The neatest thing happened this morning. I finally got around to listening tuning in to Memory Palace, the latest episode of which is (spoiler alert) about Jenny Lind. Without spoiling the episode any further, all I will say is that I forwarded the link to my father, who wrote back to say that we have a "Jenny Lind" bed: memorabilia for Jenny Lind was so extensive as to include a furniture style. Memory Palace introduces tidbits of history through compelling narrative. What I hadn't expected was for this narrative to continue on to my own life.
The experience reminded me of my old friends from Ravenna, one of whom often talked about her experience while drawing: how she saw through drawing that everything in the world was connected through lines.
But in real life, the trick of drawing comparisons, to see similarity in the disparate, is to first have understood the material being compared. Many scholars lament the dearth of such work, and I myself have chimed in. Until recently. While I appreciate that a model of academia is for the academic to become a specialist in a narrow field, for it is impossible to master even a narrow field exhaustively, if one is in search of some kind of "truth", one sees how any field is transected by millions of other lines belonging to other fields. Everything in the world is connected together. Through so many lines that it is like working as an old-fashioned phone operator: with all those plugs and jacks. So many lines that the "party line" is active and one can happen upon somebody else's phone call.
For example, if one is considering the "Victorian age", one will want to remember an America fresh from the Civil War, the beginnings of science, the growth of certain metropolises, leading schools of thought (problematic, despite the attempts of myth making narratives then and now), the list goes on. Any picture one creates is a combination of chartered lines of one's own making.
While I once had ambitions for myself as a thinker, I now see how much there is to read - for one ought to read texts in their original, before claiming to understand something - and even then...
Once upon a recent time, William Whewell, a polymath - no way to confine him to one field (he wrote about architecture, scientific methodology, philosophy, maths, astronomy, political economy...), also wrote about ocean tides, charting the ocean. It is largely thanks to these polymaths that our horizons were literally broadened.
But they were also those (and here I will generalize, and include their later followers) who argued for a more limited and Baconian undergraduate study - enabling "scientists" to focus at an earlier stage of their studies on their field of specialty. This even affected classicism: later classicists - if defending neoplatonic religious aspects - expected reason, and the scientific proof of fields like psychology, to prove the "mystical" logically.
I do not think that our brains can follow everything through reason. And wherever we shed the light of our reason on a topic, something else is shaded from our view. Hadot's fantastic work, The Veil of Isis, explains this quite neatly. The ancients knew that there would always be gaps in our knowledge. It is the hubris of our age that we think we can be little gods of limited fields.
When we accept the unknown, there is something to sail in to: there is the creative opportunity to reach new shores, to acquire, and to compare. It gets fun if we accept we are but playing in a sea of knowledge, drawing our own lines. This morning, when I listened to the podcast, I was filled with wonder - and my wonder only increased when my father wrote me back to tell me that I was already connected, personally, to the story in the podcast.
Below is a photo of some lovely gifts a dear fellow blogger sent to me - as a sign of those lines we, other fellow bloggers, will be connecting together through our internet communication.