to lose the course of his philosophy, this idea of the ordering of the world, that metaphor which explains everything, this mathematical sentence which regulates the order of things? Was not everything becoming a drop of blood?

 

He was assured with confidence by his doctor that whatever it was, it was not life threatening, but each time now as the great philosopher sat down to think, all that appeared inside his mind was black blood. If he even dared to contemplate on the final mystery of life, he was seized by the expectation of a sneeze at the final moment, and the woman he so deeply loved he could not kiss, scared of staining her red mouth with his disgusting blood that appeared without warning, without pattern. His own reason, it seemed sometimes, made no sense anymore. By the year, 1650, he had lost almost completely the will to live, submerged completely into the thoughts of his own nose and nothing else.

 

 

In 2014, it was reported in The Lancet by a group of researchers that a CT scan of his skull had revealed a dense radio-opaque mass in the right ethmoidal sinus of 3·0 cm × 1·8 cm and 1440–1840 Hounsfield units. After a comparison with modern radioanatomical and forensic cases, they proposed a diagnosis of osteoma. They concluded, “such an organic lesion probably had no role in the cause and circumstances of death of René Descartes, who died due to an acute pneumonia in Stockholm, Sweden, on Feb 11, 1650, at the age of 54 years, without having solved the mystery of the universe.”

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