November 27: Addams Family Utopia

The Seelbach. "Bourbon does more than More could do/ To bring Utopia into view."

How was everyone's Thanksgiving? I made Seelbachs which went over big. There was also turkey of some sort. And, the most American thing of all, Ritz Cracker dressing. I had also read the excerpt from More's Utopia but was a little too wiped out to write about it.

I'm not going to beat myself up too much, though, because one of the shocking things from the reading is that Thomas More, who wore a hair shirt as a constant reminder of self-mortification, takes up for the cause of self-esteem:
Then if it be a point of humanity for man to bring health and comfort to man, and specially (which is a virtue most peculiarly belonging to man) to mitigate and assuage the grief of others, and by taking from them the sorrow and heaviness of life, to restore them to joy, that is to say, to pleasure: why may it not then be said, that nature doth provoke every man to do the same to himself? For a joyful life, that is to say, a pleasant life... if thou not only mayst, but also of duty art bound to procure it to others, why not chiefly to thyself, to whom thou art bound to show as much favour as to other? For when nature biddeth thee to be good and gentle to others she commandeth thee not to be cruel and ungentle to thyself. Therefore even very nature (say they) prescribeth to us a joyful life, that is to say, pleasure as the end of all our operations.
I'm still kind of blown away from that -- that's like the last attitude I would expect from a martyr of the Church.

I also want to emphasize the "very nature prescribeth to us...pleasure as the end of all our operations." Most of the "cultural literacy" handwringing that gets into the media makes being acquainted with some of the treasures laid up here in Western Civ feel like a painful duty. The headline might as well be, "WHY AREN'T OUR CHILDREN SUFFERING MORE?" But in reality it's been pleasurable, this year, loping around the Excerpt Museum like a baboon. Maybe it's not fun in the going-to-Disneyland sense, but it's a pleasure to read and talk and think about things outside of the sucking vortex of oneself and one's own problems. You are not alone, etc. And it's nice to see More speak up for it -- he does seem like a man who really enjoyed sitting around the table talking about stuff, even if his guests must have wondered why he itched so much.

However, Utopia itself, as described by More, looks to be a very tedious place. I know that allowances must be made, as he was inventing this genre, but it all seems very Addams Family -- i.e. the things they like are the opposite of the things we like! Check it:
For whereas they eat and drink in earthen and glass vessels, which indeed be curiously and properly made, and yet be of very small value: of gold and silver they make commonly chamber pots, and other like vessels, that serve for most vile uses, not only in their common halls, but in every man’s private house. Furthermore of the same metals they make great chains, with fetters, and gyves wherein they tie their bondmen.
Heavy stuff. And, you know, dollars are just pieces of paper, man. Utopia is also not a place for the individualist:
If any man of his own head and without leave, walk out of his precinct and bounds, taken without the prince’s letters, he is brought again for a fugitive or a runaway with great shame and rebuke, and is sharply punished. If he be taken in that fault again, he is punished with bondage.
It would have been hell on Thoreau.

0 comments: