Chameleons with Feelings

Part of the problem being that we cannot step outside of ourselves and see where we are going in life, to avert mistakes, or to hold the course to where the weather is clement. What is the way, one may be wont to ask, particularly if one has been, as Horace advised writers, hurried into the middle of things (festinat et in media res). Thomas Carlyle has invoked Horace's counsel, writing, "rush forward and fear nothing" - which rather brings to mind the message Nike hides in some of its running clothes: "run fast, live fearless." Except Carlyle meant action, not speed. "Be not too careful for a subject; take the one you feel most interest in", he writes to an essayist. And if we are, to some extent, the authors of our lives, perhaps affinity, with its filmish Fin implying boundaries between here and there, is a good place to start.
In the Tao Te Ching (1), we are advised to not have desires if we are to see the Way, yet to have desires to see its manifestations - which Legge translates as "its outer fringe."
I understand this to mean that there is no formula for a life, because life itself is beyond definition. In (32) we learn, in both Legge's and Lau's translations: "Only when it is cut are there names. As soon as there are names one ought to know that it is time to stop" so that one might be "free from all risk of failure and error".
I was thinking about that when I listened to social psychologist Ellen Langer, talking about the impossibility of breaking free from the names or labels people construct for each other, and how freeing it is when a single person puts into practice the platitude that there is more than one way of looking at things (and thereby people) and realises that one way of defining a person ruins the definer's view of said person: for example, a rigid person can instead be seen as a stable person. In other words, (in John Conley's description of Madeleine de Scudéry's views), prejudice can be mistaken for knowledge. Names are like photographs: accurate for one second, but not necessarily in terms of the larger picture.

Today as I was running, I could no longer listen to contemporary music and had been overjoyed when I discovered that I could take the France Musique programme I was listening to on the road: rather aptly called "Le Passage de Midi". The four-part programme on the kiss is exquisitely curated, and possibly not coincidentally brings to mind the heightened sensibility of the précieuses. I found myself listening to a description of Scudéry's novelistic "Carte de Tendre" or, "Map of the Country of Tenderness" as the prolific Victorian French and English literary critic George Saintsbury translates it: a map of the territory suitors traverse to find their way to love: routes leading through the villages of letters and trinkets, or through villages of patience and faithfulness - hopefully never straying into the Lake of Indifference. A metaphysical map! One thinks of Dante's voyage.
Scudéry wrote of this map in her novel Clélie, a roman à clef in which important personages of the day were disguised in classical roles, not quite as long as her other novel Artamène, with over 2 million words.
Scudéry, like Giambattista Vico later, expressed philosophical differences with Descartes for his overestimation of reason. She even wrote The History of Two Chameleons to disprove his theory that animals were soulless machines. John Conley, in his SEP article on her notes that her interpretation of the world was not only empirical but also "sympathetic" and "aesthetic": she attributes emotions to her chameleons and notes the beauty of their motions and skin.
What does she say in response to the Delphic maxim γνῶθι σεαυτόν? That the "noetic agent" can reach such knowledge only if it can reveal the need for moral conversion. One thinks back to the chameleon, and the changing names of the Way. Except this is no relativism: there is a map, and if not drawn exclusively according to Cartesian introspection, it does have borders delineated by virtue and vice.
To have desire and yet to relinquish it (as per Tao 1): rather like Scudéry's topography of the inclined suitor that can traverse villages, but is surrounded by the dangerous sea of passion, uncharted at the fringes, dipping off into the unknown. "The way is to the world as the River and Sea are to rivulets and streams." "Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger." (Tao 32)

Postscript: Saintsbury's commentary on Clélie is most charming. He writes in his History of the French Novel that he could expand the outline of that novel "(and the process would not be very painful to me) into an abstract as long as that of Cyrus; but 'It Cannot Be.'" He ends the section on the novel writing, "If I were sent to twelve months’ imprisonment of a mild description, and allowed to choose a library, I should include in it  … Clélie … By reading slowly and ‘savouring’ the process, I should imagine that, with one’s memories of other things, they might be able to last for a year. And it would be one of the best kind of fallows for the brain."
Scudéry herself writes, "We are born with the inclinations which heaven was pleased to give us, but we enter into the possession of praise or blame only at the moment we begin to act through reason. Up to this point, nothing is truly up to us; after that point, we are responsible for everything we do, whether good or evil. Therefore, it is up to us to see what inclinations we should follow and those we should change. Having known the true path of glory and virtue, we should walk in it despite all the repugnance we might find within ourselves."
Desire with detachment?

Brush: Misprinted type.

Apples and Pupils

Counsel is sometimes given to people to not read or watch material that is too "dark"; perhaps the tragedy lived needs no further illustration for catharsis: the illustration must come from within (where illustration connotes illumination), and for this to take place, the mind seeks location elsewhere, on greener, so sun-grown, pastures, not quite believing circumstance, because who wants vision to be tainted by such? Once upon a time, Plato wrote of the meaning of the pupil, of vision, in the Alcibiades 1.133: one is to search for the diviner part of man (the mind, virtue, and soul) in our own image in another's eye: literally, seek the little doll's image of ourselves in that eye - the little doll's image, κόρη, translated into English as "the apple of my eye".
The marionette of masked Melpomene moves over for "something cherished above all others". The question is whether one looks for such.
There are literal places or figurative times in which the streets are not smooth but have huge holes that defy logic (how do such depressions emerge on the sidewalk?) Some of these holes may be circled with spray paint, bearing messages of political angst, like, "[x political party] will lead you into this". So many reasons for seasons of discontent. It is a special kind of situation or period when merely being able to arrive at work on time or being able to do it without hindrance ceases to be a given and becomes an act of faith.
I will write about that now, so turn away, like our embodiment of masked Melpomene turns from tragedy to something more worthy of celebration in the opening paragraph, if the word displeases you.

Mood may buoy faith, which is fine, but what about that moment when reasons begin to pile up, covering up the light, weighing one down. May this be compared to walking on water and suddenly looking down?
Malady, a holding of the ill-conditioned that is both taken and offered. To be better-conditioned requires no great act of the imagination, perhaps mere simplicity. Seneca writes, "All things were ready for us at our birth; it is we that have made everything difficult for ourselves", and Euripides, "The traditions which we have received from our fathers, old as time itself, no argument shall overthrow them, whatever subtleties have been invented by deep wits" (both excerpts I read this morning). One such tradition, if I may be forgiven for simplicity, is, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". What of the apple for the non-physical body that holds courage?
An example of helpful nighttime reading to dissolve quotidian miseries accumulated and sow ideas of fortitude in dreams is Erasmus' Proverbs. Take for example cor ne edito, "Let not care corrode and gnaw your heart, lest you should fall into a state of despondency, and to avenge some disappointment or trouble, throw away all the blessings you enjoy, and with them your life."
Just like the chemical digestion involved with eating the apple, it is implied that thought carries its chemical repercussions too, in the word "corrode". It is implied, too, that normal processes can go wrong with thought, and instead of consuming, one will be consumed.
The apple of one's eye is not an apple by default; it is possible to see candy there, or X's, or a mask.

Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees; brush: misprinted type.

A Few Binaries

Yesterday, I was looking through Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond looking for a passage where she writes, as far as I remember, about the tacit understanding instilled during childhood that one is to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. It seems now that many have forgotten about the old cultural mores, and expect one to become borderline hysterical when faced with chaos, if they are to believe one is having a rough time. But there may not be much point in that. I did not find the passage I was looking for in Macaulay, and instead found another topic of interest: that of good and bad, which also happens to be mapped out against a Greek-Turkey landscape - the same landscape that inspired the art of Jean Lurçat, an artist I came to know during my time at  l'Université catholique de l'Ouest, who was also concerned with the good and bad.
Reacting at every rupture or shaking of the earth, while not bad, is perhaps not wise. An analogy can be drawn to why Socrates stayed married to his wife despite her throwing pails of water on his head: through tolerating this abuse, he found it easier to face the criticism of him from people outside of his home. How easily, though, such a home situation could unleash evil from within another kind of person, not Socrates. This illustration of fortitude is thus closely related to an understanding of good and bad, even if not quite the same thing.
Macaulay writes of this binary: "Once people used to talk about being good and being bad, they wrote about it in letters to their friends, and conversed about it freely; the Greeks did this, and the Romans, and then, after life took a Christian turn, people did it more than ever, and all through the Middle Ages they did it, and through the Renaissance, and drama was full of it, and heaven and hell seemed for ever round the corner, with people struggling on the borderlines and never knowing which way it was going to turn out, and in which of these two states they would be spending their immortality, ... and it was all extremely interesting and exciting. And they went on talking about their conflicts all through the ... 19th centuries, and James Boswell ... wrote to his friends, 'My great object is to attain a proper conduct in life. How sad will it be if I turn out no better than I am!' and the baronet he wrote this to did not probably think it peculiar ... I am not sure when all this died out, but it has now become very dead. I do not remember that when I was at Cambridge we talked much about such things ... we talked about everything else, such as religion, love, people, psycho-analysis, books art, places, cooking, cars, food, sex, and all that."

Macaulay was of course alive during the end of the period of the Grand Tour, and Towers includes many funny quips about travel and travelogues. Is the openness to the East, and travel in that direction, a readiness for questions of morality? To think of the Renaissance is to also think of Greek questions, e.g. in how they were adapted in the Florentine Academy, or how Erasmus made philological translations: to visit Greek museums is to read about how the gradual demise of Constantinople lead to a brain drain to the West that led to this spread of thought. Geography may or may not be another binary, like that of good and bad.
Lurçat travelled that landscape, though after Macaulay. Here is a link to a painting he made during those travels. It is a painting of a burned city, one that becomes transformed in modern geography, through modern war. Lurçat is most known, at least to me, for the tapestries he made after the famous 14th century Apocalypse Tapestry housed in the Chateau D'Angers. Like the Renaissance man was once the miniature of the microcosm, man in Lurçat's tapestries is the one who can restore balance to the precariousness that is chaos (that also erupts through the wars he himself wages). To have faith in man, the exhibit says of his views, is to be optimistic, and to cultivate the wish to believe in harmony and a benevolent progress for mankind, while pessimism demarks discouragement.
While I don't feel qualified to make sweeping statements about mankind, I would say that on the individual level, it does nothing to gulp down information of nosediving trends but makes a world of difference to have faith in mankind and in the tiny difference a single person can make: in the benevolent progress of the individual.
To really look around, one can see people who seem to defy all odds through their mere existence, and hold up a lamp of hope for other people, or keep a certain message alive that needs to be heard, like the daughter to anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherin Bateson. She speaks, on the radio programme On Being, of social change by drawing parallels to endosymbiosis, the theory according to which a nucleus "came about by one single cell organism taking up residence inside the other in a way that was mutually beneficial. ... And it is now understood that they were originally like algae that took up residence inside these cells, because they needed a home that they didn’t have. And so for millions of years, every cell in every leaf is actually a cooperative enterprise." Developing this idea, she defines "homemaking" as "creating an environment where learning is possible."

M. C. Bateson is a lamp for keeping alive her mother's question about how to make a better world for posterity. Her mother's idea was about evolutionary clusters, which has to do with not doubting what a committed, thoughtful group of citizens can do to change the world. Rather like Lurçat's hope in man. But to bring this post full circle, M. C. Bateson is dissatisfied with the modern day division between the self-proclaimed "spiritual but not religious" who reject a belief in an abstract, higher good, while remaining confident in evil. Instead of their self-proclaimed one-sided binary, she suggests we speak instead in terms of wonder.
Also like Lurçat, she has a model for keeping the precariousness of impinging chaos in balance: she speaks of jazz improvisation, which is far from being chaotic and spontaneous, but is, rather, something practiced. Practice is the saving grace. So, what are people practicing today? Moaning a lot, one might say. What a contrast to the example set by Erasmus, who I am reading about in Jebb's account: Greek was hardly a subject of study when he taught it, and he himself picked it up in a way we might today call unconventional, but he complained not and went about his business, translating. Making use of what he knew.
But not all of us possess the intelligence to do groundbreaking work. Perhaps some of us can only hope to be torchbearers (λαμπάδια ἔχοντες διαδώσουσιν ἀλλήλοις ἁμιλλώμενοι τοῖς ἵπποις). In the modern Olympic Games tradition, to be a torchbearer has meant to also run with the flame, in a relay. Such sport, while through its demand on time and effort may seem counterproductive to the allegorical matter at hand, nonetheless has a return in not only yielding results in terms of physical strength but also in teaching one endurance and to take things one step at a time. This might not make one popular at this particular time in history, but it may help one be prepared to hold up the side of the binary one might prefer to be on, if one questions such things to begin with.

Brush: misprinted type.

Let Out Your Sail

"There's nothing more overrated than a beautiful person with some hideous dreams," croons a singer on the Monstercat album that inspires the difficult parts of all the running I have been doing. Of course, the sentiments in the song hardly live up to Plutarch's prescription for peaceful living but perhaps it helps to let escape, if momentarily and occasionally, surprise at the constellatory route marked out by fellow passengers in life. Let them be, Plutarch's advice may be recapitulated as reading, it does no good to expect people to be other than what they are. But where other people's actions, or lack thereof, leave one, say, with far less pay and far more work, subscribing to wisdom can be tricky, for the question remains: Where am "I" in all of this?
Hitting the pavement. "Meeting with" the pavement (etymologically speaking). Which is to say, travelling in a certain way, for training is travel in terms of reaching new levels of fitness or enforcing the mindset that internalising horizons not visible from Point A is achievable so far as they are ever-newly achieved.
Ever setting goals becomes significant when the people from paragraph one, just being who they are, as Plutarch counsels, do something yet again, further, to demand even more of one's time and effort. If one struggles not to feel overwhelmed, it is likely that contemporary literature will just not bring enough wind to sails badly in need of lifting. These authors don't seem to believe in what they are saying, and there is as much indeterminacy in what they report as the "birds in the air" that Aristotle writes of that one ends up chasing if one is caught up in sense-perception, thinking that anything that appears, just because one sees it, is true - which ultimately leads to the conclusion that reality is "both so and so" (Met. 1009b). Which is to me a hideous dream. Anything goes!

But Aristotle teaches us how to respond to ambiguous relativity. We are to say, yes, things are so and so, but only to such and such a person in such and such a form (Met. 1011a). Things really can look grim, but I have thought about it and conclude that there is no use in that portrait, unless it is a momentary sigh. Because breath, as we know from training, has its place too, in the lesson of control of difficulty: it is rather inelegant to huff-uff when the same activity can be done in rhythm - I was going to write "in time" and perhaps that is the better phrase, for it is time that favours the faith of patience, which is why it makes sense to keep trying, even when it is hard.
Meeting the pavement: it is this kind of travel and motion, even rush forwards, that can be experienced while reading Pindar's "Pythian 1 For Hieron of Aetna". It is so beautiful that one does not want to spoil it by attempting to retell it, instead preferring to covet it by reading it again and again (this is what I want to do now, but I must finish writing this, since I began it). He asks that he "may make a long cast" of words-akin-to-javelin, brandished in his hand to surpass his rivals. "Would that all of time may, in this way, keep his propserity and the gift of wealth on a straight course, and bring forgetfulness of troubles. Indeed he might remember in what kind of battles of war he stood his ground with an enduring soul". In singing this powerful praise, he continues to ask for his own reward... and this will bring me to my conclusion.

"If you speak in due proportion, twisting the strands of many themes into a brief compass, less blame follows from men." Less blame for himself, less for what he is praising. "For wearying satiety blunts the edge of short-lived expectations, and what the citizens hear secretly weighs heavy on their spirits, especially concerning the merits of others. Nevertheless, since envy is better than pity, do not abandon fine deeds!" Pindar then entreats us, his audience, to see the power we bear together in holding the course for that which is good. 
As if responding to Aristotle's passages on appearance in Metaphysics (which of course he isn't), he writes, "You have many faithful witnesses of both good and bad. But abide in a blossoming temper". Why blossoming temper? Because if we wish good to be spoken of us, and to have a chance to be blessed by favour through Pindar's prayer, we are to be magnanimous, not "distressed by expenses" or "deceived by glib-profit seeking". Instead, he advises, "let out your sail to the wind".
Petty-mindedness is diverted through the travel of our imagination as we remember, through his poem, the travels of others' deeds, like the Diomedes who would not let the battle be won with Philoctetes' weapons without retaining Philoctetes the man. Where am "I" in all of this? In Diomedes, saving the man, spared from war-weariness, not deceived by glib-profit seeking (κέρδεσιν εὐτράπλοις, which also echoes the evasion that is appearance), rather more setting out his sails to the wind, delivering victory from the inside of a horse that echoes the four-horse chariot that is the reason for Pindar's victory ode.
The "I" asks Pindar's poem for answers and learns that if fortune isn't won, there is still a second prize, "to be well spoken of". But it is dangerous in Pindar's poem to be worthy of praise, it is so hard, there is so much envy to contend with. Perhaps this is why his words are so forceful, they are sharpened by the contrast of that which they stand out against. How could his words stand a chance in a culture like ours today, devoid of invocations of conviction.

Brush: misprinted type.

Scope of Power and Usefulness

The phrase above comes from Frank Woodworth Pine's introduction to the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. While the autobiography was written during Franklin's lifetime, it only reached the public in unadulterated form in the late 19th century. True to the values of that time, Pine promotes it as a success story. By way of example of precedent, Seymour's Self-Made Men came out in 1858 and was "about the lives of ... persons who have attained emminence in spite of adverse circumstances of birth and fortune"; in it are assmebled, among others, tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, William Cobbett, and James Watt. Pine thinks Franklin's work successfully conveys the secret of success of life, which he considers Americans love to read, though they are often disapointed at finding familiar if unfollowed commonplaces.
Pine attributes the book's success to Franklin's having been in "the same boat" as the public yet having overcome those adversities. The success promoted today is diametrical to that represented by Franklin (particularly in his short work The Way to Wealth): magnifying instead of shunning sloth, as in the example of reality shows boradcasting "stars" with nothing better to do than argue about nail polish. What is more, the modern success story, while still narrated in simple langauge, even emoji-esque instagram photos, lacks the moral component once taught by maxims.
Aristotle wrote about the use of maxims in Rhetoric (2.21.2), defining them as having as their objects human actions, "and what should be chosen or avoided with reference to them". He writes that maxims should be clear and concise. Just like the later humanists encouraged the collecting and employment of sententiae (brief moral sayings - often indicated at that time by a little hand), Aristotle suggests: "One should even make use of common and frequently quoted maxims, if they are useful" because they can unite a speaker with the audience through the articulation of their preconceived notions, which seem to be true, or they can go against popular sayings for passionate effect. Ultimately, however, they can be used for ethical effect, to promote the moral character of the speaker. (Freese's translation uses both the words ethical and moral in this context.)

Precedents to the Puritan maxims compiled by Franklin himself in his book Poor Richard's Almanack (which incidentally brought him into the public eye) would be Pythagorus' Golden Sayings, Appius Claudius Caecus' Sententiae, maybe Plutarch's Sayings of Romans, Erasmus' Adagia. Appius' most famous line pertains to the self-made man, stating: "every man is the fashioner of his own fortune" - which of course can be countered by any number of phrases from Epictetus' Golden Sayings that acknowledge the importance of discerning what exactly is ours to fashion.
At this time in my life, I ask myself how much of my life is in my power, as others have the power to determine whether to institute cut-backs at the university where I work. I question where my own usefulness might be found. Plutarch, in On Tranquility of Mind explains it may come from reasonableness, experience, and the ability or knowledge to make use of present situations. Even if something goes awry, he counsels us to look on the bright side: "For it is possible to change the direction of Fortune when she has given us things we do not wish. Diogenes was driven into exile: 'Not so bad after all!' for after his exile he began to lead the life of a philosopher. ... What, then, prevents our imitiating such men as these?" Indeed...
It is the "simplicity and vigor" of the style of Franklin's prose (his cogent reasoning and facile pen) that Pine admires: qualities that meant he knew how to convey the scope of power and usefuless that characterised him. "If Robert Louis Stevenson is right in believing that his remarkable style was acquired by imitation then the youth who would gain the power to express his ideas clearly, forcibly, and interestingly cannot do better than to study Franklin's method."
The scope of power and usefulness in the title of this blog post is therefore the range of one's ability to imitate goodness. Where inspiration is lacking, there is precedent.

Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern; brush: misprinted type.

Creative Commons License