Lost or Hiding

By way of meandering introduction, it is odd to find after writing a blog post over a period of days how far it wanders from incipit coordinates. This post began in the alleyways of the slums of London, in Victorian journalist George Sims' depiction of it in How the Poor Live. I had planned to mention how names of old figured into the popular consciousness then, like how Dives, related also to Πλούτων in Cicero Nat. D. II.xxvi, marks for Sims the onus of the poor, and the periphery of commerce also the periphery of wealth's domain and interest. I wonder now about how the amnesia to those names today is oddly the realisation of some of Cicero's ironic stand towards Stoic etymology, which, aside from force of habit, he sought to transfigure, from names into essence.
The word transfigure I picked up not from the church fathers who mined Cicero's works in early years, but from Laurenz Lersch, whose passage on Cicero's etymology in Die Sprachphilosophie der alten led me through my own alleyways: I do not know German, so I tried to decipher the passage by reading about early understanding of irony (for Lersch claims Cicero is ironic in his etymologies) and the Stoic relation towards etymology. I entreat any interested readers to share a summary or translation of the three Lersch pages. I think Lersch - who seems to have influenced so much of what I read, but is hardly cited - explains that Cicero wanted to connect [his own reformulations of] Greek philosophy at a time when such was not interesting to the general reader. He hid his literary aspirations in irony, which means saying less than one thinks.
Speaking of alleyways: one is reminded that something will always be missing from sight, round the corner. While many scholars seem to maintain that the type of "Socratic irony," that seeks to teach via what may be viewed as provocation, was only recognised when Aristotle wrote about it, what do we do with pre-Socratic thinkers like Heraclitus whose famous fragment has to do with a nature that hides? To expect speech to be a faithful mirror to what may be observed might actually be conceived as a weakness if it is realised that what is reflected is never the whole story though it may appear to be. This mirror sends Narcissus to eternal sleep: the εἴρων is the ellipsis leading from troubled times to the subject, begging from the slums of confusion for creative resolution.


But I digress. And will add just one more point before turning more faithfully to Cicero: one book on etymology suggests that irony is cultural, referencing a Greek and Oriental habit of punning. I would add that irony is also a way of coping in cultures that stop making sense. There is no need for it where Dives is thriving, chomping away. But M. Tully Cicero lived in turbulent times.
That said, "the curious etymologies and generally forced allegorical explanations of the mythological fables" that he wrote were "not very well adapted to gain acceptance with the people". The irony in his etymologies seems to be that while he criticised Stoic etymology, he was often simultaneously upholding Stoic views (as noted by the Renaissance thinker Turnebi).
Some scholars (e.g.) argue that Cicero chose to make a deliberate split from antiquarians like Varro who, like the Stoics, continued to use etymology as a basis for their arguments. They observe that Tully only uses it ironically - aside from in De re publica.
Cicero seems to explain the liberty he takes with his interpretation of etymology in Academica I.vii: "But the dialecticians' ... use words of  their own ... either new names have to be  coined for new things, or names taken from other things have to be used metaphorically. This being the practise of the Greeks, who have now been engaged in these studies for so many generations, how much more ought it to be allowed to us, who are now attempting to handle these subjects for the first time!" He also discusses this in Topics viii. Below, I will list excerpts where Tully handles names - largely those mentioned by Lersch, but also a few more, so we can see for ourselves the ironic tone and broader approach. If I were to write a conclusion to this post, it would have something to do with Bakhtinian battleground of language and Sims' peripheries.


From De Officiis: I.6 "I shall, therefore, at this time and in this investigation follow chiefly the Stoics, not as a translator, but, as is my custom, I shall at my own option and discretion draw from those sources in such measure and in such manner as shall suit my purpose."
I.23: "We may follow the Stoics who diligently investigate the etymology of words; and we may accept their statement that 'good faith' is so called because what is promised is 'made good' although some may find this derivation rather far-fetched."
From De gloria: "to imitate the stupidity of the Stoics".
From De natura deorum: I.xxx: "Should not  the physical philosopher therefore, that is, the explorer and tracker-out of nature, be ashamed to go  to minds besotted with habit for evidence of truth?"
II. xxviii: "Do you see therefore how from a true and valuable philosophy of nature has been evolved this imaginary and fanciful pantheon? ... These stories and  these beliefs are utterly foolish; they are stuffed with nonsense and absurdity of all sorts. But though True repudiating these myths with contempt, we shall nevertheless be able to understand the personality and the nature of the divinities pervading the substance of the several elements"
II.xxvi: he gives the Stoic etymology but then gives his own interpretation (like Off. 1.6)
III.xvii he claims to have learnt more about how to worship the gods from the pots bequeathed by Numa than from the theories of the Stoics
III.xxiv he argues that etymology is stupid, that “there will be no name of which you could not make the derivation clear by altering one letter” and calls "strained etymologies" a "dangerous practise" (though through the character of Cotta; in book II, the comments are Balbus').


Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees. Brush: smoke from DeviantART.

Character(s)

Keats, in one of his letters, writes, "even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself, but from some Character in whose soul I now live". While I will come back to this letter, the line seems particularly reflective of our romantically disoriented age, when people tattoo characters on their bodies hoping to embody that multiplicity that is still limited.
Characters also feature on "reality" shows (the jealous one, the peace-maker, the controlling one), which I can't help but compare to the types that are gods in myth - which came with accouterments of a full world vision, often with prefaces or passages of dedication to the gods, not only to capriciousness, but to where they stood for memory, or wisdom. In that vision, man is but a small actor.
To keep with antiquity, Theophrastus, a student of Plato's and Aristotle's, known largely for his study of plants, is also known for his work Jebb translated as Characters, about character types. He professes to be a "student of human nature" and claims his intention is to help "our sons" better navigate through character types, to know to fraternise with only the best.
A notion of "the finest" to save one from drowning in the ocean of characters; is it possible to suffer from too much "humanity"?




Norman Douglas in Old Calabria writes of racial character type (pp.126-7), and offers his solution to the short height or acrimonious bigotry of some races as being one of diet: proper nutrition makes men taller and more rational. The dilution of enviousness is a question of food. He advocates a more placid type: where placid does not mean something "dangerously akin to self-pity" but steadiness and self-containment. Lest one think this means something like stoicism, this is not what he meant for a page earlier he writes, "There are no stoics among well-fed people."
It is the line, "dangerously akin to self-pity" that brings associations, to my mind at least, of this ocean of humanity where humans can drown. There is a fine line between treating others as one wants to be treated and indulging them because one wants to be indulged and not do the learning that helps one make something where before there was nothing, through the golden effort.
Like the kind that exists on a physical and figurative plane: in physical training. Xenophon in Memorabilia, 3.12, has Socrates speak of its benefits - ranging from glory in war and the related reality of being less likely to be captured as a slave, to mental benefits, where exercise wards off illness and depression, for example. It may be added that self-pity is harder when one builds confidence through gaining increased strength.




A youtube trainer who is effective and full of gusto often speaks about the importance of setting goals, getting through the workouts day after day, and knowing that there will be no results if there is no pain: that physical "good pain" is a helpful daily reminder. Which is not to say that one remembers to exercise at all phases of life, like Aurelius writes in his Meditations, pp. 69, "Recall your true, your sober self, shake off the slumber". Aurelius writes much of mental exercise, which, like more advanced physical exercise, may be described by the Douglas phrase, "self-containment" where the word implies self-control and independence - also providing something of a blank slate.
Gerald Rendall, who translated Meditations, sums up this view by writing, xxxiiv emphasis added, "to assaults from without, whether from the unkindness of fortune or the malignity of man ... the freehold of the mind none other may contravene ... it stands fast ... the field ... into which man can ever at a moment withdraw himself ... and be clapped in perfect ease". Aurelius writes, 31 emphasis added, "remember to retire within that little field of self. Above all do not strain or strive, but be free". This is the figurative component of physical exercise. "Ever and anon grant yourself this retirement" he adds, just like the exercise needs to be done ever and anon. Fitness is not a laurel upon which to rest. It is work that is not tiring because of the benefits it brings.
Character in the context of these activities is very different from character Keats' letter (NB. written in a specific context). Character here is steady and self-contained. Which is not to discount the validity of what Keats describes, if reminiscent of the self-absorbed roller-coaster of youth: "When I am in a room with people, if I ever am free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then, not myself goes home to myself, but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me, so that I am in a very little time annihilated." It seems to me that despite emphasis on others, the letter centres on self - "All I hope is, that I may not lose all interest in human affairs" he writes, in the youthful melodramatic language of extremes, before time has a chance to give ironing lessons.




Thence the feelings, the softness of discipline, as opposed to strictness, clarity, precision. Pastoral dispensations (οικονομια) as opposed to strict and literal interpretations of canons (ακρίβεια): the comparison to illustrate that while self-containment, for example, may be a noble goal, there is the real problem of how to get there, how to start from where one is without lying to oneself and becoming a well-intentioned zealot or crushing one's gifts through a fearful self-effacement unschooled in discernment.
A letter of emotions is a reminder of what we could be, were, can be. The terrain is real. A man goes foraging for mushrooms, cooks some up at dusk, eats them, and in the morning finds in the basket among the remaining fungi a poisonous red that had got in there somehow, which he luckily had not eaten. Despite the vigil, the strictness, the precision, reality creeps in our vessels, asking if we will let it crack, or figure out how to keep going, creatively. It happens. Yet where would we be without clarity, strictness, and precision?
Again and again, the field is returned to, where character is built. Like one of my journalist friend from back in the day telling the story of how her father had her go out in sub-zero weather and scrape the ice off the windshield as "character building." Because hope or the balm of time are not blind faith; they are apprehended on "that little field".
It is little and wanting, and so this post begins again.


Magazines in background: Marie Claire Maison. Brush: Gimp.
The coffee in the photo echoes the coffee mentioned in the Douglas passage cited.

Facts of Fiction

It struck me as strange the other day when I realised how much argument has to go in to defending certain modern works as specific genres, when in the past, much liberty was taken in applying Aristotle's work on dramatic theory, Poetics, to literary theory as a whole. After all, though, the work seems to privilege meaning, if we take 1451b into consideration, where Aristotle calls poetry more "scientific and serious than history" because it illustrates what could be, i.e. what is possible through types, rather than what merely was. Hadot, in "Physique et poésie dans le Timée de Platon", finds a connection between this later statement and the creation myth in Plato's Timaeus, which is also a could - of the Best - placed over the was - of Necessity. Vis-a-vis this problem of "genre", Gadamer writes in Truth and Method that the main distinction between poetic and scientific (i.e. scholarly) prose is "the distinctions between the claims to truth that each makes". He continues: "It is not mere chance that the concept of literature embraces not only works of literary art but everything passed down in writing."
To look at art in terms of truth claims makes genre merely one form of vessel chosen over another to reach another shore - providing they are popular enough to work, which I add because it seems to me myth, for example, is not particularly popular at this time (which is not to say they do not subscribe to them; also, the winds of culture have blown on different courses since David Strauss, once admired by Nietzsche, among others). John Herman Randall describes mythologies as the consideration that moral adventure, artistic activity, and participation in the class struggle are the most important things in the world. (It is noted, though, that he wrote this in connection with romantic idealism.) Myth, in this respect, is a serious genre, though playful for the make-believe, and so is perhaps too light for this heavily jaded age.




This evening, I watched the end of Three Faces of a Woman, starring the Persian Princess Soraya, which led me to watch the last interview with the Shah of Iran, briefly educated at a Swiss boarding school I once went to during summer, and remembered some things that suggested to me that a world can shrink, but never go away, entirely. As for me, these days I live in a relatively impoverished place, where some people would curiously spend their last money to dance the tango or merengue. And this latter point illustrates the penultimate point in this post: the wish, among some, to belong to something greater, maybe I could add, to something with flair, too. This sentiment is rather like what is suggested in the pop song, "Je veux pleurer comme Soraya". She had a rose named in her honour (a grimpant tea-rose, in 1955 or 1960). It seems the rose, grown for l'impératrice by Francois Meilland, is not trademarked. Could or was?
Ultimately, though, and moving on, whether a hero is written or lived, and whichever comes first if ever, it seems a lot of imagination or vision is required to dream up an alternative in the face of the harsh Necessity that is sometimes called reality. Hadot writes that one such vision is given to us, as a choice (between Best and Necessary) in the Timaeus. What I find fascinating about that dialogue compared with a generalisation of the work of romantic idealists (both serious about best possible visions) is that the former, while idealistic, is also critical.



Book in background: Boucher's 20,000 Years of Fashion;
brush: ewansim at DeviantART.

Beach

An album that has brought some respite of late is the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds, which, aside from being a notable record for its avant-garde rock song cycle and unusual sounds and instruments surprises me for its still somewhat pop-influenced harmonies juxtaposed against lyrics like, "I guess I just wasn't made for these times", "Sometimes I feel very sad", "I know there's an answer, I know now I have to figure it out for myself".
It is uncertain exactly how the album got its name, but the album cover features the Beach Boys at the zoo, feeding goats, and a likely explanation was that the sounds were Brian's favourites, i.e., "pet", at the time. The track notes explain the inclusion of circumstantial sounds: like the dog barking, or train whistle. And speaking of circumstance, Brian didn't navigate it very well: "This is the worst trip I've ever been on". How do we return safely from the beach, after that?
To begin with, animals. They come up in stoicism, and even in Plato's Timaeus. Second, the skill of sight, which possibly entails the feelings of "difference" intimated in Pet Sounds, even if, by way of shorthand, difference may be described as superficial. First, though, the pets-or animals.
Animals, which care for their offspring and have a preservation instinct, are used as illustrations of human behaviour in Stoicism (which may cause one to think that perhaps some humans act worse than animals). Humans, through οἰκείωσις, are then meant to then develop mental, not only bodily, preservation, through rationality, which affords affinity with cosmic reason: man can become at home in the world through the development of the rational soul, identifying with the entire human race, expressed through a virtuous relationship with others.
Similarly in the Timaeus, a "likely account", the person who has "devoted himself to learning and to true thoughts" and who exercises such (90), is contrasted to the beings who transformed into lower creatures through paying "no attention at all to philosophy" and not studying "at all the nature of the heavens because they ceased to make use of the revolutions within the head and followed the lead of those parts of the soul which are in the breast. Owing to these practices they have dragged their front limbs and their head down to the earth ... because of their kinship therewith" (91).




Our kinship is not something to be dealt with lightly, particularly because things are not what they seem. The opening passage of the Stoic handbook the Enchiridion advises about such φαντασίαι: "say to every unpleasing semblance, 'You are but a semblance and by no means the real thing.'"
Since appearances are seen, they require proper sight. In the Timaeus, sight is attributed with having given man the vision of days and years, i.e., a notion of time, and also a "means of research into the nature of the Universe" through which philosophy, "the greatest good of eyesight" was obtained (47). By contrast, we learn that those who are diseased through excess are unable "to see or to hear anything correctly", and go mad (86).
Here, we may return to the musical beginnings of this post, as man's goal is essentially to be in harmony with the cosmos, which (spoiler alert) we learn from the Timaeus does not mean being in harmony with that which is seen, but a likely idea of the Best. It is in this work that Plato, who shows all kinds of good and bad ideas and interlocutors in his works, has Timaeus, the authority in the work, say: "For what is good merits description more than what is evil" (87). 
As this is a likely account of genesis, a likely account of the Best, comment is made on a rival philosophy: that of the Atomists. "Now our view declares the Universe to be essentially one, in accordance with the probable account; but another man, considering other facts, will hold a different opinion. Him, however, we must let pass," Timaeus says, "the doctrine of an infinite diversity is that of a man unversed in matters wherein he ought to be versed" (55). The word "unversed", ἄπειρος, plays on the two meanings of that word Lamb, a translator of the work into English, writes: meaning both 'unlimited' and 'unskilled'.
How contrary this idea is to our contemporary culture of multiplicities. But it depends on which way we are looking: the essence of humanity will always be one, no?


One who attempts to look beyond the first appearance of things may be lonely. The Beach Boys sing: "I know so many people who think they can do it alone, They isolate their heads and stay in their safety zones. ... No one wants to help me look for places, Where new things might be found."
These words are hopefully just the beginning, to be followed by the moral progress of the προκόπτων (advancing student), and an outward manifestation of difference through self-imposed self-restraint attracting the ridicule of others. Epictetus in the Enchiridion writes: "The marks of a proficient are that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one; says nothing concerning himself as being anybody or knowing anything. When he is in any instance hindered or restrained, he accuses himself". He is not even to be bothered if he appears foolish.
Plato's Timaeus continues this thought: "But he who has seriously devoted himself to learning and to true thoughts... must necessarily and inevitably think thoughts that are immortal and divine ... in so far as it is possible for human nature to partake of immortality ... inasmuch as he is for ever tending his divine part and duly magnifying that daemon who dwells along with him, he must be supremely blessed", Timaeus (90b-c). (Eu-daemon-ia, εὐδαιμονία, means happiness.)
So what does all of this have to do with "Pet Sounds", and how might we find our way back to the beach after stormy nights? "Harmony ... was given by the Muses to him who makes intelligent use of the Muses, not as an aid to irrational pleasure, as is now supposed, but as an auxiliary to the inner revolution of the Soul, when it has lost its harmony, to assist in restoring it to order and concord with itself", Timaeus (47).


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

Beyond Myth?

Jean-François Champollion was the son of a bookseller, who by his teenage years knew Greek and Latin, and some Herbrew, Abraic, Syriac, Chaldean, Chinese, Persian, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Sanskrit. At 16, he presented a paper providing a clue to the Hieroglyphic script, based on his suggestion that Coptic was an ancient Egyptian language.
Literary critic Guy Davenport called Claude Lévi-Strauss "The Champollion of Table Manners" in an essay on the latter's The Origin of Table Manners. Davenport considers Lévi-Strauss, "the most dilligent interpreter of our time", "a reader of riddles and a rediscoverer of the primacy of human behaviour in our knowledge of the world". And the knowledge Davenport focuses on? "'It remains to be seen,' Lévi-Strauss writes at the end of this intricate study of primitive civility, 'whether man's victory over his powerlessness, when carried to a state out of all proportion to the objectives with which he was satisfied during the previous millennia of his history, will not lead back to unreason.' That is, have we moved irrevocably beyond the ethics encoded in archaic myths; and if so, where are we?"
Apparently, a similar point was also raised by Antonio Rosmini in Theodicy, of which I learned from Brandon's summary of a passage about how moral progress is not inevitable, particularly if new generations do not build on what has been learned from preceding ones. Lévi-Strauss' "out of all proportion" here means too much abstraction of concrete, particular expressions of virtue - if I may be permitted to rephrase a summary. If these expressions get lost, they have to be learned all over again, the hard way, by trial and error.
An example of particular messages that may be transmitted are those Davenport says may come to us through the power of myth: "how to marry, how to eat, how to be brave". He posits that when myth loses this power, "it becomes a narrative that does not know how to resolve itself. Everything, says the contemporary novel, comes to a bad end ... We are no wiser than man has ever been about our helplessness in nature. Our fate with love, death, despair, doubt, wealth ... is no different ... it is unanswerable to ask if we have remained human ... Our past is forgotten. We can forget it again."




Human existence is a riddle, which may be encoded in myth. To be beyond myth is to attempt to surpass the need to come to terms with humanity. Gadamer writes about this attempt at transcending conditionedness in Truth and Method, affirming that the focus on subjectivity is a distorting mirror and that history does not belong to us, we belong to it (278, there is no such thing as a point outside history from which the identity of a problem can be conceived). Also, the "overcoming of all prejudices ... will itself prove to be a prejudice." The way around this is to acknowledge one's own particularity, i.e., to know that one has a horizon: learning to look beyond what is close at hand by seeing it better, not by looking away from it (303-4). In a passage that I think beautifully explains the relevance of historical texts, he writes:
When our historical consciousness transposes itself into historical horizons, this does not entail passing into alien world unconnected in any way with our own; instead, they together constitute the one great horizon that moves from within and that, beyond the frontiers of the present, embraces the historical depths of our self-consciousness. ... Our own past and that other past toward which our historical consciousness is directed help to shape this moving horizon out of which human life always lives and which determines it as heritage and tradition.
The emphasis here being on collaboration, as man is always subject - to history. To discount or deny this subjectivity is actually to forget how to speak. To discount the story as Forster did is to deny the answers that are attempted in narrative (he called it primitive: "The more we look at the story, the less we shall find to admire ... Neanderthal man listened to stories…"). Gadamer writes, "It is not that the understanding is subsequently put into words; rather, the way understanding occurs ... is the coming-into-language of the thing itself." (370-1)
Stories and myths are this birth place, and there are myths that are as sophisticated as dialectics.




One anthology of stories on human comport that does not presume to rise above the conditions when it was written, that rather speaks to them, is Valerius Maximus' first century Memorable Deeds and Sayings, which I learned about most through Henry John Walker's introduction to his translation: "It is his very refusal to perform a historical critique of Roman ideals that makes Valerius Maxiimus such a valuable historical source for the worldview of the Romans." Indeed, Walker notes that Maximus does not claim to present an accurate description of the past (which Walker's footnotes reveal) but to provide moral guidance for their inner lives. Walker quotes Maximus' preface: "What person in his right mind would hope that he could record the course of Roman and foreign history, which has been treated by previous writers in an elegant style, and do so either with greater attention to detail or with more striking eloquence?"
We learn from Walker's footnotes that the liberties Maximus takes are quite amusing, for example, he calls Aristotle "thirsting for glory", allowing his "student" Theodectes to publish his work on rhetoric as his own, later revoking this honour - when really, Theodectes was his predecessor, and Aristotle had written a summary of his work, later referring to this summary. Perhaps this is an example of what Walker defines in the beginning as the Roman "fairness" in citing "foreigners" where they were great, yet at the same time, often portraying the same as being boastful, compulsive liars, and corruptly decadent. And as such, a portrait of the Roman world is achieved.
This may demonstrate Gadamer's point of the use of not looking away from - if not looking beyond.




This week I was musing over the number of guidebooks for behaviour that I know of from the ancient world (nb. dilettante that I am). Memorable Deeds and Sayings was one such guidebook, but another that I learned of from Lendering's AHM (which I'd like to plug) is second century Aulus Gellius' Attic Nights. It begins similarly to Maximus' work in its modest claims. In an entertaining passage on the titles of other books, he explains that his is "merely from the time and place of my winter's vigils; I thus fall as far short of all other writers in the dignity too even of my title, as I do in care and in elegance of style." He explains that his work is to furnish "a quick and easy short-cut" and "lead active and alert minds to a desire for independent learning ... or would save those who are already fully occupied with the other duties of life from an ignorance of words and things which is assuredly shameful and boorish."
Indeed, it was once boorish to be without knowledge of tradition.
But as I was typing all these things down, prepared to add to a list of books on behaviour works like the Enchiridion, it occurred to me that all of these books bear a stoic bent. Which may be just coincidence as this list is random and not reflective of a knowledge of the field - but does raise the question of who is concerned with "the riddles of mankind" and the objectives of his quondam ethics (for, ethics are often the part left unsaid in modern narrative: the unsaid being one of the features of modern prose).
What one derides as priggishness another calls the economy of action, according to which freedom, like the horizon around a person, comes with limits, e.g. the concessions a ruler must make to retain power - to return to the message that Champollion deciphered. Though it sounds like an old story, the only reason I can think of why we would find "less to admire" in it the more we look at it is if we were tired of the human experience and horizons; of having a place and speaking from it.



Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern
brush: fall foliage by Creature Comfrots.
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