August 31: Emerson hates you

Nerd cake. Don't let Emerson see you eat it.

Do you like to read? Do you like to find out what great minds have thought, or are thinking, about the issues which concern us all, or escape into the world of a great story well-told? If so, Ralph Waldo Emerson would, with reservations, like to kick you in the groin:
Hence, instead of Man Thinking we have the bookworm. Hence, the book-learned class who value books as such.... Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees....Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When we can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings.
It's "The American Scholar," delivered to a bunch of pantywaists 181 years ago today, and as such the foundation document of Rocky Todd-ism (something I realize I have referenced twice before in relation to Emerson).

Not that Emerson is against reading -- in certain situations, he's for it. Actually what he seems to be for is misreading, in the Harold Bloom sense of the word (note that I have never read any Bloom, I'm just picking it up from the street) -- i.e., strongly and strenuously and bravely and manfully imposing your own brawny American powerful hairy reading on the nerd whose writing happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when it met you:
One must be an inventor to read well. As the proverb says, “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry out the wealth of the Indies.” There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion...The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakespeare, only that least part,—only the authentic utterances of the oracle; all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakespeare’s.
The discerning (almost literally, the illuminati) get to decide what authentic is. The rest of you can just go back to your sherry.

Also, get a job:
Years are well spent in country labors; in town, in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with many men and women; in science; in art,—to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions...This is the way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the workyard made.
Maybe it's appropriate to the Genius of this country that one of our founding intellectual documents should be so anti-intellectual.

August 30: Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning


More this-thing-then-the-other-thing Meditations from Marcus Aurelius today (is this only the second Aurelius excerpt? Looks like). And in this one we learn that M.A.'s natural tendency was to wake up on the wrong side of the empire:

Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bedclothes and keep myself warm?
—But this is more pleasant.
—Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?
—But it is necessary to take rest also.
Being a philosopher and a Roman emperor, he wins the battle against the snooze button. I'm neither of those things and so I often lose it. Of course snooze technology is much more advanced in our time -- back then, I imagine, there was a member of the Imperial slave staff specially designated for the job, to come back to Aurelius's bedroom every ten minutes or so, and start reciting news headlines, or the popular songs of the day, or maybe just shout "WAKE VP!"

Moving on...this meditation seems kinda environmental:
I go through the things which happen according to nature until I shall fall and rest, breathing out my breath into that element out of which I daily draw it in, and falling upon that earth out of which my father collected the seed, and my mother the blood, and my nurse the milk; out of which during so many years I have been supplied with food and drink; which bears me when I tread on it and abuse it for so many purposes.
On the other hand, this mediation:
I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever.
Might be anti-environmental -- what's the difference between oil in the ground and carbon dioxide in the air? It's all the same stuff. If there's a circle of life then no point on the circle should be more privileged than any other point. Whether you're enjoying the seaside or drowning, same difference!

Finally, an argument against watching cable news:
Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.
This is the "wholesome" argument; all of us here spending time on this blog are better people for hanging out with the greats. Well, I hope there's something to that, anyway.

Finally finally, this song isn't really on point, but it does seem kind of cosmic for something written for "Blackbirds of 1933." It's not interesting as a video, but one of the things I like about YouTube is the way people use it as a radio; and besides, it features Lee Wiley, one of my favorites:

Dilettanti!

The Golden Asses, 1761. Little did they know that the painting would come to reside in crazy America.

Yesterday, while I had the pleasure of a notes call, the wife and son went to the Getty Villa out Mailbu way, and it turns out their current exhibition is about the Society of Dilettanti, 18th-century British dudes who gave our language the word "dilettante," like so:
The Society of Dilettanti was dedicated to "encouraging, at home, a taste for those objects which had contributed to their entertainment abroad." The group's name introduced the word dilettante (from the Italian dilettare, "to delight") into English and celebrated the interests of the amateur. From informal gatherings in Italy to ceremonial meetings in London, the Dilettanti cultivated a sense of kinship and conviviality. Seria ludo (Serious Matters in a Playful Vein), one of the group's principal toasts, expressed its blend of the learned and the lively.
To delight! Seria ludo! Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today proud to be a dilettante.

(They also had their ribald/pictures of phalluses side, according to my wife, but my son skipped that room to go look at the gardens.)

August 29: That Was No Lady


Yesterday I gave myself over to sexual politics, and today there would be plenty more meat, and spicy meat too, in the form of Plutarch's tale of Antony and Cleopatra, but instead of trying to tease out a Meaning I give myself over to the general awesomeness of the Cleopatra story. Just like a man, I suppose. Still:

...she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like Sea Nymphs and Graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. The perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight.
And Plutarch doesn't even tell my favorite Cleopatra story: how she came to Caesar rolled up in a carpet -- when the servants unrolled it, out she tumbled. She slept with him, too. When you're a small kingdom confronting an empire, you have to use every weapon at your disposal, I guess. Or maybe she just had a thing for Italians. What seems more likely is that she had a thing for rich guys. Plutarch, in a digression which is one of the reasons I enjoy him so, tells this story:
They had a sort of company, to which they gave a particular name, calling it that of the Inimitable Livers. The members entertained one another daily in turn, with an extravagance of expenditure beyond measure or belief. Philotas, a physician of Amphissa... used to tell my grandfather Lamprias, that, having some acquaintance with one of the royal cooks, he was invited by him, being a young man, to come and see the sumptuous preparations for supper.... [S]eeing eight wild boars roasting whole, says he, “Surely you have a great number of guests.” The cook laughed at his simplicity, and told him there were not above twelve to sup, but that every dish was to be served up just roasted to a turn, and if any thing was but one minute ill-timed, it was spoiled; “And,” said he, “maybe Antony will sup just now, maybe not this hour, maybe he will call for wine, or begin to talk, and will put it off. So that,” he continued, “it is not one, but many suppers must be had in readiness, as it is impossible to guess at his hour.
Egypt in 41 B.C., or the 2004 Bear Stearns Christmas party? You make the call! And I may learn to play guitar just so I can have a band called "Inimitable Livers."

Compared to Cleopatra's spring-break-with-money attitude, the Roman women in this passage all seem like Margaret Dumont.

Octavia, Octavian's sister, who is given to Antony, in particular seems like a woman of considerable talent -- she manages to keep civil war from breaking out not once but twice (She "further obtained of her husband, besides this, twenty light ships for her brother, and of her brother, a thousand foot for her husband.") But it's no good, according to Plutarch -- Antony can't quit Cleo, and Actium looms.

The whole thing is a good argument for a government of laws and not of men, for if you invest too much in people's personal qualities you are bound to wind up with someone like Antony eventually; he's a great character for us to consume, but then we're not the ones who have to go fight the civil war.

August 28: Against traditional values

Bicycling? You harlot!

I'm reading these books that were musty when my great-grandfather bought them, so yeah, I guess you could say I have conservative tendencies. Maybe I should describe myself with the Canadian phrase "Red Tory," which is meditated on here, but which I idiosyncratically define as a posture (and really, it's not much more than that) that advocates massive spending on public schools so that we can teach Latin in them. Or as an Episcopalian friend of mine once said, "Radical in theology, reactionary in liturgy."

But I could never be a real conservative as it's defined today, and it's because I'm so horrified at the way Goethe treats poor Gretchen in today's Faust excerpt. Mephistopheles as allowed Faust to knock up Gretchen (who confusingly is also called "Margaret"; I feel that if a character is called Jim Bob he should stay Jim Bob and not alternatively be known as James Robert) -- and her brother tells her whose problem it is:
The time already I discern,
When thee all honest folk will spurn,
And shun thy hated form to meet,
As when a corpse infects the street.
Thy heart will sink in blank despair,
When they shall look thee in the face!
(Yes, yes -- the real crime is the translation. Tell me something I don't know.) And why is her brother so appalled at Gretchen's single-mom-ness? Because he loses face with the guys at the bar:
When seated ’mong the jovial crowd,
Where merry comrades boasting loud
Each named with pride his favourite lass,
And in her honour drain’d his glass;
Upon my elbows I would lean,
With easy quiet view the scene,
...Then smiling I my beard would stroke,
The while, with brimming glass, I spoke;
“Each to his taste!—but to my mind,
Where in the country will you find,
A maid, as my dear Gretchen fair,
Who with my sister can compare?”
Cling! Clang! so rang the jovial sound!
Shouts of assent went circling round;
Pride of her sex is she!—cried some;
Then were the noisy boasters dumb.

And now!—I could tear out my hair,
Or dash my brains out in despair!—
Me every scurvy knave may twit,
With stinging jest and taunting sneer!
In other words, Gretchen has no worth in herself, just in the honor she brings the family. When I hear the phrase "traditional values," or, we need to bring back shame, Gretchen's fate -- she goes crazy from her disgrace -- is the kind of thing I think of. Licentiousness brings about its evils too, but in this case I don't know whether a conservative return to the ancien regime is the cure. If you're driving on the left shoulder of the highway, driving on the right shoulder is not the solution.

August 27: I quit

for today. I think you might need a day off too; tell your boss I said so.

Or, you can do what I cannot and read more Robert Burns.

Until tomorrow.

August 26: Unfortunate corroboration of a French stereotype

From Medieval Times, of course. The Battle of Crécy was like this, but with less dry ice.

I haven't learned nothing doing this project, for I now know the difference between Froissart and Holinshed. I know, it seems useless, but what if I'm kidnapped by a lunatic medievalist? Actually, in that case, my knowing who Froissart is would probably be bad -- it would only accelerate my natural tendencies towards Stockholm Syndrome.

Here we have the battle of Crécy -- accent aigu, nicht wahr? -- and I hate to say this, but it is yet another military disaster for the French:
The lords and knights of France came not to the assembly together in good order, for some came before and some came after in such haste and evil order, that one of them did trouble another. When the French king saw the Englishmen, his blood changed, and said to his marshals: ‘Make the Genoways go on before and begin the battle in the name of God and Saint Denis.’ There were of the Genoways cross-bows about a fifteen thousand, 1 but they were so weary of going afoot that day a six leagues armed with their cross-bows, that they said to their constables: ‘We be not well ordered to fight this day, for we be not in the case to do any great deed of arms: we have more need of rest.’ These words came to the earl of Alençon, who said: ‘A man is well at ease to be charged with such a sort of rascals, to be faint and fail now at most need.’ Also the same season there fell a great rain and a clipse 2 with a terrible thunder, and before the rain there came flying over both battles a great number of crows for fear of the tempest coming. Then anon the air began to wax clear, and the sun to shine fair and bright, the which was right in the Frenchmen’s eyen and on the Englishmen’s backs. ... Then the English archers stept forth one pace and let fly their arrows so wholly [together] and so thick, that it seemed snow. When the Genoways felt the arrows piercing through heads, arms and breasts, many of them cast down their cross-bows and did cut their strings and returned discomfited.
"Genoways" means "Genovese" -- the hired Italians. So it's also an Italian military disaster -- another stereotype confirmed. To be fair to the Genoways (I like that name, because to me it sounds like the name of a supermarket), when you have an arrow through your head, you are often discomfited.

The wikipedia article on Crécy is one of those too-much-information specials -- if you let the boys get started with their military history, they'll be there all night -- and the entry for the Hundred Years War, for which Crécy was the powerful opening act, is little better. But maybe it's because the Hundred Years War is barely comprehensible to me. Froissart's a terrific snob, so the whole passage is filled with updates on what Charles of Luxembourg and Louis of Blois and various sirs were doing, but I can't help thinking of the regular footsoldiers. What are they doing there, fighting for the claim of a king who doesn't even speak their language? The nobles don't have anything else to do, plus they have their code of chivalry, so it makes sense they're on the battlefield; but all I can think is that being a peasant must truly suck, if the risk of being discomfited to death, via arrow, seems preferable.

But when you think about it, the honest peasantry has always been, and is now, willing to go get ground up in the dark Satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution, so there's another confirmation -- peasanting is no kind of life.

Finally, here's your chivalry for you, starting with the poor Genoways:
When the French king saw them fly away, he said: ‘Slay these rascals, for they shall let and trouble us without reason.’ Then ye should have seen the men of arms dash in among them and killed a great number of them: and ever still the Englishmen shot whereas they saw thickest press; the sharp arrows ran into the men of arms and into their horses, and many fell...And also among the Englishmen there were certain rascals that went afoot with great knives, and they went in among the men of arms, and slew and murdered many as they lay on the ground.
The French kill their own men and the English kill the wounded. Western Civ rules!

August 25: Science is complified

126
Figure 126.


Here's a bunch of sentences from today's reading, Kelvin on the tides:
If I were asked to tell what I mean by the Tides I should feel it exceedingly difficult to answer the question.

But I fear I have got into questions which are leading me away from my subject, and as I cannot get through them I must just turn back.

I will not enter into details, as it would be useless for those who already understand the tidal theory, and unintelligible to those who do not.

I would like to explain to you the equilibrium theory, and the kinetic theory, of the tides, but I am afraid I must merely say there are such things...
Kelvin (who, like most scientists, makes us humanities people feel like ignoramuses) was giving this as a public lecture -- this being 1882, before we found ways of filling our evenings that didn't turn us into huge nerds. And, even though he was good at that, and even though tides are something we've all experienced, it turns out to be a subject that's super-tricky to explain.

Kelvin's problem seems to be related to Burke's problem of a couple of days ago -- it's hard to generalize when there are so many particulars that have to be accounted for. In this instance, there's "tide" as a word for "current"; effects of the sun, and the wind, have to be distinguished; and there's math:
The moon attracts the nearest point (B) with a force which is greater than that with which it attracts the farther point (A) in the ratio of the square of 59 to the square of 61. Hence the moon’s attraction on equal masses at the nearest and farthest points differs by one fifteenth part of her attraction on an equal mass at the earth’s centre, or about a 4,320,000th, or, roughly, a four-millionth, of the earth’s attraction on an equal mass at its surface.
The reader may find him or herself back in school, looking up at the ceiling and wondering if an interesting pattern may be derived from the tiles.

The plus side is that, unlike philosophical distinctions, all this distinguishing seems to get us somewhere. At one time we might wonder "Why are there tides?," at another, "What is Beauty?," but we've settled the former question. I think this is why scientists, when they communicate with the general populace, generally seem more excited and happy.

I might also add that a discussion of the tides allows one to use the word "neap," which is an excellent word.

August 24: A Heroic Nap In The Face Of Disaster

I unsuccessfully tried to find an image for "Vesuvius Italian Restaurant," so I could make a joke about "9/11 New York Pizza" places 2000 years from now. But here's pasta!

The media loves anniversaries -- I just heard a Katrina-three-years-after piece on the NPR -- so I imagine they're going to go absolutely crazy 71 years from now at the 2000th anniversary of Vesuvius. Assuming, of course, Vesuvius doesn't blow again right before it, because nothing spoils an anniversary-news package like actual news.

The eyewitness account comes from Pliny the Younger, and his letter about the eruption also helps the general reader make a distinction between Pliny the Younger and Elder -- which is, the Elder is the one who died at the end of the narrative written by the Younger. Although, as so often happens in these disasters, it could have been otherwise:
A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance... was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine-tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches;...This phenomenon seemed to a man of such learning and research as my uncle extraordinary and worth further looking into. He ordered a light vessel to be got ready, and gave me leave, if I liked, to accompany him. I said I had rather go on with my work.
And then the Elder gets trapped and keels over, but not without some dying-Roman virtue first. Like many people who know how to find the History Channel on their cable systems, I am something of a Romanophile, and even though (as Curtis Mayfield says in the song "No Thing On Me"), I believe people are the same everywhere, I'm a sucker for that ostentatious Roman virtue in the face of disaster:
...he [Pliny the E.] embraced him [his friend he's trying to rescue] tenderly, encouraging and urging him to keep up his spirits, and, the more effectually to soothe his fears by seeming unconcerned himself, ordered a bath to be got ready, and then, after having bathed, sat down to supper with great cheerfulness, or at least (what is just as heroic) with every appearance of it.
Come on, there's food on the table. What, you're not gonna eat? What are ya, afraid or something?

And then Pliny takes a nap (he can be heard snoring). To be fair, they couldn't get the ship out, because of the winds and the earthquake-induced high seas, but a nap? On the other hand, he did keel over upon waking up, so maybe he knew the jig was up, and one doesn't want to head to Hades de-rested.

Also, in a footnote we read:
The Romans used to lie or walk naked in the sun, after anointing their bodies with oil, which was esteemed as greatly contributing to health, and therefore daily practised by them.
I don't think we see fat old naked Romans enough on the History Channel.

August 23: Learning Something About Myself

I don't like philosophy.

I like philosophical subjects, I suppose, but the readings I have the hardest times with are the ones where philosophers are waxing hard-core, with no concerns for the crossover market. Take today. There's no denying that Burke is a wonderful writer, but when he is practicing aesthetics I feel like I'm reading pudding.

Part of it, I guess, is that I am extremely unsystematic and philosophy seems to be all about systemic argument; and, in order to establish what something is, a huge amount of space has to be devoted to what it isn't. It's like, when you're writing a farce, you have to devote a lot of energy to blocking the exits -- closing off all the rational possibilities so that the ridiculous choices seem the only logical ones. Bad, made-up example: You ought to send the Count away, lest the air fresheners that your mother-in-law (who has suddenly dropped by) uses cause him to break out in hives, but today is the only day Chef Henri can come to make his favorite brunch dish, Eggs Palermo Fontana. That kind of thing. The scut work is in making sure you set up that Chef Henri is available today only, because if you drop it in at the moment when you need that fact, it seems awfully convenient. BUT you can't be too obvious about setting up Chef Henri, lest the audience hear the grinding of the machinery.

(There's probably about a thousand Wodehouse examples that would serve, but I don't feel like looking them up right now.)

In philosophy, however, it seems that the grinding of the machinery is exactly what the customers paid to hear. Thus Burke devotes pages to showing why Beauty is not merely a matter of Proportion. For my taste it would be enough simply for Burke to assert it and move on, but I see where that wouldn't be philosophical. Hence Burke has to prove at length that, well, swans are beautiful, but peacocks are also beautiful, and their proportions are totally different, so it's not that, and, besides, who ever praises a beautiful person for being proportionate? It is slow going.

I would further add my opinion that discussing aesthetics, like picking a fight, is in the class of things that only seem like good ideas when you're drinking. For example, I am not sure that us modern people quite agree with Burke's assertion here:

When we examine the structure of a watch, when we come to know thoroughly the use of every part of it, satisfied as we are with the fitness of the whole, we are far enough from perceiving anything like beauty in the watchwork itself; but let us look on the case, the labour of some curious artist in engraving, with little or no idea of use, we shall have a much livelier idea of beauty than we ever could have had from the watch itself, though the master-piece of Graham.
But I have no appetite for defending, or rejecting, this proposition. I am skeptical of the power of reason to change anyone's mind anyway, and if there's anything people ought to be allowed to be irrational about, it's their ideas of Beauty. Some may even find the elegance in Burke's arguments that I just can't see; but I hold to my opinion that this is more beautiful:



Unless it's sublime. I think we can all agree that the Caps sweater is hideous.


UPDATE: While driving around looking for soba noodles, I realized that the way you set up the Chef Henri thing is to cover it with a joke -- like, he belongs to a religion that observes metric time so every tenth day is their Sunday. It looks just like an amusing foible until it comes time to reschedule, and then the Chef can't do it because it's Tensday.

August 22: Torture

“Then I’ll make you one,” said the captain; and he came to the hatchway, and sprang on deck, threw off his coat, and rolling up his sleeves, called out to the mate—“Seize that man up, Mr. A——! Seize him up! Make a spread eagle of him! I’ll teach you all who is master aboard!”

The crew and officers followed the captain up the hatchway, and after repeated orders the mate laid hold of Sam, who made no resistance, and carried him to the gangway.

“What are you going to flog that man for, sir?” said John, the Swede, to the captain.

Upon hearing this, the captain turned upon him, but knowing him to be quick and resolute, he ordered the steward to bring the irons, and calling upon Russell to help him, went up to John.

“Let me alone,” said John. “I’m willing to be put in irons. You need not use any force;” and putting out his hands, the captain slipped the irons on, and sent him aft to the quarter-deck.

Sam by this time was seized up, as it is called, that is, placed against the shrouds, with his wrists made fast to the shrouds, his jacket off, and his back exposed. The captain stood on the break of the deck, a few feet from him, and a little raised, so as to have a good swing at him, and held in his hand the bight of a thick, strong rope. The officers stood round, and the crew grouped together in the waist. All these preparations made me feel sick and almost faint, angry and excited as I was. A man—a human being, made in God’s likeness—fastened up and flogged like a beast! A man, too, whom I had lived with and eaten with for months, and knew almost as well as a brother. The first and almost uncontrollable impulse was resistance. But what was to be done? The time for it had gone by.
This is from Two Years Before The Mast. At the start of this project I was skeptical about its inclusion into the Classics, but based on today's reading I see the point -- it has shown us material life, as opposed to abstractions, and here we see a portrait of the sadist given authority, as well as a very modern helplessness in the face of official evil. (It's also interesting, in this chapter, to see how tiny Los Angeles and San Pedro (the port) were in the 1830s, but that's beside the point.)

Then, after that, the Captain proceeds to flog John the Swede:
When he was made fast, he turned to the captain, who stood turning up his sleeves and getting ready for the blow, and asked him what he was to be flogged for. “Have I ever refused my duty, sir? Have you ever known me to hang back, or to be insolent, or not to know my work?”

“No,” said the captain, “it is not that I flog you for; I flog you for your interference—for asking questions.”

“Can’t a man ask a question here without being flogged?”

“No,” shouted the captain; “nobody shall open his mouth aboard this vessel, but myself;” and began laying the blows upon his back, swinging half round between each blow, to give it full effect. As he went on, his passion increased, and he danced about the deck, calling out as he swung the rope;—“If you want to know what I flog you for, I’ll tell you. It’s because I like to do it!—because I like to do it!—It suits me! That’s what I do it for!”
Because I like to do it. The only difference between that captain and our more recent horrors is that the technology is better; progress, of a sort.

August 21: One or Two Digressions on Augustine's Confessions.

Why isn't this post more insightful? Blame this guy.

Hey, Harvard Classics, what's with all the Jesus all of a sudden? Luther, Milton, and now this? August seems like the least Jesusy month. December would be number one, of course, then April or March, then November because of Thanksgiving -- basically I associate Jesus with cold weather, and the nice weather with pantheism. Why are you bothering me with redemption when I'm eating corn on the cob? This would explain California's religious culture, but would completely fail to explain Spanish Catholicism.

In our excerpt today, Augustine ("St. AugusTEEN is in Florida and St. AugusTIN is in heaven," one of my college professors once said) is about to pull the trigger and turn Christian, but can't quite. It is remarked to him how happy everyone will be because of his conversion. Augustine, like an observational comic, wonder what the deal is with that:
What then takes place in the soul, when it is more delighted at finding or recovering the things it loves, than if it had ever had them? ... A friend is sick, and his pulse threatens danger; all who long for his recovery are sick in mind with him. He is restored, though as yet he walks not with his former strength; yet there is such joy, as was not, when before he walked sound and strong. Yea, the very pleasures of human life men acquired by difficulties, not those only which fall upon us unlooked for, and against our wills, but even by self-chosen, and pleasure-seeking trouble.
I give Augustine credit for not answering the question. I'm sure somewhere else he says it's Original Sin or something. My own sense is that we're so ready to expect the worst -- the house always wins, you could say -- that any time the house loses we're pleasantly surprised. The question for Augustine (and Milton) is, why is the house against us?

Also noteworthy in this reading is Augustine's anticipation of the snooze alarm:
Thus with the baggage of this present world was I held down pleasantly, as in sleep; and the thoughts wherein I meditated on Thee were like the efforts of such as would awake, who yet overcome with a heavy drowsiness, are again drenched therein...And when Thou didst on all sides show me that what Thou saidst was true, I, convicted by the truth, had nothing at all to answer, but only those dull and drowsy words, “Anon, anon,” “presently,” “leave me but a little.”
I haven't complained about the translations in a long time but this is a work that would benefit from being modernized; it probably already has, only I've forgotten it, like everything else I read in college, apparently.

August 20: Malt vs. Milton -- The Blow-by-Blow


The Distilled Dynamo vs. The Puritan Assassin

I don't remember anything about reading "Paradise Lost" except the doggerel, "Malt does more than Milton can/To justify God's ways to man." Well, in honor of today's Paradise Lost excerpt, I think it's time to let the two of them face off in a Justification Debate. That's right -- two comforts against our cruel and implacable fate enter, one comfort leaves! Let's get right to the head-to-head.

(Note: the part of "malt" will be played by a bottle of single-malt whiskey.)

Milton's attacks his opponent early with his vivid description of the hangover:
O Sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell, how glorious once above thy sphere, ...
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.
Malt strikes back, however, with a peaty nose and notes of caramel. Although it's early, malt also recommends drinking plenty of water. Has Milton a similar remedy against his defects? What but Malt (or his sister pollutant, Caffeine), could get you through this sentence:
But rather to tell how, if Art could tell
How, from that sapphire fount the crisped brooks,
Rowling on orient pearl and sands of gold,
With mazy error under pendant shades
Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed
Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice Art
In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon
Poured forth profuse on hill, and dale, and plain,
Both where the morning sun first warmly smote
The open field, and where the unpierced shade
Imbrowned the noontide bowers.
Milton asks if we can get serious for a second and consider the terrible ways of human nature as embodied in our friend Satan. He is a selfish little guy:
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burthensome, still paying, still to owe;
Who, however, gets an A in geopolitics, since he believes that continuing on a suicidal course is preferable to looking weak in the eyes of others:
...Is there no place
Left for repentence, none for pardon left?
None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame
Among the Spirits beneath...
Malt, on its second round, asks who Milton is calling selfish. And then, its voice rising, Malt asks what the hell kind of God does such slipshod work on its one top-secret Project:
...Which when the Arch-Felon saw,
Due entrance he disdained, and, in contempt,
At one slight bound high overleaped all bound
Of hill or highest wall, and sheer within
Lights on his feet. ... as a thief, bent to unhoard the cash
Of some rich burgher, whose substantial doors,
Cross-barred and bolted fast, fear no assault,
In at the window climbs, or o’er the tiles...
What kind of God is like a rich businessman who doesn't know enough to put a security system in the windows? And why does God prefer blondes:
She, as a veil down to the slender waist,
Her unadornèd golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved
As the vine curls her tendrils—which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received—
Yielded, with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet, reluctant, amorous delay.
God also doesn't seem to be convinced that No means No. However, Malt, who's talking up the redhead at the bar he's had his eye on throughout much of the debate, shouts over a "You got that right," to a glowering look from what could be the redhead's boyfriend. Milton, plowing ahead alone, points out that, as a species, we're merely caught in the crossfire, re in the wrong place at the wrong time:
...Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest gates,
And send forth all her kings...if no better place,
Thank him who puts me, loath, to this revenge
On you, who wrong me not, for him who wronged.
No response from Malt, however, who is currently being stabbed by the redhead's boyfriend with a dart. Milton sighs and decides he'll only confine himself to church basements from here on out.

OT: My other free writing

Can be accessed, today, right here.

UPDATE: Permalink here.

August 19: 16th-century dudes part III: Parè

Buffoon -- prescription strength.

This, too, is the face of the 16th-century:
I found him in a high fever, his eyes deep sunken, with a moribund and yellowish face, his tongue dry and parched, and the whole body much wasted and lean, the voice low as of a man very near death: and I found his thigh much inflamed, suppurating, and ulcerated, discharging a greenish and very offensive sanies. I probed it with a silver probe, wherewith I found a large cavity in the middle of the thigh, and others round the knee, sanious and cuniculate: also several scales of bone, some loose, others not. The leg was greatly swelled, and imbued with a pituitous humor … and bent and drawn back. There was a large bedsore...
We're reading the journal of ace French surgeon Ambroise Parè, who's been summoned to treat a nobleman wounded after one of the interminable wars of religion that makes humanity so delightful. (A non-nobleman, of course, probably would have been dead already.)

I must ask the reader to click on the link for once, because the long paragraph where Parè lays out his plan of attack to cure the Marquis d'Auret is like a "House," where House is confined only to home remedies, and should be read in its entirety. All right, here's an excerpt:
Moreover, we must allow him to smell flowers of henbane and water-lilies, bruised with vinegar and rose-water, with a little camphor, all wrapped in a handkerchief, to be held some time to his nose...
You can see why they call it the medical "art." Later, after the Marquis is recovering, Parè prescribes a buffoon to keep his spirits up. That seems French to me, somehow. Also this:
And the peasants in the villages through which we passed, knowing it was M. le Marquis, fought who should carry him, and would have us drink with them; but it was only beer. Yet I believe if they had possessed wine, even hippocras, they would have given it to us with a will.
"Only beer." Only beer. I begin to see the passions of the wars of religion.

August 18: 16th Century Dudes Part II: Cellini

What Cellini did in his spare time.

For Luther, we are -- or should be -- all in this together:
A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, every man, has the office and function of his calling, and yet all alike are consecrated priests and bishops, and every man should by his office or function be useful and beneficial to the rest, so that various kinds of work may all be united for the furtherance of body and soul, just as the members of the body all serve one another.
Contrast this with the beginning of today's excerpt:
I HAD but just dismounted from my horse, when one of those excellent people who rejoice in mischief-making came to tell me that Pagolo Micceri had taken a house for the little hussy Caterina and her mother, and that he was always going there, and whenever he mentioned me, used words of scorn to this effect: “Benvenuto set the fox to watch the grapes, and thought I would not eat them! Now he is satisfied with going about and talking big, and thinks I am afraid of him. But I have girt this sword and dagger to my side in order to show him that my steel can cut as well as his, and that I too am a Florentine, of the Micceri, a far better family than his Cellini.”
Women, fighting, and revenge -- suddenly we're in a very different part of the 16th century forest. The part where such people where women, fighting, and revenge would also get you in in good with God and Luther's Christian nobility. Here, the King of France is talking after seeing one of Cellini's sculpures (he's already gotten the salt-cellar pictured above):
Since the Cardinal had made him no provision, we must do so, and all the more because the man himself is so slow at asking favours—to cut it short, I mean to have him well provided for... therefore see that he gets the first abbey that falls vacant worth two thousand crowns a year. If this cannot be had in one benefice, let him have two or three to that amount, for in his case it will come to the same thing.
How different from our own time! Not the sweetheart government deal, of course, just the fact that it went to an artist, instead of someone in the asphalt business.

I guess the Luther-Cellini comparison is a lesson in the power of ideas, because Luther helped get thousands of people killed and Cellini had to do it one at a time ("To him I said in Italian: 'If you offer any resistance to what I shall propose, upon the slightest word you utter I will stab you till your guts run out upon this floor.'") But, to be fair to Cellini, he was busy with other things. Here's the little hussy Caterina, who he married off at sword's point, hired as a model, and then beat to a pulp:
On the following morning Caterina came to our door, and knocked so violently, that, being below, I ran to see whether it was a madman or some member of the household. When I opened, the creature laughed and fell upon my neck, embracing and kissing me, and asked me if I was still angry with her. I said, “No!” Then she added: “Let me have something good to break my fast on.” So I supplied her well with food, and partook of it at the same table in sign of reconciliation. Afterwards I began to model from her, during which occurred some amorous diversions; and at last, just at the same hour as on the previous day, she irritated me to such a pitch that I gave her the same drubbing. So we went on several days, repeating the old round like clockwork. There was little or no variation in the incidents.
To quote Luther, "Jesus!" That's probably the high point of today's excerpt, in terms of jaw-dropping action, but getting the next model (15) pregnant and summing up the incident with, "This was the first child I ever had, so far as I remember. I settled money enough upon the girl for dowry to satisfy an aunt of hers, under whose tutelage I placed her, and from that time forwards I had nothing more to do with her" is a close second.

It's incredible. I guess Reformation looks pretty good with crazy men like these running around, although, from a consumer's point of view, the scamp wins, always. On January 2, 2009, when I'm done with this, I'm going to get a fire going in the fireplace and curl up and read Cellini.

August 17: 16th Century Dudes Part I: Luther

Wrong Luther.

Today we got Martin Luther, and tomorrow is his contemporary Benvenuto Cellini, so I might do some compare-and-contrast as I go. Cellini, of course, is my favorite, because he is such a titantic individual. Luther is a titantic individual too, but denies it; even though he battles with, well, Satan. Or, to give him his proper Italian name, Satani:
Therefore it must have been the arch-devil himself who said, as we read in the ecclesiastical law, If the Pope were so perniciously wicked, as to be dragging souls in crowds to the devil, yet he could not be deposed. This is the accursed and devilish foundation on which they build at Rome, and think that the whole world is to be allowed to go to the devil rather than they should be opposed in their knavery.
The work that's excerpted today is called "To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation," and it must have been music to their ears, because Luther tosses them the keys:
Since, then, the temporal power is baptised as we are, and has the same faith and Gospel, we must allow it to be priest and bishop, and account its office an office that is proper and useful to the Christian community.
When you are familiar with some of the abuses of the Church (just in tomorrow's excerpt, Cellini is given the income from an abbey just for sculpting good), you can see why Luther hoped the way he did -- the princes can't be worse, he must have thought. But of course it led to great bloodshed, so Luther, as it turned out, was a little naive. Naive, too, his hope for a council to help get everything right:
Councils have often put forward some remedy, but it has adroitly been frustrated, and the evils have become worse, through the cunning of certain men. Their malice and wickedness I will now, by the help of God, expose, so that, being known, they may henceforth cease to be so obstructive and injurious.
Whenever you hear someone say that the solution to some dispute (labor, territorial, what have you), is just "get all the parties in the room and lock the door," I beg of you, be more cynical. Luther hoped the same thing, and hoped, in addition, that all we needed was for the good people to have power and the bad people to be crushed. But he was to be disappointed in both hopes.

Tomorrow, however, we will see why a good German burgher might have gotten so horrified in the first place.

August 16: Change We Can Believe In

We all have our gorgeous rituals, although I like mine milk-free.

Psalms 100 to 109 today, blurbed with the customary this-was-used-by-the-finest-people attitude that puts the "classy" in "classics": "Burdened souls in all ages have found comfort in these songs that once were used in the gorgeous ritual of Jerusalem's temple." Like it's not enough that they're comforting, they were also used in a gorgeous ritual in a foreign capital. (For some reason it reminds me of an old National Lampoon ad for Ohio-made wine: "If you sent it to France, it would taste imported!")

The HC uses "Jehovah" in the Psalms in place of "The Lord," so you don't Christianize these gorgeous ritual accessories; that's a good thing, because then you can allow the Psalms to mean exactly what they say. So when you hear promises like
JEHOVAH saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand,
Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Or
Blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah,
That delighteth greatly in his commandments.

His seed shall be mighty upon earth:
The generation of the upright shall be blessed.

Wealth and riches are in his house;
Or
Jehovah is on my side among them that help me:
Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.
We can, at least this time, assume that our desire for our enemies means something closer to a Chicago smile than a fruitful exchange of views based on a framework of mutual understanding. Prosperity means prosperity, not "inner prosperity" -- Jehovah delivers the goods, that's the theme of Psalm 102 and 105. You think this temple got gorgeous all by itself? Not hardly, my friend.

The only inward looking one of this bunch, in fact, is 109, which seems like it was written by the sensitive one of the family, the only one who didn't go into politics even though there was a safe Assembly seat there for the taking:
My soul breaketh for the longing
That it hath unto thine ordinances at all times.

Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed,
That do wander from thy commandments.

Take away from me reproach and contempt;
For I have kept thy testimonies.

Princes also sat and talked against me;
But thy servant did meditate on thy statutes.

Thy testimonies also are my delight
And my counsellors.
You can see why his heart is breaking. Wouldn't most of us side with the princes? Even some of the other Psalms do, kind of, for what characterizes a prince more than wanting to fulfill his desire?

Some folks say that we should get religion out of politics, but how is that possible, if politics is built into the religion in the first place?

Photo of the rather overpraised Intelligentsia Coffee Shop in Silverlake by flickr user Kelsey*, used with a Creative Commons license.

OT: Still life with children


My one-year-old niece is staggering around while the grownups try to put themselves in the same condition. Gin-vermouth is 5:1, to those scoring at home.

August 15: Roland The Headless Saracen Fighter

There's probably way better versions of this on YouTube, but the amateur spirit appeals to me.


Have I done one of these bullet-pointy posts lately? I'm not going to go back and look in case the answer is "yes."

• I'm surprised the islamophobes -- the kind of people who are urging Europeans to make babies or succumb to the rising hordes in the banlieues -- haven't made more of The Song of Roland, what with stuff like this:
He saw the Saracen seize his sword;
His eyes he oped, and he spake one word—
“Thou art not one of our band, I trow,”
And he clutched the horn he would ne’er forego;
On the golden crest he smote him full,
Shattering steel and bone and skull,
Forth from his head his eyes he beat,
And cast him lifeless before his feet.
When you realize that the poem rewrote history (to make the Basques into Moors), you think it would be even more appealing to those folks. Why hasn't the Wall Street Journal editorial page already run an article asking why there aren't more archbishops like these:
When Turpin felt him flung to ground,
And four lance wounds within him found,
He swiftly rose, the dauntless man,
To Roland looked, and nigh him ran.
Spake but, “I am not overthrown—
Brave warrior yields with life alone.”
He drew Almace’s burnished steel,
A thousand ruthless blows to deal.
• This has got to be one of the longest death scenes in literature. In stanza 154, Roland, sounding his horn, literally blows his brains out ("Burst asunder his temple's vein"). Then he has a tender scene with his special friend Olivier, who's just been killed. Then he fights some. Then he carries Olivier back for a proper benediction. Then, as you've seen, he kills one last Saracen who tried to get his sword. Then he tries to destroy the sword, lest an Arab get it (sword = constitution, in our time). And then, like a good Frenchman, he makes sure his death is orderly:
With face to earth, his form he laid,
Beneath him placed he his horn and sword,
And turned his face to the heathen horde.
Thus hath he done the sooth to show,
That Karl [Charlemagne, not Marx -- ed.] and his warriors all may know,
That the gentle count a conqueror died.
That's stanza 195. Forty stanzas! After he blew his temple vein out! And he still has a two-stanza death speech! That is pretty legendary.

August 14: Cruisin'

Not only did Dana's ship only have salt beef, there was no shuffleboard.

We're back on the high seas with Richard Henry Dana, and it is a tale of bone-chilling bravery:
Monday, Nov. 10th. During a part of this day we were hove to, but the rest of the time were driving on, under close-reefed sails, with a heavy sea, a strong gale, and frequent squalls of hail and snow.

Tuesday, Nov. 11th. The same.

Wednesday. The same.

Thursday. The same.
It is exciting, isn't it? Speaking of "the same," I don't have much to add to the last time we sailed with Dana, except for a couple observations -- observation-ettes, really:

1. Our own comfort is based on the (sometimes-compensated) suffering of others.
I remember an English lad who was always the life of the crew, but whom we afterwards lost overboard, standing for nearly ten minutes at the galley, with his pot of tea in his hand, waiting for a chance to get down into the forecastle; and seeing what he thought was a “smooth spell,” started to go forward. He had just got to the end of the windlass, when a great sea broke over the bows, and for a moment I saw nothing of him but his head and shoulders; and at the next instant, being taken off his legs, he was carried aft with the sea, until her stern lifting up and sending the water forward, he was left high and dry at the side of the long-boat, still holding on to his tin pot, which had now nothing in it but salt water.
But the good people of Boston liked their tea just as much as that English lad did, whatever his name was, and so to ships they sailed. (And the other sailors all gave him some from their pot.) This seems like an extremely unremarkable observation, except that I think there's a myth, embedded in those corporate-image ads with wind turbines and stuff, of a kind of clean, freshly-showered future. But somebody always has to be below, heating the water.

2. The "elevating" nature of the Harvard Classics means it's kind of light on the details of daily life. (Fiction, which is good for gleaning details of daily life, is relegated to a separate shelf.) So this excerpt is helpful just because, even though a nineteenth-century sailor's life wasn't for everyone, at least we see people having dinner:
...we were allowed a tin pot full of hot tea, (or, as the sailors significantly call it “water bewitched,”) sweetened with molasses. This, bad as it was, was still warm and comforting, and, together with our sea biscuit and cold salt beef, made quite a meal.
As hellish as I imagine a cruise ship to be, it's better than molasses-sweetened tea.

(Photo by Flickr user mre770, used with a Creative Commons license.)

August 13: Hitting the wall

It's not always fun and games in Competitive Text Eating.

How is that I don't see myself in Epictetus, or Emerson, but this crappy poem, "The Scholar," by Robert Southey (the guy who Byron abused, here) gives me chills? Here's half of it:
My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.
It's not Southey's intention (I don't think so, anyway), but the effect is that of someone who's turned their back on life in order to hang out with the Dead, who don't talk back; I know he says he "finds Instruction," but if you only seek the company of the dead, what good is it? And then it's so badly expressed -- "Through all Futurity" can only be read with that kind of simpering, po-em voice that makes you want to smash something with a baseball, (or, as the case may be, cricket) bat. Elsewhere in the poem, the word "weal" is also used.

And then I see myself in it. What the difference between me and "The Scholar," after all? Aren't I wrapping myself up in personnels like old plaids (to use a far superior poem)? When you stare into the crappy poet, the crappy poet stares back at you. It's like being out at a bar, feeling yourself to be charming and well-lit, quite the center of things, and then you go into the bathroom and you look in the mirror under the interrogation-quality fluorescent light and you go, My God, I look like shit.

Don't you hit the wall in a marathon about two thirds of the way through? I think that's what's happening to me. This reading, and ol' Zeke yesterday, is my Heartbreak Hill.

Travelling


I'm away the rest of week and part of next. I intend to keep posting, but said posts may be furtive and photo-free.

As for today, if you like poems by Harvard graduates where country folk are named Zeke, and are all bashful, and dialect is represented by spellings like "Ez hisn," and "true sole" is rhymed with "shoe sole," then James Russell Lowell's The Courtin' is for you. But if not, not. It has a little bit of what they call on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour "nostalgie de la boue".

August 11: Dude, get stoic'd for this post!


Epictetus, the Stoic who isn't Marcus Aurelius, concentrates on the only two things a philosopher ought to concentrate on:


1) How best to bear the catastrophic misfortunes that are our fate, and 
2) table manners.

I would say the catastrophe/table manners ratio is about 60:40, and that makes sense if you think about it -- you eat every day, but how many times will your philosophy shop in the stoa be overrun by Macedonians? Twice, maybe?

For point 1, take saying CLXXXVI, which might also be titled How To Drown:
It is hard to combine and unite these two qualities, the carefulness of one who is affected by circumstances, and the intrepidity of one who heeds them not. But it is not impossible: else were happiness also impossible. We should act as we do in seafaring.

“What can I do?”—Choose the master, the crew, the day, the opportunity. Then comes a sudden storm. What matters it to me? my part has been fully done. The matter is in the hands of another—the Master of the ship. The ship is foundering. What then have I to do? I do the only thing that remains to me—to be drowned without fear, without a cry, without upbraiding God, but knowing that what has been born must likewise perish. For I am not Eternity, but a human being—a part of the whole, as an hour is part of the day. I must come like the hour, and like the hour must pass!
Now, you might think, with the knowledge of our drowning ever in front of us, Epictetus wouldn't mind if we cut loose once in a while, like, say, our buddy hooked us up with a case of Cutty that had the labels upside down. Not hardly, says Mr. E., proving that the E does not stand for Excitement:
Take what relates to the body as far as the bare use warrants—as meat, drink, raiment, house and servants. But all that makes for show and luxury reject.
That's point two -- don't let folks catch you not being Stoic.  But if Epictetus, in order to be a killdread, is also a killjoy (he warns against trying to get laughs, says people lose respect for you, but I swear he was looking somewhere else when he said it), at least he's not one of these ostentatious killjoys who's going to tell you how much they lost on Atkins or who raises an eyebrow when you order a beer at lunch:
When you have brought yourself to supply the needs of the body at small cost, do not pique yourself on that, nor if you drink only water, keep saying on each occasion, I drink water! And if you ever want to practise endurance and toil, do so unto yourself and not unto others.
Note it's how to behave at table again; more generally, of course, lots of people aren't like this -- they want everything they do to be known.  Similarly, some people also have great appetites for success, or just feel alive surfing the great bipolar waves of triumph and defeat.  Stoicism, which shuns this, isn't a good philosophy for winners.  In a way it's a philosophy designed to console you after you get the outcomes that arise from following it:
When you visit any of those in power, bethink yourself that you will not find him in: that you may not be admitted: that the door may be shut in your face: that he may not concern himself about you. If with all this, it is your duty to go, bear what happens, and never say to yourself, It was not worth the trouble!
Almost Eeyore-y, really.  

Two more excerpts to close, both of which struck close to home.   The first is about housekeeping:
When Xanthippe was chiding Socrates for making scanty preparation for entertaining his friends, he answered:—“If they are friends of ours, they will not care for that; if they are not, we shall care nothing for them!”
As someone who lives in the House of Stacked-Up Magazines, it's nice to know that we keep house Socratically. And second: 
If death surprise me thus employed, it is enough if I can stretch forth my hands to God and say, “The faculties which I received at Thy hands for apprehending this thine Administration, I have not neglected. As far as in me lay, I have done Thee no dishonour. Behold how I have used the senses, the primary conceptions which Thou gavest me. Have I ever laid anything to Thy charge? Have I ever murmured at aught that came to pass, or wished it otherwise? Have I in anything transgressed the relations of life? For that Thou didst beget me, I thank Thee for that Thou hast given: for the time during which I have used the things that were Thine, it suffices me. Take them back and place them wherever Thou wilt! They were all Thine, and Thou gavest them me.”





August 10: The Martini of Public Policy


Indispensable for martinis. That's the crappy new bottle design on the left, the staid-cool old bottle on the right.


One of the great pleasures of reading the classics is taking in the timeless words of the dead and wrenching them around to make them agree with what you already think. And that's what I'm about today, as we get the beginning of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (working title: "A Million Little Pieces"). Because -- after about 11 paragraphs of throat-clearing, and in the 18th century that was an art -- he says:
But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
And here he is a man after my own heart. I would express it a different way. Think of public policy as a cocktail -- a martini, say, where we cut the fiery, Hogarthian gin of capitalism with the smooth, Frenchified vermouth of socialism. We're just trying to get the proportions right as we make something that will ease our (admittedly frequently unpleasant) journey through life -- my own opinion is that these days, martinis and public policy are too dry, but every mixologist is different.

Burke, for example, then takes the rest of the reading talking about how cuckoo-crazy the French Revolution has made some people, for instance those who claim,
....that we have acquired a right

“To choose our own governors.”
“To cashier them for misconduct.”
“To frame a government for ourselves.”

This new, and hitherto unheard-of, bill of rights, though made in the name of the whole people, belongs to those gentlemen and their faction only. The body of the people of England have no share in it. They utterly disclaim it.
Choosing our own rulers -- we don't need that noise! Burke was prescient about the French Revolution, but it turns out that he also anticipated the attitude of much of the American population that is eligible to vote.

The only other thing to note (well, probably not the only other thing, but it's getting late) is this:
Unquestionably there was at the Revolution [1688 - ed], in the person of King William, a small and a temporary deviation from the strict order of a regular hereditary succession; but it is against all genuine principles of jurisprudence to draw a principle from a law made in a special case, and regarding an individual person.
I guess Burke really was the father of modern conservatism!

August 9: The Wages of Cleverness


John Donne was a clever man. For those who need evidence, this is submitted. Or, we find in today's reading, (Walton's "Life of Dr. Donne"), a sentence from one of his letters :

This I made account: I began early, when I understood the study of our laws; but was diverted by leaving that, and embracing the worst voluptuousness, an hydroptic immoderate desire of human learning and languages; beautiful ornaments indeed to men of great fortunes, but mine was grown so low as to need an occupation; which I thought I entered well into, when I subjected myself to such a service as I thought might exercise my poor abilities; and there I stumbled, and fell too; and now I am become so little, or such a nothing, that I am not a subject good enough for one of my own letters.
This in a letter where he complains that "pain hath drawn my head so much awry, and holds it so, that my eye cannot follow my pen." Well, let's unpack this sentence a little bit, notwithstanding the fact that it's already so big that it doesn't count as a carry-on, and it will tell us a little bit about the life of the clever.

the worst voluptuousness, an hydroptic immoderate desire of human learning and languages... this sentence, condemning his own great lust for cleverness, reminds me of nothing so much as people who drink to forget they're alcoholics. And, rather like an drunk, he's working on a pretty good self-hatred there, yet he can't quit the five-dollar words. Don't blame him -- they're his only friends!

beautiful ornaments indeed to men of great fortunes, but mine was grown so low as to need an occupation...At first I thought that Donne was the beautiful ornament (i.e., he can't earn for himself, he needs a Patron), but now I think he's saying that it's fine for nobles to be all voluptuous and hydroptic, but some of us have to work for a living, and "coins metaphysical conceits" is generally considered to be a resume-killer. Both interpretations jibe with my impression of the real world. The more preening and individuated your cleverness is, the more luck you need; being unable to put the hay down where the goats can get at it is not, in itself, virtuous.

when I subjected myself to such a service as I thought might exercise my poor abilities; and there I stumbled, and fell too...If by "stumbled," you mean "secretly married my patron's 16-year-old (Wikipedia says 14, maybe) daughter," yes, you did stumble. Although the real villain of the piece (and this is what most of today's reading is actually about) is young Anne's father, who had Donne and his two accomplices thrown into prison and made Donne sue to get his woman.

It's this kind of payback for impetuousness that makes you think Jane Austen wrote journalism. It also shows, to me, that, like spiders, the clever depend upon a fine thread. If your talent is to please, then you must always serve at someone's pleasure. Whereas everyone needs dry goods.

...that I am not a subject good enough for one of my own letters. Another conceit! You would think that the clever would be the ones who are always learning, but in fact they never do.

August 8: Livin' the dream!

I don't really have much to say today about lordly Odysseus's first encounter with Circe. "Men are pigs," maybe -- but that feels like a better post on the Jim Belushi Show blog. Instead, for this short, Friday afternoonish post, I'm going to focus on the one paragraph -- prose translation, remember -- that caught my eye. Odysseus, you may remember, is so eager to get home that he's making himself sleep with Circe, a completely different beautiful woman -- because, I guess, it would be rude not to. Circe gets her entourage to work, and we get a glimpse of the high life, dawn-of-literature style:

...Of these one cast upon the chairs goodly coverlets of purple above, and spread a linen cloth thereunder. And lo, another drew up silver tables to the chairs, and thereon set for them golden baskets. And a third mixed sweet honey-hearted wine in a silver bowl, and set out cups of gold. And a fourth bare water, and kindled a great fire beneath the mighty cauldron. So the water waxed warm; but when it boiled in the bright brazen vessel, she set me in a bath and bathed me with water from out a great cauldron, pouring it over head and shoulders, when she had mixed it to a pleasant warmth, till from my limbs she took away the consuming weariness. 
Now after she had bathed me and anointed me well with olive oil, and cast about me a fair mantle and a doublet, she led me into the halls and set me on a chair with studs of silver, a goodly carven chair, and beneath was a footstool for the feet. And a handmaid bare water for the hands in a goodly golden ewer, and poured it forth over a silver basin to wash withal; and to my side she drew a polished table, and a grave dame bare wheaten bread and set it by me, and laid on the board many dainties, giving freely of such things as she had by her.
Wheaten bread, people! It's like a resort! In fact, it may help this particular classic "come to life" if you imagine Odysseus and Circe right here:



Enjoy your weekend, folks -- ski, swim, play tennis. Have a ball.

August 7: My Dinner With Socrates


Some dolmades, Socrates? Spanakopita? They have a retsina here that will make your eyes pop asymmetrically...I'm sorry, what?:

For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought.
Just the hemlock for you, then. You know when they say, "name your poison," it's only an expression, right? Are you sure, though? I mean, it's your last meal, you ought to have something you can enjoy.
How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other.
I suppose that's true; when I have some of the baklava here, it goes straight to my hips. Speaking of desserts, it appears that you're a big fan of pie in the sky in the sweet by and by:
For I am quite ready to acknowledge... that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were not persuaded that I am going to other gods who are wise and good (of this I am as certain as I can be of anything of the sort) and to men departed (though I am not so certain of this), who are better than those whom I leave behind...
"Better than those you leave behind?" I can't say but I resemble that remark, especially when I'm so looking forward to the lamb shank (which I had them roast using the Socratic method), and you're in such a Puritanical mood. I know, it's the hemlock talking, but still:
In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere...
Look, I've been in line at Disneyland, so I know well that the body is often no prize, but I wish you wouldn't be hating on it so much. What if you find out that your Olympians have been replaced by three cheap Middle Eastern guys ? I'll see if I can get them to bring over a heat lamp; you seem cold.

You like this place? Epicurus told me about it.

August 6: A compleat Victorian world-view

I know, steampunk's more Edwardian, like in this piece, but what the hell.

One of the glories of not being an English major is avoiding Tennyson. The Victorian superfruitiness of "Locksley Hall" would wipe a permanent smirk on the face of any collegian who has to read this:
And I said, “My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee.”

On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.

And she turn’d—her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs—
All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes—

Saying, “I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong;”
Saying, “Dost thou love me, cousin?” weeping, “I have loved thee long.”
Cousins in love? Check. Heaving bosoms? Check? Pallid cheeks? Check. "Dost"? "Thou"? Check and double-check. It will be no surprise when I reveal that this love goes horribly astray, because of meddling parents, causing our choleric narrator to spew a pint of bitter.
Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
Puppet to a father’s threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

Is it well to wish thee happy? having known me—to decline
On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

Yet it shall be: thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay.

As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.
Oh, Amy, thou hast been served! Note also that even Victorians thought that Victorian parents were out of control.

In fact this poem couldn't be more Victorian, even though it was apparently written during the reign of her predecessor (William IV, if you're scoring at home). We got your faith in, and suspicion of, the Future:
Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Progress:
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
Except for women:
Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman’s pleasure, woman’s pain—
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:

Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match’d with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine—
And, of course, the savages, from whom we get our tea:
Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.

I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!
In fairness we probably shouldn't blame Tennyson for the views of his characters, unless there's other evidence, which I, as a non English major, wouldn't know. And here I've practically quoted the whole poem, because it's very catchy, which I think I wouldn't have appreciated in college. Tennyson is very good at all the poetical skills no one gives a shit about anymore (though I don't know where he's getting "gray" from as a description of barbarian).

Now, to our steam-powered Zeppelins!