Who Can Tell

The old folk say in the bleakest of times, "Who can tell what good shall come of it." I am thankful to the Bach family, their cantata singers are giving voice to the melancholy I face: how can so much work possibly be done up to standard in so little time, by someone as unpracticed as I? But the harpsichord floats forward, and suddenly, it is a new moment. Little silences open up between instrument and voice; that is the empty space where I reflect on recent failures. Like saying any old thing when under attack, jumping in, instead of letting people wear themselves out. Saying any old thing! What a shame for an adult. But there are other things, other things, too. At least, one lets go of what others do. One is in the concert hall in one's mind, and it is only the music and whoever is listening, together focused on the notes. Solitude; so much of life is inside it, and sometimes I long so much for help, just any help, someone to read over my work one more time, or permit me to go to sleep when I am tired. But the old folk have a saying.
In these few minutes that I have sat before this screen, I read up on the Bach family, who worked with concerted effort over the generations to truly become a musical family, eventually an overall educated one when social advancement through better venues for their music (at court) allowed the sons to get a university education. I am never bored by imagining the university education as something to be prized and striven for; what is more, J. S. Bach's eponymous grandson studied with a friend of Goethe's who taught Goethe drawing and was himself an esteemed artist, Adam F. Oeser, further illustrating the very long line drawn by education. The latter was a friend of Winckelmann, and suddenly we are in the Enlightenment, hobnobbing with Leibniz and prancing off to the Leibniz book fair that rivaled the one in Frankfurt (via). The text linked to, by Prof. Koch, explains the ubiquity of the Winckelmann legacy in terms of the neoclassical motifs adopted by architects, and the china purchased by the middle class. But Winckelmann's platitude was that we may become great by imitating the ancients, stipulating, "what is imitated, if handled with reason, may assume another nature, as it were, and become one's own."
To handle with reason; this is the Delphic charioteer, no? Handling the reigns with reason, euphoria tamed on his face. Likewise, difficulty is to be borne with such restraint. There is also the promise that if one endures, one could become one's own, which I suspect has to do with allowing some failure by looking at the sculpture as a whole, or what Benjamin calls Winckelmann's "will to symbolic totality" which is available to the modern man who has no recourse to observing nature directly through the mediation of the archetype; man is invited to fill in the empty spaces where the ideal is not immediately present, when reality falls short. "Who can tell what good shall come of it."



Brush: Ewansim tape at DeviantART.

Not Fool's Gold

Thomas Hardy gives a twist to what is meant by a liberal education in his description of Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles: "Almost at a leap, Tess thus changed ... to a complex woman. Symbols of reflectiveness passed into her face ... Her eyes grew ... more eloquent ... her soul that of a woman whom the turbulent experiences of the last year or two had quite failed to demoralize. But for the world's opinion those experiences would have been simply a liberal education." The education thus affords a straying if also an implied return to golden rules. Heeding the golden rules is difficult because their truth cannot be felt, and is implicitly easy to stray from: "'By experience,' says Roger Ascham, 'we find out a short way by a long wandering.' ... But it had not  been in Tess's powernor is it in anybody's powerto feel the whole truth of golden opinions while it is possible to profit by them. Sheand how many moremight have ironically said to God with St. Augustine: 'Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted.'" Where education implies a striving towards ideals, liberal education allows for the (unnecessarily) prolonged empiricism of mistakes made by a sensitive soul (Tess is not just any literary character).
The passage reminded me of Vico's Heroic Mind, where university is described as the cure for students depraved by original sin, ailing in mind and soul to perfect their better nature. In this classical education, poetry is to "calm the uncontrolled turbulence of the imagination", taught alongside, for example, geometry, taught to "hold in check innate errors". Poetry is read for its representations of ideal types, wherein even the wicked, "is most beautiful, because always self-consistent, always true to itself, harmonious in all its parts." By contrast, men in real life fall short, as they are not consistent and do not cohere. Poetry is curative by sharply delineating "the pure ideal type". By comparing a difficult boss to the evil ideal, one might realise the boss's potential for good and set to work to find ways to showcase those aspects. By addressing golden rules even when showing some practical difficulties of practicing what is preached, medicine may be had for the incoherence of lives through lengthy explanation and analysis.
For example, through the character of Tess's suitor, we see how what looks new, "the ache of modernism" is but a new definition of something timeless: "advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition-a more accurate expression, by words in logy and ism, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries." The novel shows in so many ways how easy it is to get carried away: by sensations, zeitgeist.




Hardy's novel, actually, I really only want to think of the first part, is very much about how much or whether or not one can shake off even the sensation of guilt, which like other sensations roughly guides the actions and makes an incoherent mess of things.
Adding to the problem of self-mastery, by which one can learn to manage sensations, is interference by society which may insidiously stunt this learning. In Hardy's novel, it is suggested that one can even be blinded by university. Through the character of Angel, who was not Cambridge-educated like his brothers, we see its failings (though I think that implicitly we also see its success in that it was Angel who made such tragic life decisions). University produces cogs in machinery, to the church or to academia, and not the well-rounded "hero" Vico describes, who knows physics as well as metaphysics; logic as well as poetry. The university-educated brothers, "whatever their advantages by comparison with [Angel], neither saw nor set forth life as it was really lived." And in this novel, life as it is really lived is a life of mistakes.
It would seem that but few people have the strength of character to accept their mistakes and also to stand up to those who deny the legitimacy of the 'prodigal' education. It is accidental that 'prodigy' sounds so close to 'prodigal', but to play off those words, where the prodigal wastes, the prodigy makes into signs and omens, possibly through the root of aio, I say. Taking this verbal happenstance further, the true liberal education is in part narrative and very much in need of special interpretation because the character is no longer that of the ideal, but is not wasted, being one seeking the ideal, seeking to be filled in by it as much as possible given depravity. It may be that for many fool's gold is hypocritical adoption of golden precepts that does not allow for their difficult and profundity. This is not true of everyone, and certainly not true of anyone at all times, because features like the good if philippic nature of Reverend James Clare must also be explained. If gold is the timeless lessons that keep one safe, fool's gold is the ism and logy of those sensations that can't just be resolved by the mechanical rotations of newness masking through newness the various forms of mistakes and sacrifice, so unfortunately fashionable in their many guises throughout the ages.



Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees. 
Brush: Ewansim tape at DeviantART.

Curative Sympathies

This week marked International Translation Day, what is in the West the patron saint's day of translators, the holiday of St. Jerome of Stridonium. There was an interesting translator's day post written by Damion Searls at The Paris Review: "Translations are creative acts that don’t come from the self, at least not in the usual sense: In the translator’s creativity, the generative seed isn’t planted in quite the same way. There’s a third party involved, a God or Gabriel, an author who’s both the originator and totally absent from the actual formation of the translated work, or at least invisible in it." I think Searls was talking about the emptiness that precludes inspiration; when it comes to translating, there is indeed a silence or receptivity that one must bring to the text if one is to receive it, and then carry it across. And I think that this gift does not only apply to translation but also to life in general.
For example, in the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that a good speaker is one who has investigated the nature of who he is talking to. More specifically, he must "find out the class of speech adapted to each nature, and must arrange and adorn his discourse accordingly, offering to the complex soul elaborate and harmonious discourses, and simple talks to the simple soul" (277c). For the speaker is like a doctor, who "must analyze a nature, in one that of the body and in the other that of the soul, if you are to proceed in a scientific manner, not merely by practice and routine, to impart health and strength to the body by prescribing medicine and diet, or by proper discourses and training" (270b). In sum, he must "classify the speeches and the souls and will adapt each to the other, showing the causes of the effects produced and why one kind of soul is necessarily persuaded by certain classes of speeches, and another is not" (271b).
This is like becoming a fine-tuned instrument, able to receive the vibrations of the strumming fingers; there is something selfless about this. It is creative, in that it engenders words across mediums or borders.
One seeks to become a friend to something else. This is συμπάθεια, where the word means corresponding affection or quality-interestingly, the word also has a medical sense, corresponding to the Phaedrus excerpts.




To be a friend, though, one must be stable. In Lysis, Socrates says, "the good are like one another, and are friends, while the bad ... are never like even their own selves, being so ill-balanced and unsteady; and when a thing is unlike itself and variable it can hardly become like or friend to anything else" (214 c-d). The bad translator cannot identify with the text they are translating, unable to have appropriate corresponding affection for themselves. I do not mean to imply that I am not such a one; rather that the effort must be made to not be such an one. "The charges we bring against other often come home to ourselves ... so our eloquence ends by telling against ourselves," writes St. Jerome in Selected Letters.
Thinking of St. Jerome this week, I remembered the saying attributed to him, used at the incipit of Hardy's Tess, "If an offence come out of the truth, better it is that the offence come than that the truth be concealed." (In the context of this post, the truth is the difficulty the human character has in being in tune with and knowing its own self let alone being able to listen to others and prescribe what is needed.) I am not sure that the quotation is actually something that St. Jerome wrote, but did find the gist of that meaning in his Selected Letters, XL, where he too speaks of medicine.
"Those medical men whom folk call surgeons are thought to be cruel and really are pitiful. ... Is it not pitiful to show no horror at treating a malady which seems horrible even to the patient, and to be considered the sufferer's enemy? ... our spiritual surgeons by cutting into the faults of sinners exhorted men to repentance." In this same letter, in his signature acerbic style, he lists all the things he is only too happy to rebuke or sneer and laugh at, which suggests he may think it better nothing be concealed, even if it offends.
There are other teachings according to which a truth told at the wrong time is worse than a lie. But regarding translation, the truth of a given text is meant to shine through, and it will, or not, at least to those able to access the original and judge it. For example, one is to know that in some theatre discourse what is meant is masque and not mask. The laborious attempted search for meaning and stopping where meaning stops to find it again—this may be curative sympathy.
I found a new multilingual blog this week in which the author in one post quotes Hubert Dreyfus: "Heidegger would point out that a minimally meaningful life requires sensitivity to the power of shared moods that give mattering to our world and unity and meaning to events."



Brush: Ewansim grunge at DeviantART.
Picture of pattypan squash to indicate the shared mood of the baking receptacles 
this vegetable is named after in English and French (pâtisson).

Calling It, Not!

Tacitus begins his Annals with the remark that, "fine intellects" were "scared away" by "growing sycophancy" (gliscente adulatione). The Latin word conjures the servile movements of the dog, in other words something that man is not. The English word stems from a harsher Greek meaning, "false accuser, slanderer." In other words, again something that is not. Posturing, lies. The fine intellect retreats where words lose currency, which is precisely the stimulus for other intellects prepared to trade semblances and passing desires, flourishing in chaos where there is no stability on which to meaning may be built. C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, calls this the difference between propaganda and propagation.
The book contains an appendix in which the "objective truths" shared by various cultures and religions are collected in categories entitled, "The Law of Justice," for example, with subcategories, Sexual Justice, Honesty, Justice in Court, &C., or "The Law of Mercy." These laws correspond to the objective truths or values he calls the Tao, by way of shorthand - which is reminiscent of Robert Neville's "parallel sensitivities." Neither claim the cultures they are considering are the same, but argue that there are very real correspondences in man's experience or understanding of life. Lewis writes that the Tao is wrongly being put on trial by Conditioners who seek to condition mankind to ostensibly conquer nature but in actuality to make man into a raw material not to be controlled by man himself but to be controlled by nature, i.e. the appetite that is characteristic of nature.
In contrast to this is the Tao according to which values are preferred to impulses. It is like a tree "branching out ... into ever new beauties ... of application" and is in this way the Tao is something "in which to participate ... to be truly human". It is passed down from generation to generation, a measure that man can seek to live up to. It is clear in this system what man means, but Lewis writes about the modern attempt to judge these values from without, though these values can never be understood if they are to be asked for their "credentials" - they are but premises. Criticism has its place, but from within, by those living the Tao: otherwise, what looks like criticism is actually just hostility, because without participation in the Tao, there is no way to know what it is. Lewis calls the difference in criticism organic (i.e., from within) vs. surgical (i.e., from without). His criticism of the 'outside' critics' attempts to build a new system remind me of Gadamer's thorough critique of the impossibility of the objective viewpoint when applied to humanity in Truth and Method. There is no such thing as a constructed conscience; man is a subject - Lewis writes of the Tao.




The Tao is implicit even in that which is used to attack it (idealism is a fragment of the Tao "swollen to madness"), just as truth-seeking was part of science before the leading spirit of the same became to "subdue reality to the wishes of man". Man may have gained power in the plane or wireless, but he also became a target of both bombs and propaganda. He became a target due to lack of consideration of value. "When we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience, we reduce it to the level of 'Nature' in the sense that we suspend our judgement of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity."
Indeed, it is easier to play the sycophant than to be that stick in the mud who continuously stops to ask questions and reevaluate the values inherent in a situation. Yet it is precisely where humans share similar abstract orientations that stability affords the construction of meaning. Man in this instance is not abstracted (he is the Tao tree, branching out in new beauties of application) but shares an abstract vision, such as general orientation for what it means to be "good".
If there is no agreement on that, then we cannot speak of "good" workers in the workplace; the concept became redundant and is replaced by an insidious shifting landscape suited to adolatio, but this means that those getting by may not be just - or qualified for their jobs, and shoddy work will eventually emerge. I read something similar in a National Review Online article that considers the Confucian 正名, the concept of the rectification of names: "If language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success." And, "the demand for justice is first and foremost a demand that words and reality come back into alignment". Here is the misalignment as described by Lewis: "Man lives by bread alone, and the ultimate source of bread is the baker's van: peace matters more than honour and can be preserved by jeering at colonels and reading newspapers."
In other words, the abstract space for growth shrinks; and within this deformed network of tsantsas, "virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism". It is an interesting claim: there is nothing wrong with integration, per se; the problem arises because it has been substituted for something it is not. The sycophant is not, in the essence of being, a dog.



Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern. Brush: Lauren Harrison.

Little Vines on Paper

I have finally found the books with which I want to spend the rest of my life. But there is not enough time in the day, for the moment, to draw wisdom from their pages. So I miss them because it's become apparent how necessary it is to revise good ideas: it is not enough to merely encounter them once. Yet the ideas are not only in those books, the point of the good idea is that it is timeless and can be found in that Stoic idea of how people live, easy to locate if one is looking to people.
So here are some vignettes of what I have been doing when not checking contextual vocabulary for the book I am supposedly copy editing, but let's say that any translation happening as fast as this book is being translated means that the translation needs to be checked and retranslated in places, too. Anecdote one: I would perhaps be frustrated by this, or the ever more arcane deadline (though not on my end), but I am working with people whose haste is making something come together in months, as opposed to the years it would take me. So I may be losing sleep these days checking all these things that will not be revised enough but at the same time, I have become part of something that is powered by a will that I have not encountered in ages.
And I encountered the Wizard of Oz-like project manager, who took me away from hours on the job for coffee with the author who never showed and ended up remarking offhandedly at some point, "It is better to work on solving the small problems if we want the larger ones to be resolved." That is just like the opening to Epictetus' Golden Sayings, which asks man to focus on the things that are in his control: "The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that which belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered." If something is beyond our control, we are taught to say to such, "You are but an appearance, and absolutely not the thing you appear to be" and say to such that it is nothing to us. The little things are far more accessible, like how I talk to the cleaning ladies at the university; what is not accessible is whether I will be hired again next year.
By talking to the cleaning lady after the exam I held, I gleaned this nugget from her, "It appears," she said, "that some people have forgot that they are people."
Indeed, people we are. Not numbers, not parties, but people who laugh and cry, eat and discard stems or bones. Messy material. Problematic.




So as I was walking through the farmer's market today, one of those quiet, overcast days when it seems that every vendor I know calls me over to exchange a few wordsno matter which, I stood the longest at the fish stall, where the lady talked about her brush with politics, how by not getting involved, she became an outcast and lost her job, only to be hired soon afterwards, with two children to feed, at a newspaper. She had been some kind of IT worker in the early days of such...and today she plunges her hands in the ice to release the fish that become people's meals.
Her main comment was that the sooner people understand that fortune comes and goes, if they have the fortune to see this in their own family, they are better adjusted to the way of things. That those too focused on the material are quickly disappointed and have little to teach others (viz. the way of things). That if one lacks such teachers, one has books (says the fishmonger-if you understand my interjection): books, not just one book but many books because all one needs is never in a single book. She was talking about how it is never enough to live by worrying over material existence, but that it helps to do the useful or enjoyable. And she did not use the contemporary stock phrase positive energy as she spoke, but the phrase, to fill the soul.
So much of what annoys passes quickly: one may even reach old age and regard past experience with that grain of salt that may or may not be used to freeze things (to link to a marvelous blog I discovered today via languagehat).
Freezing is an interesting concept. It is most useful for its opposite, heat, as in, the hot months of summer. From these opposites, I take time from little time to reflect on these anecdotes that serve as substitutes for books for as long as the tome of history I am working on occupies me. But does not control me. Because I still have the little things, and if they are not books they are at least placeholders to the texts that await me: the itses in want of context.



Brush: Ewansim Grunge at DeviantART.
Bookstore:  Erato Books
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