Good Work

The rain has been conversing with the various hard surfaces in the city this morning: metal ledges, glass windows, the pavement. And the birds seem to be singing louder than usual, as if to hear their own calls. So it may be the weather, but this recent feeling of trepidation - about earth, sustainability, poor Zenobia - bears a certain heaviness this spring, which is meant to be a time of celebration of life. My perspective keeps training off like a lazy eye.
And yet there are these ridiculously large flowers on my desk. From one-inch orbs, they now interrupt the grey window with pink. And it was with great wonder that I came upon a beautiful passage and even more beautiful introduction about learning this weekend: such are the signs of the dignified structures that may be introduced to the mind when it plays at the desert.
Sometimes I think of the mind as Newton's cradle; rocked by pomp and circumstance to the left, to the right: unable to stop itself. The ideal I strive for apparently seeks to overcome velocity - as if such movement really existed in thought. But so much understanding is actually the fata morgana built on projection. An illustration of this is the very banal example of the meddler, who has all the information about a person, but comes to the wrong conclusion. This is why I find the idea of invisible cities so appealing: beyond Calvino's fantasy, the idea that our already extant cities are half-invisible: half built on projection and expectation.
Linguists have already pointed out the high occurrence of words like 'tomorrow', 'future', and 'plan' which indicate that so much of what occupies our minds is already in the sphere of probability. I keep coming back to that moot point that this is but the displacement of man's agency: from the recent present, where the distance between production and person was short, to the future, where we live in abstractions we did not make but are man-made.
Today, large numbers of adolescents may progress automatically from undergrad to graduate with no real life experience to challenge whatever mold of ideas they then form (I am thinking of Edward de Bono's description of old ideas like jello onto which new ideas are poured, like hot water, leaving whatever jello shape in their wake). Thousands of people may share the same unfounded convictions: fata morganas build on projections.




The passage I came across that got me thinking was by humanist scholar Marsilio Ficino, with an introduction by Jane Mason, who writes of the importance, "not to get carried away by the intellectual side of studying and teaching, but to enjoy that which brings 'serenity to the soul'". This is no simple platitude or introduction if we know what an independent thinker Ficino was.
The Ficino passage is from his letters, and begins: "Let them (your pupils) study to be good rather than learned, for learning begets envy which goodness destroys. Goodness is ... also more enduring. We forget more quickly some fact which was quickly learned than we lose principles of conduct which we have attained by arduous daily practice."
My understanding of the excerpt is that while there must be 'work', the intent behind the work may be more important than the work itself. Somehow, this brings to mind the early Victorian  - was it - blacksmith, who taught himself Latin by writing the declensions in the dust of his workroom. So different from the son struggling through it just to get a promised 'seat' somewhere.
There is a way to study language to be good, if the language is taught as a medium through which one may think, not just trade at the market like glorified animals. Language, physics, engineering - it is all the same. They are either shrunk in order to be controlled, or allowed to point to higher values. Engineering may be used to imprison, but it may also be the key unlocking a land of dreams: an urban building with apartments that all receive light, each with their own terrace.
As I brushed my teeth this morning I watched a few minutes of a documentary about window-cleaners who work on skyscrapers. The host said, one way to forget the large distance between you and the floor you are cleaning is to just focus on the work. In physics, work is caused whenever a force causes displacement, like in Newton's cradle.
"The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease, Creating, yet not possessing, Working, yet not taking credit, Work is done, then forgotten. Therefore it lasts for ever." (2)



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