Crambe repetita (49)
1 January 2021, around 7.12.
There seem to be so many more horses about at nine o’clock too. Lots of philosophic, chilly-looking men on drays refuse to be hurried, and to-day four carts were racing round Marble Arch in front of our bus. They’d come from Covent Garden and their drivers were waving whips and cursing cheerfully. A little man with a cartload of cabbages and a trotting donkey was behind them, taking up most of the fairway. Our conductor leant out, and shouted: ‘Now then, Ben Hur, get off the rails!’ And the donkey bolted.
—Jane Oliver & Ann Stafford (Business as Usual, p. 39f)
1 January 2021, around 18.24.
‘We live on the circumference of a hollow circle. We draw the circumference, like spiders, out of ourselves: it is all criticism of criticism.’ —Laura (Riding) Jackson, Anarchism Is Not Enough
‘…their inability to distinguish between the interestingness of dull poetry and the dullness of “interesting” poetry.’ —Laura (Riding) Jackson, Anarchism Is Not Enough
3 January 2021, around 9.09.
‘…it is difficult to draw the line between idleness and dawdling over work. I dawdled from a mixture of mental infirmity, bad habit, and the necessity of thoroughness if I was to understand and not merely remember.’ —Mark Pattison, Memoirs
4 January 2021, around 13.01.
‘The language of birds is very ancient, and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical; little is said, but much is meant and understood.’ —Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne, letter xliii to the hon. Daines Barrington, 9 September 1778
8 January 2021, around 5.47.
The other day I happened see something about a fashion photographer’s memoirs and was bored and the ebook was available from the library, so I succumbed to the temptation of my phone and looked. It had the expected condescending, self-assured tone, with a rhythm to its prose like the jolting trot of a school-horse (willful, tired, and hard to sit through) – but fashion is intended to be uncomfortable to those outside it. I did not read it through, but slipped to the chapter on ‘taste’, which formed a coda at the end, a guide for the fashionably perplexed.
At first, the essay charmed. He distinguished nicely, wearily between fashion, style, and taste (so often conflated to the confusion of all) and mocked (brutally, savagely, accurately) the banalities of advertisements that sell the lie that correct taste is (a) some tangible thing that exists and (b) can be bought. He also said that, concerning clothing, one needs to consider how things suit what one is and how one looks – where the line cuts, I believe was the phrase. Certainly appearances (given money and time, etc.) can be modified, but the core of character remains and cannot be so easily retouched; indeed, ’tis character that gives clothes their power (otherwise there’s only a stuffed suit or a belching socialite).
I also thought he said that this held true for ideas – that one needed to consider the ways in which the ideas one holds are fitting for one’s character (or the character one would like to be) not just something one apes from those one admires (or wishes to become). When I went back through to copy out the quotation (for I was sure there was a quotation), I could not find any such stuff. The second look also showed up the poor tailoring of the prose to its content, and the glamour of the text not surprisingly faded. I make a note of it here, however, because it (the text, the idea of what I mean to write) kept going through my head and I hope, by attempting to articulate my error, to be rid of thinking about it.
12 January 2021, around 8.22.
The actual context within with the actual user is really seeking something is not capable, moreover, of classification. Granted, such an index is objective and attains the full objectivity of the given text. Granted, every selective index signifies a subjective interpretation of the text. Granted, this is deplored by every individual user as a defect. For that reason, the users will find useful not the ‘perfected’ index but only the index which corresponds with their own subjective points of view. And that is the one which they compile themselves. Only such an index is so selected that it potentially ‘reminds’ in all its data. It ‘reminds’ as the presentation given by the context index of the machine is unable to do. This is because the latter does not rediscover in itself individual memory traces but necessarily offers everything that it ‘knows’. Whether this is helpful to the users in presenting, for example, new observations to them is the question. There will be such cases. But there will also be the opposite, where one is looking something up while one should be reading.
—Hans-Georg Gadamer (‘Theory, Technology, Praxis’, in The Enigma of Health, trans. J. Gaiger & N. Walker, p. 27)
21 January 2021, around 5.24.
The small points when reading for a project (arbitrary or intentional), when discrete facts from disparate sources align to form, in another text, a constellation, the resonances of which exceed the harmonics intended by the author. So in reading Johann Huizinga’s Homo Ludens as part of a broader look into ritual and the occult, the totems from Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life encounter the werewolves of Ernest Jones’s On the Nightmare in the span of two sentences, which one could call synchronicity, but is rather confirmation that these books which occasionally seem so far-fetched and unrelated, can form, together, a coherent image of a whole, even if only for a moment, in a sentence or two.
21 January 2021, around 8.09.
‘A State is never a utilitarian institution pure and simple. It congeals on the surface of time like frost-flowers on a windowpane, and is as unpredictable, as ephemeral and, in its pattern, as rigidly causal to all appearances as they.’ —Huizinga, Homo Ludens
21 January 2021, around 8.19.
‘The periwig constitutes a chapter by itself not only in the history of dress but in the history of civilization.’ —Huizinga, Homo Ludens
26 January 2021, around 5.31.
These are some of the latest things I haven’t read, with the excuses I made for abandoning them.
- Penguin classics edition of Epicurus. I had hoped for updated notes and bibliography, something that I could point students (should I ever get another course as adjunct) towards, but it was a reprint of a book published in the 1960s, the sole novelty of which appeared to be collating relevant passages of Lucretius with the different letters of Epicurus. The deliberately primitive computer scribble for the cover art was also deeply irritating.
- The Nature of Things, trans. A. E. Stallings. It seemed jittery to me, from introduction to poem – I couldn’t find a way to make my brain run in harness with it. This was not helped by accidentally spilling water on it, so the bottom edge was warped and buckled and annoyed me whenever I touched it.
- Caryl Phillips, Crossing the River. This was mentioned somewhere in a way that sounded interesting, but it is very much of a part with other early 1990s literary relics of British colonialism in how it deals with time and space (it reminded me of Pat Barker and Ian McEwan, though the influence might run the other direction). If I had nothing else to read (e.g., if I had found it abandoned at a café or hostel while on vacation in a town without English-language bookstores), I think I would read it and enjoy it – but I do have other things to read.
- Astrology: How and Why It Works, by Marc Edmund Jones. I have been taking a very roundabout way to Newton’s alchemy, but after reading the first chapter, with its ersatz skepticism and hedging, I was so thoroughly vexed that I abandoned this byway untrod.
other fish in the sea
30 January 2021, around 7.13.
Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia’s engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in the game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes to have attention for anyone in particular. Allowing for the common demands of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him…
…neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, protesting that he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.
—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, ch. 16 (emphasis mine)