Roads

The etymology of "road"  is "riding, hostile incursion" which in the interim signified "an open way of travelling between two places." Once upon a time, I escaped to 坪 洲, a small, car-less island, and wandered on an extension of sheet rock which plunged into the sea, marvelling at the dearth of demarcations instructing my direction or path. A road may be both useful and frustrating.
A road may be a hostile incursion. It is Heidegger who I cite to defend my insistence on etymology, which, he writes, "has the standing mandate to give thought to essential content in words. Dictionaries have little to report about what words spoken thoughtfully say."
But let us digress to consider what it means to speak thoughtfully. I would argue that it requires a coordinate beyond the immediate context - such as a connection to the ideal in the stars, the mimetic. Etymology is already a "strange distance" to quote Mary Beard on the task of history to show that the present does not have a monopoly on meaning.
Moral instruction is another example of that which extends travels beyond a particular place and time. I agree with the Japanese reverence of American literature when it promoted ideals such as autonomy, heroism, and naturalism. But post-1975, “instead of looking up to the author and the characters, I looked level at them. I felt characters finally began to talk like real human beings, though of course with their own oddities”.
Gadamer writes that it is the void of the moral (characteristic of much earlier American literature) that is responsible for the demise of the philological and historical. The ideal is lost to immediate interest. To observe from street level is to lose that missing "essential" element.
A road, insofar as it connects more than one place, has the potential to unite the immediate with something more. But it can also become constricting if it is used for singular ends. This may be illustrated quite wonderfully by considering the computer game Sim City, whose lead designer explains that the hard-core players are motivated by specific tasks that therefore twist their approach to the overall game in order to win various 'challenges' and those who "are not trying win—[but] are trying to tell a story. They are just trying to create something beautiful." If the task is open-ended, there is more space for beauty.
Gadamer writes of koinonoemosune, a word humanists took from Marcus Aurelius, which "thinks of itself with restraint or proper measure." The tradition of common sense was written off by Hobbes as a "wives tale". But is it not measure - a value argued for by both Arnold and Ruskin - also one of the stars, and also, at the very least, that which would prevent the road from being felt as an incursion? A thoughtful road would be essential in more than one way. My book recommendation for anyone who takes roads too literally is Ben Orki's Famished Road: "In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was one a river it was always hungry."



 Brush.

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