The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

March 2024


4 March 2024, around 9.40.

Far from being able to satisfy the yearning for immortality by trustfully throwing oneself upon the bosom of the Eternal by an immediate moral and religious act, the individual felt constrained to take a long and circuitous route.

—Jacob Burckhardt (The Age of Constantine the Great, trans. Moses Hadas, p. 154)

My major reading project for the year is more or less to read Marx’s Capital, but in my usual fashion I cannot just sit down and read Capital, I felt I had to read Wealth of Nations first and then some Ricardo (I’ve already had a go at Malthus, so there was no need to add him into the mix at present). I’ve already scribbled sufficient on Smith, and I was hoping that Ricardo would be as interesting (not least because when I opened to a random page of Ricardo’s On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, I was met with a long quotation from Adam Smith). I have thus far (after five sections of chapter 1) been disappointed.

Smith uses examples that are chosen to illuminate and possess a specificity and charm that color his argument – one can see the various sorts of pin-makers at work, with their different divisions of labor; when he mentions kelp-gatherers, one can practically smell the sea. Suppose, then, that you have an author,1 who uses one or two examples to provide for the needs of his argument; the amount of labor which he applies is perhaps greater, in that he must first make up the examples from whole cloth, then imagine the simplified details that will make them palatable to his idiot reader. This should, by his own reasoning, make his examples more valuable. Two salmon is equal to one deer or one-half beaver: But if they are imaginary deer and imaginary fish, pursued by supposed hunters and fishers who are paid an imaginary and improbable wage – well, I, for one, would not give a pin for them.

  1. Ricardo, naturally. []

force of habit

17 March 2024, around 18.08.

Dawn and spring, purple sky, the silhouettes of trees and houses, a lit window.

Whatever habit has rendered delightful, will be relinquished with reluctance, and will continue to be consumed notwithstanding a very heavy tax; but this reluctance has its limits…

—David Ricardo (On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, p. 241)

Every step outward would then be harmful to this introverted book living in its own idyllic preserve and disturb the autonomous life of factitious ideas. Yet even excellent books and theories which are true to their theme frequently show that typical contemplative pleasure and contentment in remaining in some limited context which once seemed functionally successful.

—Ernst Bloch (On Karl Marx, trans. John Maxwell, p. 89)


19 March 2024, around 10.26.

Budding branches against the charcoal-colored planks of a wooden fence

But why should gold, or corn, or labour, be the standard measure of value, more than coals or iron?—more than cloth, soap, candles, and the other necessaries of the labourer—why, in short, should any commodity, or all commodities together, be the standard when such a standard is itself subject to fluctuation in value?

—David Ricardo (On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, p. 275)

It is springtime, which means that it is more than particularly interesting to walk along the usual routes to see what changes have appeared after the winter stasis. I don’t usually walk along my morning running route during daylight hours, so the details can be unexpected – a flowering branch, an offset fence, a garden half-hidden behind an ill-made wall. It is curious that some stretches seem flatter and easier to tread in the daylight, while others seem steeper and more threatening – the night reverting attributes more nearly to the mean.

close encounters

21 March 2024, around 8.16.

A man cannot be judged solely by the company he keeps. This is often true of young people, who are easily influenced. Indeed, even at a later age, the converse is sometimes true: that no man is responsible for his acquaintances. In true love, however, or in true friendship, the encounter is quite different: the relationship is essentially important for both parties, and characteristic of both. Moreover, an opinion, a doctrine, or a book can also become a friend—and in such cases it is irrelevant whether the bearer thereof is still living or long since dead.

—Ernst Bloch (On Karl Marx, trans. John Maxwell, p. 153)


23 March 2024, around 12.40.

A periwinkle spring sky softened by a morning mist, dark shadows of trees and buildings a blur

…the field is open to conjecture, so long as conjecture does not soar in the air but follows the true tracks that survive and is in keeping with the character of the times and the persons involved.

—Jacob Burckhardt (The Age of Constantine the Great, trans. Moses Hadas, p. 237)

One can spend a lot time trying to puzzle out why Hamann called his Socratic Memorabilia ‘Socratic’ and ‘Memorabilia’. Doing so has a bit of the same savor as ‘what is “called” thinking’, and indeed, the mention of the readers who can swim philosophically from island to island (‘Lesern, welche schwimmen könnten’ – a nod to the Delian divers necessary to interpret Heraclitus, according to the life of Socrates in Diogenes Laertius) does rather put one mind of Heidegger (and Kierkegaard, of course).

It’s I problem I have with reading Hamann in general (by which I mean going beyond the title page): it is densely allusive, so linked and cross-linked, that for each reference one ‘gets’, one dimly perceives that there are others one cannot begin to imagine. One is reduced to analogy: the text, interwoven, a cobweb criss-crossing and apparently tangled but exquisitely structured, lined with a few key filaments on which the reader becomes stuck, captured and drained in the hunt for meaning. More accurate to my feeling, perhaps, is the sense that I approach reading Hamann as a raccoon attempts to eat candyfloss:1 one applies typical procedures to the consumption of something apparently substantial and lofty, only to have it disappear, dissolve, resolve itself into something less than a dew.

  1. It might, with more precision, be called God-waffle, but I am not certain raccoons consume God-waffle or what their method for doing so would be. []

Adversaria (12)

31 March 2024, around 8.10.

‘Lack of clarity is selfish and confusing. The writer is wasting your time. Up with this you need not put’ —Deidre Nansen McCloskey (Economical Writing, p. 17)

‘No one is prepared to be Serious, especially about Art. I liked the way these critics wrote and fell under the rhetorical spell of their semi-colons, qualifications and parentheses. Their casual appropriations, novel compounds and elaborate metaphors spoke of a mind that believed itself equal to anything’ —Lavinia Greenlaw (The Importance of Music to Girls, p. 171)

‘Reality itself is deep, precisely in that it is not yet locked up; and realism itself, when it is real, withdraws from the schema which knowns everything in advance and construes everything according to formula. It is far truer that the timetable of the process is nowhere smooth and uninterrupted. It is not made up once and for all like some dull middle-class Cooks’ tour where, on a mass basis, every last detail has already been tried out and rationally organized, so there is not discovery or hazard—everything having been predigested and disposed of’ —Ernst Bloch (On Karl Marx, trans. John Maxwell, p. 138f.)

‘Although it is risky to ask mosaics more than they are prepared to tell, it is foolish not to ask them anything at all’ —Yvon Thébert (‘Private Life and Domestic Architecture in Roman Africa’, in A History of Private Life (vol. 1), trans. Arther Goldhammer, p. 397)

‘…it must be recognized that many of life’s experiences only verify and illustrate the most conventional ideas, which one may have already encountered in numerous books without believing them’ —Guy Debord (Panegyric I, trans. James Brook, p. 48)

‘Those who are satisfied only with ready-cooked nourishment are poor in spirit. A good cause, even if it is an old one, is always “in the making”; and if this be not understood, the cause will lose contact with life’ —Ernst Bloch (On Karl Marx, trans. John Maxwell, p. 153)

‘Therein lies a clue, to be sure, but to what, we will never know’ —Evelyne Patlagean (‘Byzantium in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries’, in A History of Private Life (vol. 1), trans. Arther Goldhammer, p. 608)

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