Experiments in Change

In 1968, Leonard Nimoy in his eponymous album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space, changed a line at the end of Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata" from "Be Cheerful" to "Be Careful."  What an apt amendment to the text to reflect the change of man as he reaches beyond the atmosphere of childhood.  Caution is certainly learned through expectations that are molded through experience, though the latter is often a source of fear and as people get older, they become more fearful than disinterestedly cautious.  A friend once wrote that the young ought not be dismissed because they are less full of fear and that precisely because of that they are important to us. The thought could be extended to say that the young seem freer to experiment; the truth being that we can all continue to experiment so long as we are alive but few of us want to bother with the oblique glances of the Joneses.  Experimentation can be rather necessary, particularly if one finds oneself in a situation in which one's hands are tied.
Consider this ever-frequent scenario where one may even take on a mercy job with a deadline and not be sent the material, like copy, in a timely fashion.  Linguistic and copyright standards are further infringed by the speed and thoughtlessness of a certain kind of communication that began with the facsimile, which means make similar; it's other appellation, telecopying, seems the harbinger of today's activities that take the prefix 're', e.g. retweet.
Instead of becoming angry at irresponsible people who are not entirely honest and disregard one's requests to honour terms of work, one might wish to read about the state of the industry.  A gem of a resource for anyone working with the printed word is "For Editors" at writersandeditors.com.  Among the links posted there and repeated several times down the page is the once-popular aphorism, "Cost. Quality. Speed. Pick any two."  Good work takes time, so what if one has no time?  I propose that out of such unhappy situations, one merely claim to those who question one's poor output that the job was one's very own Persian carpet, and that one has a collection of such (to reference the practice in the weaving those carpets to intentionally leave or make a mistake).
Much can be said about the need as a professional to refuse any work that will not let one's talents shine through in order to establish a good reputation.  But it is becoming a platitude among some today that to stand in such a light is a privilege because where most people are standing, economic necessity is the star of the play and its curtains for them.
Silly word play is one thing but it is another to recognise the number of advocates for relaxing rules (e.g. retiring restrictive relative clause distinctions); some such advocates are esteemed editors, such as John E. McIntyre, whose now pens a Baltimore Sun column, You Don't Say.  Rules change and are therefore not to be reverenced but regarded.  It seems curmudgeons, of which I am sometimes one in my professional life (this blog is recreation), need to get with the program.




In general, experimenting allows for more leeway in getting the strange combination of components to a life in harmony.  We do not all learn at the same time; one may admire Victorian polymaths but this admiration cannot form one's foot to fit that crystal shoe.  The crystal may always have been, anyway, not so much in that which one knows, per se, but how willing one is to engage with those multiple aspects of life that have something to teach.  The experimenter becomes excited by a problem, wondering what on earth all that ugliness will have to impart.
Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness recommends that one think through all the terrible consequences one can foresee in one's worries until one eventually becomes bored by those thoughts and therefore entirely uninterested when such worries recur.  He generously shares anecdotes from his own life when he was not at his best, such as his early lectures, which incidentally helped him develop a technique of invention that involved thinking deeply about a subject, not thinking about it at all for some time, and then returning to write a lecture about it; the ideas would fall into place and the only time he made any changes was when the idea was not clearly expressed.  He admits to having come to the wrong conclusions about some things, and it would be hard not to notice that even in that book is support for ideas that have since fallen out of fashion.  But such is dwarfed by his acclaim in other areas, for his having, generally speaking, a great mind.  Russell also reminds readers to put their own lives in perspective: no one is the centre of the universe, in fact, everyone is almost incredibly minute.
One can truly feel like a speck of sand and feel bound to circumstance not of one's own design; despite all one's work, one realises that one depends on waves if one is to get out to sea; one may reach a moment when it seems futile to impose one's will on that landscape.  Things will not be the way one wants them to be, expensive mistakes can be made, deceitful people encountered, one may even stagnate for years and be tempted to believe such is deserved, but the impositions are also those restrictions that the imagination sometimes loves like ivy takes to wood lattice; expensive mistakes (that may cost time) are easy to remember; deceitful people are cause for the stories of most panache; stagnation is an illusion so long as one is aging and also there is a beauty in the slow life if one can train oneself to see it.  I will never forget as one of those small children sent to summer school going to an office to drop one activity in favour of another and thinking the organizer had little time so immediately made my request.  "And good morning?" he asked, and I burned with embarrassment.  All these Persian carpets!  Good morning, world.



Brush: Galaxy by GIMP.

Stakes of Style

Self-contradiction in self.  It is possible to be hard-headed in some discussion and meek in others whether because of that sorry excuse called mood; a lapse of certainty making information familiar seem brand new; exaggerated admiration of someone else.  One may take the lack of certainty and let it grow, thinking one's lacunae make one gentleyet be preceded by the reputation of being a dragon.  This type of paradox may be called being serious (which does not necessarily make one an able thinker).  Serious people who are also sensitive may have a recurring problem where doggedness conflicts with the flaws of a humanity felt too deeply to be cosmetic.
This earnestness, which is a pledge, true to the root of the word, for even when not realised it remains present as an outstanding debt, can be confusing because people less committed will seek to bury alive that part of the person through a stifling lackadaisicalness.
"Une pierre, aux passants demandant un soupir, Du naufrage des ans a sauvé leur mémoire; Une muse ignorante y grava leur histoire", writes Chateaubriand in his poem, "Les tombeaux champêtres" on the country graves of those unknown, the lives of whom are recorded by an ignorant muse, and yet may prompt passers by to seek new paths, of friendship, "Qui ne tourne la tête au bout de la carrière? L’homme qui va passer cherche un secours nouveau: Que la main d’un ami, que ses soins chers et tendres, Entrouvrent doucement la pierre du tombeau !"  It is the touch of friendship that lives beyond the grave. It is the word of friendship that can keep us alive when we are threatened by the stone of an ignorance greater than one's own, that of complacency.
But who would choose for the ignorant muse to write their history?  If a trap has been set for one's paradoxical qualities, if these are fruitful, one must remove oneself, surely.  Some level of avoidance or assent can be achieved through style.  Sartorial or verbal range can defy expectations.  Or like my friend de plume wrote today, writing style can crown one's confidence.  These are tools, not idols, though how quickly they can be raised up and mistaken for gods.  One may wish always to appear in the best light and prostrate oneself to cosmetics, forgetting the living thing underneath.
Friendship leads us out, affinities.  And if we want to have good friends of the stable kind, we need to become better friends ourselves.  Through cultivating the disposition of soul that determines our manner of diction, and speech, as Socrates says in Plato's Rep. 3.400.  "Good speech, then ... wait[s] upon good disposition, not that weakness of head which we euphemistically style goodness of heart, but the truly good and fair disposition of the character and the mind."




If good speech relies on the disposition of the character and mind and is distinguished from "weakness of head" called "goodness of heart," it stems from a goodness impaled in resolve.  A goodness that is a pledge, not a passing fancy.  Style and communication is important in Rep., and one interesting section is at 396c, where it is stated that the good man will not imitate the inferior man and will be embarrassed to do so, being unpracticed at such.  Yet Plato himself imitates the inferior through many of Socrates' interlocutors in his dialogues, which are a case in point of the use of such imitation; to know how to engage or respond to all sorts of people.  (Granted, there are concessions made in the Rep. that some art or skills not praised have their use.)
I wrote above that some sorts of people might attempt to bury one alive, belittling accomplishments, work, values, etc.  If a person takes those words to heart, he or she may stop believing in their Ossian world of beauty (the narrator who either wrote a 3rd c. poem or was invented by Macpherson in 18th c., who claimed to have discovered Ossian's epic).  The point regarding that poem is that it could have been.  Interestingly, the (faux?) plumed poem also gave rise to 18th c. cultural independence and romantic nationalism, which may be described as what could be.  Just like Chateaubriand's Les martyrs, inspired by Ossianism, was also inspired by an imaginary megalithism according to which the megaliths were made by Druids (along with associated clichés, including forests, mournful processions, and human sacrifices).  There are also ways in which Plato's Republic is a portrait of what could be.
Any person could be better.  If one knows the right words, one could even create a situation for an oft destructive person to be of constructive assistance.  A knowledge of many styles can be of use: this is what allows one to begin with a joke to break the ice if necessary—for few are won over through preaching; rather, trust may be earned sometimes only by engaging with the vulgar vulgate of the throng.  Logan Pearsall Smith writes in Words and Idioms, "human speech is after all a democratic product, the creation, not of scholars and grammarians, but of unschooled and unlettered people. Scholars and men of education may cultivate and enrich it, and make it flower into the beauty of a literary language; but its rarest blooms are grafted on a wild stock, and its roots are deep-buried in the common soil."  It was Montaigne's conviction that man would never be happy until he had the courage to accept his human condition.  Courage may be the key word: the courage to face one's own paradoxes and understand something of the humanity around one if one isn't set on castigating it.  If stilus meant at once stake, mode of expression, mode and manner of writing, what is it we look to pin down with words and why?



Curves (top image): thethiirdshift; brush: ~egg9700, both on DeviantART.
Images taken at the Benaki Museum.

Wanted: What to Say or Do

"Wise and just are they alone who know what acts and words to use towards gods and men," we read in Plato's Alcibiades Minor (150b).  You may find this interesting if you are sometimes at a loss of what to say to certain people.  I was thinking about Plato's Socrates in recent days in terms of how he varied his approach to his interlocutors: sometimes almost ironically deprecatory (e.g. Hippias Major), which is an interesting twist to the maieutic in that as he continues nonetheless to elicit answers if through flattery, we see the limits of the midwife who is not able to deliver one who has not passed through not being to being, to paraphrase the Symposium (205).  In the Symposium we also learn that pregnancy of soul is prudence and virtue in general (208).  So to speak with the barren, to speak with those who instead of wonder speak categorically as if all knowledge could be put in a little box-one far inferior to Persephone's κίστη, one's words and acts are to be adapted.
Plato's Socrates sometimes presents himself as "eager to get" the kind of knowledge that we know he does not view as that which is truly desired: take for example Euthydemus, where he notes the existence of the "sport of the sciences" wherein one may learn verbal tricks but be none the wiser about matters at hand (278) yet also demonstrates an eagerness to pick up on that "skill" (301).  It can be very handy to play along with people who claim to have more answers than questions, taking a perfectly good foundation for a finished edifice.  Zhuangzi writes in 外物, "Put away your small wisdom, and your great wisdom will be bright; discard your skillfulness, and you will become naturally skillful" (6).  But some people focus on their skill and are intent on destabilising people who love asking questions to reach meaning.
It is interesting that Socrates, after whom the elenctic method gets its popular name, says often in Plato's works that those seeking answers are to have courage.  This courage may also be necessary if one is faced with a grumpy and closed-minded interlocutor.  It might also be necessary because it is a general truth that the wise are not necessarily able to save themselves.
When I think of what it means to "know what acts and words to use" I think also of the ability through some form of diplomacy that might have provided an alternative to the Melian demise recorded by Thucydides (though I have yet to be able to imagine what argument can be given in reply to one stating might is right, as the Athenians did).  "I wonder if this skill could ever come to me in such manner as to be my own," says Socrates in Euthydemus (301).




But not all skills are given: if we are to agree with Socrates in the Republic, each person has a single activity they excel at: some may be wise, others may be farmers, both are necessary.  Socrates reworks lines from Homer to state: "Full many crafts he knew, but it was evil for him to know them all" in Alcibiades Minor (147d).
It is the wise man who knows what to do and say, but the wise man representative of the ideal and not necessarily practice at all times.  Rather, wisdom may be wise in terms of wisdom and not always material result.  Many times on this blog I've cited the passage in Zhuangzi listed above that states: "wisdom is not without its perils".  In that passage, the wise tortoise that was able to appear in a man's dream was not able to disappear from the scene of its premature death, although it may be worth noting that its death brought fortune, i.e. it was killed to be used in divination.
There may be "myriad men scheming" one's destruction, but Zhuangzi advises that people shine forth with their search for wonder.

It may happen many times that one does not know what to say or do.  But the desire to get it right does not leave one wanting. To not parrot books and run the risk of saying the wrong thing also brings the possibility of allowing what one has taken in to come together in a new way in one's mind, inspiring new words and actions.
By not holding on to the possession of crafty words, it may return of its own accord.  That which is lacking, perhaps by having been set aside, is brought forth through desire (inspired by Symposium 200).



Brush: Watercolor by Pugly Pixel.

Recognitions: Artistic, Disciplined

What if Plato really is the author of all of the epigrams that could be attributed to him?  If he wrote longingly over men, how is this to be reconciled with Plato's Socrates who in the Phaedrus argues against physical contact in the erastes/eromenos relationship (that of the lover/student).  The soul is to be loved above the body; what is more, the passions are to be bridled - this is a recurrent theme in Plato, albeit via Socrates, who is even more adamant on this point in Xenophon (e.g. Memorabilia 1.3.8-15).  The theme is revisited too in the Republic, where physical contact again denotes lack of restraint.  Thus we return to the epigrams, one of which in true Herrick fashion attempts to woo the beloved, but if rejected, harkens to the swift passing of beauty (CURFRAG.tlg-0059.7).  Of course, they may be spurious, but if they are his we are left to wonder about the distance between ideals and reality.  I find that when speaking to contemporaries about the "classics" one must explain that ideals are not so much destinations as they are direction ("true" North) for the coordinates we draw for the transit of our passing lives.
Which is not to say that some people aren't able to reach that ideal, or get very near to it.  So how much is one to try to reach it providing of course that one concedes to its existence (we admit it is contested)?  If some of the more mundane epigrams are really Plato's, one may see the discrepancy between ideal and practice, or at least a different emotional level in prose and poetry.
The possibilities are interesting, though I do not really see the epigrams as obviously Plato's.  He had his academy, the remains of which I will share photos of soon: such a position, to be in the public light at that level surely constrained him - or did he indulge in the mores of the time also as a means of assimilation?  Again, though, one really does not want to be party in work that seeks to "humanise" those humans who through gracious exercise really did reach another level which can look impossible to the uninitiated.
That said, and from where I am standing, I am interested in the crossroads between a throw-it-to-the-wind personality of soulfulness and the disciplined, analytical personality of what Prof. "Bob" Thurman called in one of his lectures scholastic spirituality (in the West, we remember that study was once the appendix to the monastery: sharing the same values of self-denial for service). 
I can see "Bob's" smile and although I cannot remember his answers, I think as I try to sort these thoughts out of Gadamer, and what he wrote about play.  Before embarking on that, I'd just like to say that today we may be conflicted about informal play since so much of what should be private ends up getting shared if not via social platforms then through other formal outlets.




Gadamer writes in The Relevance of the Beautiful (ed. Robert Bernasconi) that "play appears as a self-movement that does not pursue any particular end or purpose so much as movement as movement" and notes Aristotle described self-movement as the most fundamental characteristic of living beings (De anima 1.3 and 1.4.405b33-408a).  It is relevant that Aristotle is cited, because he, after all, is the one who defends, say, tragedy, whereas Plato bans it being showed, at least to just any public, in the Republic.  Aristotle seems more interested in the process of participation (think of On Poetry).  And Gadamer writes about tragedy and comedy: that in the traumatic experience of the tragic and liberating laughter of the comical, "a deep and disturbing encounter with ourselves, overcomes us. In this experience, any distinction between play and actuality, appearance and reality, is eliminated."
In other words, there is something mystical about the mirror that may be offered through art.  In Aristotle, it can transcend the borders of genre. To cite one of the spurious epigrams of Plato: "Lais offers this mirror to the Paphian because she has no wish to see herself as she is, and cannot see herself as she was." (CURFRAG.tlg-0059.11) 
What if we could see ourselves as we are, and we have changed, may be the next question.  Plato's Socrates in the Republic says, "when you have said a thing stand by it, or if you shift your ground change openly and don't try to deceive us" (345b). 
There is a risk in being wrong, in "the more anthropological dimension that bestows permanence" (Gadamer).  The permanence in the spurious epigram cited above is the vision of Aphrodite (referred to as Paphian, which increases the likelihood the epigram is not Plato's) portrayed in thankless pose.  Something about who we can be but don't want to be remembered as.  Something that philosophy warns us of, but the soulfulness of deep question drives one to its coordinates.
Maybe what I am saying is that for some of us, we need all the paintings, the music, the poems, to first fill us like mistakes before we realise the problem inherent in some destinations.  At the same time, we cannot be liberated by renouncing memory, neither ours nor that precious reserve of others' experience.





Gadamer writes:
the penetrating gaze of Mnemosyne, the muse who maintains and retains, marks us out.  It was one of the basic intentions of my exposition to show that in our relationship with the world and in all our creative labors - forming or cooperating in the play of form as the case may be - our accomplishment lies in retaining what threatens to pass away.
But he also explains that it is the symbolic that "meaningfully addresses us in the play of form" that comes together in the concrete work:  "every act of recognition of something has already been liberated from our first contingent apprehension of it and is then raised into ideality."
Recognition can stop the flow of time by bringing out something of permanence.  But how much trial and error is necessary to figure out the symbols worthy of the sacrifice of time: how many narratives chatter on without consequence in the mind of the every-day man?  Surely it is art that helps this recognition to occur, by exposing self, in the process of discovery, to both that which is worthy of Mnemosyne and that which is not.  It is also recognition that ties art to study, to my mind at least.  I want both of them to solve the puzzle of my life and existence.
Part of this experience cannot be answered by idea or ideal alone because those coordinates are there to be guiding a vessel.  That vessel, if it comes to pursue φιλοσοφία, may contain wanting poems or outbursts of passion.



 Brush en lieu of watermark: Ewansim's tape at DeviantART.

A No Know?

I feel a need to break free from blogging about Plato, and it is a curious sensationwill what I write even make sense, I feel as if I am cheating on him, which is to say, cheating on myself, for that's how I understand this concept of "cheating on."  I think reading 20 of Plato's works so far this summer has made me nobler, and that by not writing about what I am reading, I will appear deficient, like walking out of the house in pajama bottoms, though people do that now.
Plato aside, and still not getting enough sun, I have made several discoveries this summer and observations some quite Francophile.  One discovery was Fip radio, which I actually recognise now as the station I listened to when I first arrived in Paris and lived at a Foyer Catholique pour jeunes femmes, where I shared a room with two Irish girls working at pubs and a French girl who worked nights at a hotel, and where we all groggily ate the breakfast at the allotted time, made by a seedy character who gave special treats to some of the girls (otherwise the food was just a piece of bread and watered down coffee in a bowl).  The foyer would lock up at 11, I was never among the unlucky who had to make do after arriving a few minutes late.  Fip Radio is a treat because of the variety of music played (it's like a mix of Marcos Valle, the Cannonball Adderley Quartet, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Rokia Traore, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, though when an intense piece is played, it is followed by something mellow); also noteworthy is that there is so little talking by the DJs who are manifest through the selection and segue of songs.  Back in those Paris days, I would listen to Fip to ward off insomnia, and remember one song in particular sung by pretend British grannies with the refrain of them huffing, "All we want is to be loved!"
Also bringing me back to those days de France in Athens.  On my previous trip I had already noted how expertly two French families navigated their way through the Benaki Museum: with no guide book, one mother explained choice exhibits to her children.  This time, when I walked around the little settlement on the northeast side of the Acropolis, Anafiotika, the only tourists to pass me by were French and Greek.  At the Archaeological Museum, one French father instructed his son to make sketches of some of the sculptures, which brought to mind my own mother telling me to write in my travel notebooks every night and I remember how difficult the exercise seemed.
"Variant: whether the writer really had to KNOW something about the subject or scene before being able to write the page under consideration."  Thus writes Ezra Pound in his ABC if Reading, which I began to reread on this trip, praising myself for the choice of literature for his emphasis on looking while the bus entered Greece and the sea opened up to view, and when we entered the hills, gymnastic wind-harvesters made delicate cartwheels seeming to scratch at the sky yet reminding me of the gravitied limits to our earthly existence: how the illusion of perspective seems to have us reach the heavens, when in reality, we are merely standing at a good vantage point.




"One has to divide the readers ... who want to see the world from those who merely want to know WHAT PART OF THE WORLD THEY LIVE IN," writes Pound.  That latter part of the world is probably the part that looks like it is reaching the sky.
It is the part before knowledge has been sought, which is the point of realising emptiness, deficiency, and asking questions.  It is a Platonic concern as to how right a right opinion is that is held accidentally, without knowledge.  Pound writes, "Even if the general statement of an ignorant man is 'true', it leaves his mouth or pen without any great validity.  He doesn't KNOW what he is saying. That is, he doesn't know it or mean it in anything like the degree that a man of experience would or does.  Thus a very young man can be 'right' without carrying conviction to an older man who is wrong an who may quite well be wrong and still know a good deal that the younger man doesn't know.  One of the pleasures of middle age is to find out that one WAS right, and that one was much righter than one knew at say seventeen..."
But the perspective of knowledge, if it is ever had at all in whatever small quantity, surely changes the way one would present what one ever thought one knew: ideas change with knowledge.  Like how that insolent Cliotophon keeps asking about "justice" (though not to Socrates himself, and he is bold enough to criticise Socrates on this matter, for Socrates' stand that he has never adequately determined), always asking what it is and never embarking on the steps one must take to reach it: thinking that the mind alone could touch the heavens by positioning itself on a hill.
In other words, there is a distance that must be travelled.  This distance can also be heard, as in music.  But music ultimately plays second fiddle to words, which can be explicit about meaning, which is complex enough to warrant paradoxical explanation.  And as for the other languages, culture, the longings of the Francophile—surely this is the bridge out from where one is standing, as one gives oneself over to, say, a sculpture, that one translates by lines onto a notebook, growing up as one who has witnessed otherness from the early start, experience always pointing one onwards from where one is standing in the hopes of completing the picture before the story is done. 





Brush: Lauren Harrison.
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