Saturday, January 29, 2011

Internal Combustion

"Against Advice"
for Veronica Furner

Her apple tree felled
Became logs for our fire.
Let them dry out she said
And use them next year.

As I stacked them I noted
Their moist mottled bark
But my usual impatience
Soon put them to work.

Reluctant to kindle
They sizzled and spat
Like the right words in waiting
But not ready yet.

Then after a while
Smoke turned into flame
And with sudden combustion
The poem came.

--John Mole

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

the Myth of State


"Government is the great fiction, through which every- body endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850)
French political philosopher

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Art of Transcendence

From P. J. Kavanagh's review of The Great Books by the philosopher Anthony O'Hear:
"...O’Hear points out for example that the Greek heroes in Homer (whom Simone Weil called ‘ killing-machines’) were attacking a culture that was domestic and civilised. Andromache was preparing a hot bath for her husband Hector, not knowing that he was being dragged, dead, behind the chariot of Achilles. Homer tells us this, but amid the blood and clamour we might overlook the contrast. In the Aeneid Vergil can be sensed flinching at the violence of the pax romana — even ‘pious Aeneas’ could be guilty. This ‘piety’ is O’Hear’s theme.

"All the books he describes and examines, from Homer to Goethe’s Faust, exist in an order that contains some form of transcendence, above and outside man. This order, essential to understanding the books themselves, O’Hear contends that we now too often push aside, treating ‘the mythology and mysticism of Plato’s thought as if these things were too naive and embarrassing even to notice’. Against this impoverishment O’Hear, unfashionably, goes doughtily to war."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Born Yesterday

Friends of ours just sent this snapshot of their beautiful new granddaughter, Thalia Sky, born yesterday afternoon. I was struck by the infant's open stare, and went scrambling for a passage from a book I'd read recently, The Power of Eye Contact. In a chapter on intimacy, it talks about how "appreciating really brings presence":
Presence is a major nutrient that people need lifelong. If you think of babies, we just gaze at babies and look at them, and we don't need to do anything; we just exchange gazes. ...Your essence, who you really are, is so available just from gazing, giving and receiving attention. (K. Hendricks, p173).
Uninhibited by the cultural taboo against staring, a baby's eyes express that deep yearning we all have to relinquish the condition of separateness:
...they just can't take their eyes off yours. ...It's utterly natural. We're all seeking this communal experience of union. (W. Johnson, p187)
Thalia Sky, with her innocent stare, reminds us of what Zen Buddhists call beginner's mind: experiencing the world without preconceptions, without filters and blinders, appreciating it anew, with the freshness and wonder of a baby's eyes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On My Whoosh List

Some books look irresistible. Those of us enamored of the ancient Greeks will have difficulty passing up this one: ALL THINGS SHINING, Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. According to Eric Ormsby in his WSJ review, the authors--philosophers Hubert Dreyfus at Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly at Harvard--"view the ancient Homeric gods as hidden presences still susceptible of invocation. Indeed, they hold out 'Homeric polytheism' as a solution to the 'lostness' of the contemporary world."
The authors' general theme, and lament, is that we are no longer "open to the world." We fall prey either to "manufactured confidence" that sweeps aside all obstacles or to a kind of addictive passivity, typified by "blogs and social networking sites." Both are equally unperceptive. By contrast, the Homeric hero is keenly aware of the outside world; indeed, he has no interior life at all. His emotions are public, and they are shared; he lives in a community of attentiveness. He aspires to what in Greek is termed "areté," not "virtue," as it is usually translated, but that peculiar "excellence" that comes from acting in accord with the divine presence, however it may manifest itself.
The two philosophers describe a fascinating notion they call "whooshing up:"
Whooshing up is the sensation we enjoy at a sporting event when the crowd rises to its feet as one to register a communal sense of awe and admiration before some astonishing athletic feat.

Whooshing up is communal, it is public and it is shared; and so, according to the authors, it is close to the kinds of sensations the ancient Greeks admired and cultivated. Throughout the book, such great athletes as Bill Bradley, Lou Gehrig and Roger Federer are invoked as supreme examples of such shining, almost instinctive, grace. Their greatness lies not solely in their skill, the authors argue, but in their ability to let some outside force course through them, just as the heroes of old were exquisitely attuned to the power of a god working through their bodies.

I could use some of that in my tennis game--I got whipped this morning. Look out, Stephan-I'm ordering this book!