2 January 2023, around 5.37.
In reading old texts, the greatest delight does not lie precisely in the verbal curiosa but, quite the reverse, the commonest words are given a mystic-homely emphasis: instead of ‘blue’ all one has to write is ‘blew’ & that banal word becomes at once important, isolated, of great value like the rarest jewel. That is the main sense of archaism: it hallows and ritualizes triviality. It is not just ordinary words which step out before us in hieratic actor’s masks, but the most elementary grammatical relationships and clause structures: subject—predicate, an attributive and its noun, co-ordination & subordination—all at once pop to the surface in these antiquated sentences like protruding veins or bone structures slipping out of overcooked fish: one sees before one’s eyes the embryonic grid of the language’s logic, the still flexible wax bones: “how nature Geometrizeth”—as Browne writes.
—Miklós Szentkuthy (Towards the One & Only Metaphor, trans. Tim Wilkinson, p. 300)
A view (56)
3 January 2023, around 9.29.
4 January 2023, around 13.26.
‘…words are vessels that are filled with experience that overflows the vessels. The words point to an experience; they are not the experience’ —Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be? (Chapter V, Section 1: Being Active)
friend of all frillies
7 January 2023, around 4.27.
It may have been a matter of poor timing that put me out of sympathy with the book. At another time I might have found it a diverting collection of essays and fragments, droll, witty, amusing, with a certain neurasthenic charm – as one would expect to find after looking at more nuanced review. Unfortunately, I started reading Miklós Szentkuthy’s Towards the One & Only Metaphor on the day the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and this made a book in which the female body is always a thing – a flower, a building, an instrument, a collection of buttons and pleats to be ogled, a puppet, a character in a play (but still no more a human female than Lady Macbeth) – not precisely anathema, but certainly unwelcome. The louche leers of self-loathing lechers lost, for the moment, their already limited ability to amuse.
I also happened to be rereading Kierkegaard’s Repetition at the time, and the experience was in a sense similar – that of encountering the thoughts of a clever man who has never met a woman and truly thought of her as a person rather than an object or a character.1
- It is pose, certainly, on the part of the narrator and not necessarily the author’s own stance and yet… In any case, it is easier to pardon a fault in someone familiar than in someone unknown. It took me nearly half a year to recover my temper. [↩]
we are circling
11 January 2023, around 4.29.
What is my opinion?… Let no one ask me about it, and next to having an opinion, nothing can be less important to another than what my opinion is. To have an opinion is both too much and too little for me. It assumes a sense of well-being and security with one’s existence, just as, in a worldly sense, having a wife and children does, which is not granted to him who must keep himself in readiness day and night without, however, having financial security. This is my situation in the world of the spirit, because I have cultivated and continue to cultivate in myself the ability to dance nimbly in the service of thought […]
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Crumbs, trans. M. G. Piety, p. 87)
* * *
To know what chimeric writing writes, look at what it was made of: the substance it worked through time. I carry in me – physically, symbolically, imaginally – bundles of echoes in mines, moods and materials, words and voices in every text I write. Sometimes these are in reminiscence, not entirely legible or audible, or hints of a rhythm my words once danced with, and as always in memorable dances, that rhythm goes on even when the dance is over.
—Daniela Cascella (Chimeras, p. 83)
11 January 2023, around 11.45.
‘His desire for a career as a man of letters was not matched by his ability as an editor or as a writer of verse or prose’ —Dorothy Thompson, The Dignity of Chartism
15 January 2023, around 4.56.
αὕτη οὖν ἀρχὴ τοῦ φιλοσοφεῖν, αἴσθησις τοῦ ἰδίου ἡγεμονικοῦ πῶς ἔχει: μετὰ γὰρ τὸ γνῶναι ὅτι ἀσθενῶς οὐκ ἔτι θελήσει χρῆσθαι αὐτῷ πρὸς τὰ μεγάλα. νῦν δὲ μὴ δυνάμενοί τινες τὸν ψωμὸν καταπίνειν σύνταξιν ἀγοράσαντες ἐπιβάλλονται ἐσθίειν. διὰ τοῦτο ἐμοῦσιν ἢ ἀπεπτοῦσιν: εἶτα στρόφοι καὶ κατάρροιαι καὶ πυρετοί. ἔδει δ᾽ ἐφιστάνειν, εἰ δύνανται. ἀλλ᾽ ἐν μὲν θεωρίᾳ ῥᾴδιον ἐξελέγξαι τὸν οὐκ εἰδότα, ἐν δὲ τοῖς κατὰ τὸν βίον οὔτε παρέχει ἑαυτόν τις ἐλέγχῳ τόν τ᾽ ἐξελέγξαντα μισοῦμεν. ὁ δὲ Σωκράτης ἔλεγεν ἀνεξέταστον βίον μὴ ζῆν.
—Epictetus (Discourses, 1.26.15–18)1
- ‘The first step, then, towards philosophizing, is having a sense of how one’s executive faculty is doing: when a person knows it’s sickly, he won’t set it to big things. Now, some folks not strong enough to swallow a bite haunt the marketplace and throw themselves into consuming whole systems: So they puke it all up again, or can’t digest it – and then come the gripes and runs and fevers. Should’ve considered whether they could handle it. While it’s easy (in theory) to refute someone who doesn’t know, in real life, no one turns himself in for cross-examination (elenchos), and we hate those who interrogate us – but, as Socrates used to say, don’t live an unexamined life.’ [↩]
facta est lux
19 January 2023, around 4.26.
The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think. This passion is at bottom present in all thinking, even in the thinking of the individual, in so far as in thinking he participates in something transcending himself. But habit dulls our sensibilities, and prevents us from perceiving it.
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Fragments, trans. Niels Thulstrup, rev. Howard V. Hong, p. 46)
After ambling through La Pensée sauvage, the household reading group is slowly working through Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, which is a very different sort of book. If Lévi-Strauss gathered a posy of popularizing anthropological essays contra Sartre,1 Kierkegaard is … well, it’s not quite clear to me who Kierkegaard is writing for, or what he hopes to accomplish, except that it involves God somehow, and Socrates, who are not really among my favorite characters on the world-historical stage, though far be it from me to deny their significance to others.2
But that is not really what I want to talk about. One morning, as I was reading my daily allotment of the new(-ish) Loeb Early Greek Philosophy (vol. 2), edited by Laks and Most, in the section ‘Reflections on Gods and Men: Varieties of Human Wisdom (T35–T39): The Wisdom of the Seven Sages (T35–T38)’3 I found the following: Σφράγιζε τοὺς μὲν λόγους σιγῇ, τὴν δὲ σιγὴν καιρῷ (Mor T35.2.5).4 This is one of the sayings of Solon as reported by Demetrius of Phaleron in Stobaeus (3.79.2), and the editors translate it is as ‘Seal your discourses with silence, and silence with the right moment’. For some reason I couldn’t quite place, this made me sit up a bit, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Then, a few pages later, I saw the following in the sayings of Pittacus, from the same source: καιρὸν γνῶθι – ‘Know the right moment’ (Mor T35.5.1).5 At last, something simple and clear enough to provide the spark necessary to illumine the dim recesses of memory.
Here again we have the Moment, on which everything depends. Let us recapitulate. If we do not posit the Moment we return to Socrates; but it was precisely from him that we departed in order to discover something. If we posit the Moment the Paradox is there; for the Moment is the Paradox in its most abbreviated form. Because of the Moment the learner is in Error; and man who had before possessed self-knowledge, now becomes bewildered with respect to himself; instead of self-knowledge, he receives the consciousness of sin, and so forth; for as soon as we posit the Moment everything follows of itself.
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Fragments, p. 64)
Ah, yes, when the fulness of time was come, then, too, came glimmers of understanding. It seemed suddenly, overabundantly clear that Kierkegaard’s ‘Moment’ – occasionally dignified with momentous capitalization whenever the translator sees fit6 – is related to that due time or season for interpretation, for testing, for conversion, that καιρός of the gospels, while also being that now, that timeless instant, τὸ ἐξαίφνης, from Plato’s Parmenides (156d; according to the note of dubious helpfulness):
P: And does this strange thing in which it is at the time of changing really exist?
A: What thing?
P: The moment. For the moment seems to imply a something out of which change takes place into either of two states; for the change is not from the state of rest as such, nor from the state of motion as such; but there is this curious nature which we call the moment lying between rest and motion, not being in any time; and into this and out of this what is in motion changes into rest, and what is at rest into motion.
A: So it appears.7
Of course, I would not have thought to think of ‘the moment’ for even an instant without the intervention of a pre-Socratic sage.
…but when I let the proof go, the existence is there. But this act of letting go is surely also something; it is indeed a contribution of mine. Must not this also be taken into the account, this little moment, brief as it may be—it need not be long, for it is a leap. However brief this moment, if only an instantaneous now, this ‘now’ must be included in the reckoning.
—Kierkegaard (Philosophical Fragments, p. 53)
- Mileage may vary. [↩]
- One is too inconsistent, while the other is too consistent. There is no pleasing some people. [↩]
- The section heading will, I think, give you a sense of their editorial approach to the project which, although it may have many virtues not readily apparent to the casual reader, is probably not for everyone. [↩]
- The cross references and conventions in the Loeb Early Greek Philosophy border on the absurd; if they are hyperlinks in the digital edition, then it is understandable, but on paper it feels a bit pushy. It is possible, however, that my reading habits have become excessively digitized – or I am lazy. [↩]
- Meineke’s old Teubner (1856) Stobaeus credits this to Thales (3.79.5), but cf. the life of Pittacus in Diogenes Laertius: ἀπόφθεγμα αὐτοῦ· καιρὸν γνῶθι (1.4.79); Wachsmuth and Hense (1894) restore it to Pittacus. I didn’t check Diels–Kranz because, well, see previous note re: laziness. [↩]
- Although this reminds one of Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. [↩]
- Jowett’s translation. [↩]
on leisure and reading
23 January 2023, around 4.59.
Remember, that it is not only the Desire of Riches and Power that renders us mean, and subject to others, but even of Quiet, and Leisure, and Learning, and Travelling. For, in general, valuing any external Thing whatever, subjects us to another. Where is the Difference, then, whether you desire to be a Senator, or not to be a Senator? Where is the Difference whether you desire Power, or to be out of Power? Where is the Difference whether you say, “I am in a wretched Way; I have nothing to do, but am tied down to Books as inactive as if I were dead;”——or, “I am in a wretched Way; I have no Leisure to read”? For as Levees and Power are among Things external, and Independent on Choice, so likewise is a Book. For what Purpose would you read? Tell me. For if you rest merely in being amused, and learning something, you are insignificant and miserable. But if you refer it to what you ought, what is that but a prosperous Life? And if Reading doth not procure you a prosperous Life, of what Use is it?
—Epictetus (Discourses, 4.4, trans. Elizabeth Carter)
26 January 2023, around 17.33.
‘Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfil.’ —Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, ch. xiv
27 January 2023, around 4.22.
…it is necessary for us to name the things that share our own silence with us, not in order to disturb their privacy or to disturb our own solitude with thoughts of them, but in order that the silence they dwell in and that dwells in them, may be concretized and identified for what it is. The beings that are in silence make silence real, for their silence is identified with their being. To name their being is to name their silence.
—Thomas Merton (Thoughts in Solitude, ch. xvii)
for future reference
31 January 2023, around 8.57.
It should have been easy to go through (or to start to go through) the digital photographs and discard the least interesting of countless pictures of stacks of books (how many could one possibly need?) or the out-of-focus and ill-composed images of people whose names I have forgotten. I will admit I was anticipating folder after folder of autumn leaves and frost at a narrow depth of field, the sort of thing that’s pretty enough, but lacks a punchy punctum (i.e., images that are fairly pointless, lacking in moment however well they may capture a point in time).
For good or ill, though, I stumbled across a cache of more resonant images (the dates on the folders should perhaps have warned me, but the naming conventions for my digital files are erratic at best – and often misleading) and plunged into a spring of memories, some good, some bad, but all worth keeping (the memories, not necessarily the photographs). It was also getting late – too late, certainly, to try to disentangle a remembrance from its image. So I left the folders as they were, for consideration at some later date.
And of course one never knows when one might wish to use an out-of-focus picture of library stacks from a library one has never revisited.