Treasons and Strategems
Towards evening the women harp on the state of Sarah’s roses and the inevitable road works and the delays which make their schedules rather more hectic than less. The details are lost amid the uneven songs of the pigeons, the beat of wings and scrape of claw on slate. The women loiter in front of the house of musical instruments, next but one both from my own house and the corner. If you happen to be the sort of person who looks into a stranger’s windows, you would see clarinets, oboes, recorders, all standing neatly on the shelves in the front parlour, the woodwinds bracketed by cloth-bound books and other things the names of which I do not know. On warm afternoons you can hear a woman’s voice singing, sweet and sure, more tuneful than the pigeons; there is also the sound of something like a harpsichord, but it may just be a piano with the memory of happier days. This evening, though, there are only the pigeons, and the women, talking.
errare humanum est
I picked up a copy of the book by chance the other day, and started reading it last night. Not that I’ve gotten very far enough to say anything about it, save that it is provoking:
Being wrong is also about being displaced, about wandering, dissenting, emigrating, and alienating. The professionalization of the scholar, and, in turn, the pose of the vernacular rhetorician and philologist, was a means by which émigrés, exiles, dissenters, and the socially estranged gained private worth and public legitimacy (2).
I like the idea that scholars and academics are displaced, are wanderers, are, in short, matter out of place, who can only become a part of society, be reclaimed by society, through professionalization — that is, the systematic acknowledgement of their perpetual displacement. This leads me back to the idea of pollution or ritual impurity; the polluted or the impure is ‘matter out of place,’ matter which does not fit into the cosmology of ritual and society. Education is the process of neutralizing this pollution; those most tainted are confined to the academy for their own safety and for the comfort of society. (Parallels might be prisons, insane asylums, religious institutions…) Only by being a ‘professional,’ by receiving accreditation, and working within a university or college does the scholar become less threatening, because jailed in obscure rules and arcane laws — empiricism, induction, positivism, deconstruction, etc. The institutions which cage the scholar serve society at large as the boundary posts for the empire of the known, beyond which lies the defining negative space of the unfathomable, of creativity, of genius, and of change.
What becomes of these outposts, though, when the empirical universe begins to shrink, once the pioneers begin to say, ‘thus far, and no further can knowledge go’? What happens when the barbarians, the grand ignorant, never appear and so cannot be defeated or contained? What then? More to the point, what does it matter, save to the out-of-place, to the polluted, the impure, (the ‘elite’) who will lose their sanctuary? I repeat: what then?
Critical theory is the shroud in which we bury absolute truth, which, with Mr. Kurtz, is dead.
An upright young man, with an ardent heart, but without wealth, and temperamentally incautious, such as you are, will always be a tool of faction, or a victim of the powerful. And if in public affairs you can keep youself uncorrupted by the general nastiness, oh! you will be highly praised. But then you will be killed by calumny, that dagger in the night. Your prison will be forsaken by your friends, and your tomb scarcely honoured by a single sigh.
(2003.80, p. 96)
one of the oldest jokes in the book
Καππαδόκην ποτ’ ἔχιδνα κακὴ δάκεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὴ // κάτθανε γευσαμένη αἵματος ἰοβόλου.
A nasty asp once bit a Cappadocian girl; one taste of her arrow-slinging blood, though, and the snake died.
– Demodocus (III; 4 B. & D.)
Epigrammata Graeca (ed. Page)
apropos of nothing
mizzling, vbl. n.
(var., misling; also ppl. a.) ‘The action of mizzle — the falling of very fine rain; fine rain or drizzle’ — thus the OED. A variety of precipitation called by vulgar persons (such as myself) spitting, on account of its exasperating (nay, provocative) inconsistency: it is neither really rain nor really mist. Although too feeble to necessitate an umbrella, a good mizzling still manages to soak through any sort of outer garment one happens to be wearing, rendering anyone so unfortunate as to be abroad both damp and irritable.
1665 Pepys 15 September a cold misling morning.
There is little to be gained by navel-gazing save a more perfect understanding of the navel; the umbilicus is not, however, a subject suited to every inquirer.
waiting for the flood
piscium et summa genus haesit ulmo,
nota quae sedes fuerat columbis…
A family of fishes clings to the utmost elm,
once familiar as a seat for the pigeons.
– Horace (Odes, 1.2.9–10)
A fool might think they were beautiful, their white wings flashing in the sun, their rubid eyes sparkling. They are no longer content to perch upon the gutter, though, but settle on the window ledge, twisting their necks, writhing like serpents. They peer through the window, as though I were a fish in a bowl (easily dispatched), and seem to consider the top of the armoire as a prospective tenement. Soon they will want the entire room as well — cella nota quae sedes fuerat eudæmonistis…
It bodes no good to identify with the mother in Sons and Lovers.
inventio, -onis f.
To be used for transportation, either of individuals, groups, or objects; insofar as the invention will reduce the friction of locomotion, speed and ease of travel will be increased — as, for instance, in the displacement of heavy objects from one point to another for the purpose of pleasure or profit. Also, productive elements: spinning, etc. Suggestive of inner workings, of gears and revolutions, which could, in turn, suggest new ways of looking at the world: mechanized, orderly. Yet also playful, for it could be used as a children’s toy, the uncertain course of the isolated object providing entertainment or, alternatively, as a part of a greater whole (transportation as amusement, end unto itself).
Ideally, the wheel should be round…
One should take an interest in everything; to be interested in everything, though, is to be content to know nothing — is such contentment possible?
He was good-natured, inoffensive, and weak; and if he was not an incomparable citizen, he was, at least, an excellent vegetable.
(2003.85, p. 94)
The truth is, unless a man can get the prestige and income of a Don and write donnish books, it’s hardly worth while for him to make a Greek and Latin machine of himself and be able to spin you out pages of the Greek dramatists at any verse you’ll give him as a cue. That’s all very fine, but in practical life nobody does give you the cue for pages of Greek. In fact it’s a nicety of conversation which I would have you attend to…
(2003.81, p. 177)
A view (8)
‘I am strong!’ he cried. It is true. Ford has no right to be strong, but he is. He never did his dumb-bells or played in his school fifteen. But the muscles came. He thinks they came while he was reading Pindar.
– E. M. Forster, ‘Other Kingdom’
(2003.93, p. 68)
general principles • moral turpitude • progressive non-action • radical self-sufficiency • righteous indignation • pompous twit
The Twentieth Part
Philosophically speaking, one can wander up and down a great many stairs in a train station without ever finding the lavatory…
There are fine views to be had — if one does not mind sitting on a fence.