A Trifluvian philosopher

There was a man named Alexis Klimov, who lived in Trois-Rivières. He was of Russian ancestry, but Belgian birth, if memory serves. More importantly, he was a contributor to my Idler magazine, in its heyday of the mid-to-late ‘eighties, when it appeared that pre-industrial, mystic Toryism was going to work out. (By Christmas of 1993 we were “liquidated,” as the accountants say.) I liked this man very much, even though he was not a conventional Christian. But then, I was an Anglican myself, at the time. Still, more Thomist than Klimov; more Aristotelian; and less Existential.

His first essay, within the old Idler (April 1985), was entitled, “In Praise of the Useless Man.” It had been self-inspired by the confusion he created when, in an effort to honour the Serbo-Canadien mathematician and storyteller, Négovan Rajic (also an Idler contributor), he had called him — publicly — a useless man; a truly superfluous man; a man who is, in some cosmic sense, unemployed and relentlessly unemployable.

Rajic himself was abashed by such high praise; but others in the audience did not understand it. Thus it fell to Klimov, in the tradition of the half-mad, prophetic Russian thinkers, to explain. The terms come, I believe, from Vasily Rozanov (1856–1919), who died of starvation in a monastery soon after the Bolshevik Revolution.

“Will it be Shakespeare, or a pair of boots?” as Klimov echoed.

His essay for us (a whole book in French) surveyed the history of uselessness in modern man, and in particular the eschatological nature of this uselessness, from Bruegel’s Fall of Icarus to the clairvoyant dwarf in Fellini’s Juliette of the Spirits. It ended with a noble cry for pointless activity, even in academia.

I mention him now because I learnt, by old-fashioned hand-writ snailmail letter over tea this morning, that Alexis died in 2006, age short of seventy.

“What a useless thing to do!” was my first thought.

The second was to recall his use of the adjective, “Trifluvian,” which he made into a bilingual portmanteau on “tri-fluvial,” and on “trifle” or “trivial,” in honour of both his residence in exile, and his ideological stance. He referred to himself as, “a Trifluvian philosopher.”

The third was to cross myself and pray for the repose of his soul: one of us moderns, or post-moderns, trying to find some sense in this world that is directed to purposes above “efficiency” and “planning.” Or rather, does not look only above, but around and through, under, and behind, these irritant obstructions, to purposes that are not purposes like those purposes.

This had, when I was last following, taken Klimov back through Berdyaev and Dostoyevsky to his Orthodox roots; though I lost track of him. I pray he ended not only uselessly, but well.

And in commemoration I have brewed a fresh pot of smoky Lapsang Souchong: in a small clay pot, for multiple infusions; made of Yixing purple clay, and warm like a little being. Perched squatly on my plank bench, like a soulful silent bird.


Tea, I would tell the Klimov called before me — in a rather pagan, whisp-bearded, and squint-eyed sort of Way (recalling that of Taoist sages) — is non-efficacious. For the fact appeals to me, that the proteins and carbohydrates in tea leaves are not water-soluble. It is useless, thus, for nutritional purposes: a scientist would be lucky to find one calorie in the whole cup. The vitamins are also destroyed by the boiling. Anything of dietary value can come only from the adulterants some people put in.

On the other hand, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of other chemically-detectable substances in the drink, including a wee galaxy of amino acids.

It thus falls in that category to which Christ alludes, in His recollection of the Prophets: “Not by bread alone.” … Or, inside the outside, in that category which is outside the inside of the outside, as it were.

Not by bread alone; but by every word, by every “useless” word, that proceeds from the Father.

Here, it seems to say, at the head of the chapter on the chemical components:

“The act of drinking Tea must be appreciated for its own sake, without seeking any other justification, for only thus can the tea-drinker taste the sunlight, the wind, and the clouds.”