Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday commute cvii: Baccalaureate advice of our chum

The other day, the estimable
Tim Egan, one of the few col-
umnists condemned to recom-
mendation in our Context,
Commencement speaking - or,
rather - listening, which I
was cheerfully disagreeing
with, to a much more recent
sufferer of the rite than I.

There's no doubt, that Egan
has the better case, that a
capstone occasion to a quad-
rennial opening of minds is
little disserved by indul-
ging a climactic Fool, even
in the guise of an antagon-
ist. Yet, if that's so, I'd
still argue for quality in
this mental bloodsport, and
we know where to find that:

      For two jars stand on Zeus'
      threshold whence he gives of
      his evil gifts, and another
      of the good; and to whom Zeus
      delights in thunder gives a
      mixed portion, to him befalls
      now evil, now good; but to
      whom he gives of the baneful,
      him he scorns, and evil misery
      chases him over the noble earth,
      a wanderer honored neither by
      gods nor by mortals.

Just sayin', Achilles was, as
the Iliad wound to its close;
yet for a fellow much then oc-
cupied by pressing matters, a
not-unsympathetic synopsis of
what's what. Yes, a whiff of
religiosity appears to taint
the offering, but it blows a-
way beneath a gentler breeze,
indifference. Pretty classy.

  xxiv, 527 - 533
Sir Moses Finley
  translation and criticism
The World of Odysseus
op. cit.

NB: Professor Finley (1912 - 1986)
was a more than ordinarily distin-
guished teacher and Classicist, of
of luminous standing in American
academia, until subpoenaed in 1952
by the Republican-controlled Senate
Sub-Committee on Internal Security,
and commanded to state whether he
had ever been a member of a Com-
munist Party. He declined to answer
and the Trustees of his University
summarily expelled him. Immediate-
ly, at Oxford, Hugh Trevor-Roper,
future Regius Professor, agitated for
his appointment at Christ Church; 
but Cambridge was faster to act,
and Finley's career at that Univer-
sity found him flourishing among
peers then and to this very day in
opened, grateful minds. He was
knighted by the Queen in 1979;
and only last month, a teacher of
my own baccalaureate years, was
recommending him to me anew.

This posting is for such keepers.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Suppose it were Friday xcv: the last morels

     If it were up to me, one would not
     harvest the last morels. They hide
     to allow for this discretion, even
     as we pluck all we want in the ten
     days of their season; and when one
     does go back, connoisseurship as a
     mask for greed and aggrandizement,
     I like the experience of an admon-
     ition that reminds an unmasked de-
     sire, that it all has been plumbed
     enough for one season, soil rising
     to gather the share of its origin,
     our truest, deserving connoisseur.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Origins of arrest

   The young man's movements,
   however, betrayed no con-
   sistency of attention -
   not even, for that matter,
   when one of his arrests had
   proceeded from possibilities
   in faces shaded, as they 
   passed him on the pavement,
   by huge beribboned hats, or
   more delicately tinted still
   under the tense silk of para-
   sols held at perverse angles
   in waiting victorias.

     I admit to having needed
     to be trained in the in-
     heritance of literature,
     as in anything else, for
     this comes down and does
     proceed from possibility.
     I never mind, not having
     written a sentence I see
     as brilliant, but I have
     been astounded to be un-
     prepared for it. I know,
     it is customary to comp-
     lain of Henry James, for
     his preservation of pos-
     sibility beyond ordinary
     endurance. Is there any-
     thing worthier enduring?

Henry James
The Golden Bowl
  page 1
Alfred A. Knopf
Everyman, 1992©

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Another turnstile turned

We turned another turnstile in vis-its to rmbl yesterday, at lunch-time. One of those meaningless yet diverting milestones which assail us all, in an unguarded corner of the eye, yet touch upon neither process nor substance in any il-luminating way. I thought I might be at a loss to depict an occasion so negligible, but given that I'm taking something of a holiday, I applied myself to that puzzle with heightened gainlessness, borrowing an attitude from Santayana.

Literature .. cannot long forget, without forfeiting all dignity, that it serves a burdened and per-plexed creature, a human animal struggling to persuade the univer-sal sphinx, to propose a more in-telligible riddle. Irresponsible and trivial in its abstract im-pulse, man's simian chatter becomes noble as it becomes symbolic; its representative function lends it a serious beauty, its utility endows it with moral worth.

George Santayana, possibly to be under-
stood as a Harvard man, could often be
mistaken for a draughtsman of Nobel ac-
ceptance speeches, in spare moments be-
tween dispensing towels at a turkish
bath. It is unnerving to summon an echo
of his superheated sympathies, but we
find them in the loftiest libraries of
our hereditary aristocracies, seething
to be preached, and they resound equal-
ly in the depredations of critics, and
other soi-disant mentors of our time:

Taste is formed in those     moments when aesthetic emotion is massive and distinct; preferences then grown conscious, judgments put into words, will reverberate through calmer hours; they will constitute prejudices, habits of apperception, secret standards for all other beauties.

Literature, Santayana might have recalled to the enhance-ment of his argument, is full of rogues who cherish their troubles as flowerings of taste. Was this the origin of the restaurant as we know it? 

George Santayana
The Life of Reason
  Reason in Art
Scribner, 1905©

David Cecil
Library Looking-Glass
  A Personal Anthology
op. cit.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Justice Kagan envisions a rotating gavel for everybody's god

  Meticulous application
  of equal oppression, a
  conciliating remedy of
  liberty: just possibly
  a solecism prefiguring
  a benign shambles.

  An air of biding time,
  of grave confusion un-
  der due lip service to
  equality, and an obvi-
  ous groping for a less
  regressive Court major-
  ity, bear the hallmark
  of a more fertile dis-
  integration than were
  expected in the senti-
  mental lunge to revive
  icons. We've seen such
  ferment, and it can be
  a pleasure to reclaim.

           Presumably, there is much
           here that was part of the
           inherited bardic formulas,
           repeated and perpetuated
           after much of primitive be-
           lief had degenerated into
           mere clichés of speech and
           storytelling. The essential
           difficulty is to find the
           proper line between a
           thought-world that was gone 
           and a rationality that was 
           yet to come.

Supreme Court
  of the United States
May, 2014

Sir Moses Finley
The World of Odysseus
  Morals and Values
Viking, 1954©

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Memo to the degree candidate

   What is being

   It could be said of his
   philosophical method that
   its aim is to change the
   aspect under which certain
   things are seen - for ex-
   ample, to see a mathematical
   proof not as as a sequence
   of propositions but as a 
   rule, to see first-person
   reports of psychological
   states .. not as descriptions
   but as expressions, and so on.

   The 'understanding that con-
   sists in seeing connections',
   one might say, is the under-
   standing that results from a
   change of aspect.

Ray Monk
Ludwig Wittgenstein
  The Duty of Genius
Penguin Books, 1991©