I begin my notes with a versified triad: *“Alas, hard earth, why didn’t you open up?”/Hard ground, why don’t you open up? – Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy. inferno, Canto XXXIII; *”Where are the snows of yesteryear?”/Where are the snows of old? – François Villon, The ballad of the old ladies; *”Today, even if I were to return,/I can’t understand anymore…/Where are you, childhood,/With your forest and everything?” – Mihai Eminescu, Oh, stay. All these verses are rhetorical questions in which the proper answers are implicit.
Rhetorical questions can be found not only in fiction, but also in oratory. Here are some examples identified in the perimeter of speeches from different eras and geographical contexts: *”What moment or occasion are you waiting for more appropriate than the present one? When will you do your duty, if not now?” (Demosthenes, The Third Olynx); *”Until, finally, will you abuse our patience, Catiline? How long will this madness of yours mock us? How far will your unbridled daring be unleashed?” (Cicero, Catilinaria the First); *”Does the Union not have to introduce strength and life into all the sins of the national and social body of Romania? Isn’t the Union supposed to give a strong impetus and development to all our wealth and interests? They have, through the Union, the egalitarian and civilizing principles contained in Article no. 46 of constitutive, will they not apply themselves with a redoubled energy and ease? Have, through the Union, the administration not have to acquire more unity of action and, therefore, also a greater emulation and activity for the public good, for the development of the good condition of our districts and cities?” (Mihail Kogălniceanu, Speech given in Focşani, October 1859); *”And I ask: which state or group of states, which institution, which form of human activity can present a record of positive results for the rapprochement of peoples, comparable to that of the League of Nations? So where can we develop our efforts to maintain peace with more probabilities of success as in Geneva? But if the League of Nations could not – given some organic deficiencies – succeed in maintaining the peace of the world, who could dare to say that it would have succeeded where it had not succeeded?” (Nicolae Titulescu, Conference presented at Cambridge UniversityNovember 19, 1930).
The fascinating universe of questions is not, however, limited to those of a rhetorical nature. Humanity’s spirituality has also developed through cognitive questions that await answers, the most common being: Who?; What the?; When?; Where?; Why?; How?; Which?. Numerous aphorisms could not bypass this type of linguistic externalization, used by people from early childhood until the end of their lives. I offer some of them for reflection: “I’m not trying to find out the answers. I try to understand the questions.” (Confucius); “Ask a good question and you will hear good things.” (Euripides); “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” (Voltaire); “Getting rid of a question doesn’t mean you’ve found the answer.” (André Gide); “When you ask a question… you illuminate things; it is about an illumination of them literally, a putting them in the light in the sense that you open a horizon where things can appear clearly or not.” (Constantin Noica).
Cognitive, non-rhetorical questions have a well-defined role in capturing the goodwill of the receivers, bringing them out of a possible indifference installed during a certain more extensive or complex oratory intervention (university lecture; parliamentary address; scientific communication; press statement; election speech etc.). I chose an eloquent example from the speech given by Jean de La Bruyère on June 15, 1693 on the occasion of his reception in the French Academy. Here are the questions that receive the appropriate answers: “Any orators gifted with ease of speech, who would have sown from the pulpit all the flowers of eloquence…? Do not look for them elsewhere, because they are among You!”; “Does anyone admire a vast and profound literature that begins to rummage through the archives of Antiquity, in order to extract from them things buried in oblivion, escaped the attention of the most inquisitive minds…? You have this science worthy of admiration!”.
From the area of poetic literature, we have selected six creations written in different periods of History: *Jiasheng by Li Shangyin – “The emperor, seeking guidance from the sages in exile,/He found no wiser wisdom than that of young Jia,/Whom at midnight he installed in the highest seat of the council,/But he put questions about the Gods, instead of asking him about men.”; *Quatrain by Omar Khayyam – “There are moments when it seems to me that everything I needed/To find out about the world, I have long ago discerned,/But the stars silently scold me from four corners:/”You have not solved any of the great questions.””; *question by Zaharia Stancu – “But can you catch sleep with your hands?/Can you catch the wind?/Can you catch time?”; *I saw the light by Marin Sorescu – “I saw the light on earth/And I was born too/To see how you are doing./Healthy? Brave?/How are you doing with happiness?/Thank you, don’t answer me./I don’t have time for answers./I barely have time to ask questions,/But I like it here./It’s warm, it’s beautiful/And so much light that/ The grass grows./And that girl, there,/Looks at me with her soul./No, honey, don’t mind loving me./I’ll serve you a black coffee, though./From your hand./I like that you know you do it/Bitter.”; *question by Ana Blandiana – “Why doesn’t everything mix?/Why doesn’t it cover/The glossy skin of the earth with fur?/Why doesn’t the green and tender grass sprout/On the hot spines of the beasts in the forests?/Why doesn’t trees grow wings/And birds roots?/Why don’t the happy pebbles chirp/From the river’s edge?/Why don’t I learn to hate?/Me why?/”Oh, God, what a tiresome child.”/Sighs the Angel .”; *the slow man by John Maxwell Coetzee – “Why does love, the very kind of love he claims to practice/need the spectacle of beauty to be brought to life?/What, in the abstract, have beautiful legs to do/with love or that matter with desire?/Or is it only about the nature of nature, about which no questions are asked?”.
There were always many questions spoken or written around me. I was pleasantly impressed by all those who knew what, how, where and when to ask something specific, and on the other hand, I was deeply intellectually uncomfortable with people who “just ask like that, to be on the job” ”, to make a pun.
In the volume Thoughts between words (2016) I introduced a series of notes about the question, among which: “The key is an object used to open a door, but also to lock it; likewise, a question can open a conversation or close it.”; “Question X married answer Y, after he had completely charmed her.”; “Any question lives only until an answer is found and then it dies.”; “A smart question is much more valuable than a hundred hasty answers.”; “With a single question, Hamlet opened the fenced gates of Philosophy.”; “On a question in the field of painting, X “remained a painting.”; “Even if you don’t have an answer at hand, it’s good that you at least understood the question.”; “Question: can a woman also “fall in love”?”; “When asked “How old are you?”, Miss X tried her best to argue that she was born then.”; “When you give an answer to a certain question, give it with all responsibility.”; “Female dialogue at the Louvre Museum: “Where are your hands, dear Venus?” Gioconda asked the beauty of Milo who answered with a question: “But where are your feet, my dear?”; “I think that any question is happy when it finds the right answer.”; “Every question waits for an answer, as every girl waits for her lover”; “The question is the “adoptive mother” of an answer.”; “The question seems to be the hook on which many truths hang.”; “Sad must be the question that does not find a suitable answer!”; “The answer used to be taken to the questions.”.
We live in a world of many rhetorical and cognitive questions. Probably, humanity will die out when the Question and the Hope will no longer exist.