尝鼎一脔

Some kind of tension seems mandatory for good things to come into being. This morning, when I woke up to the building quieter than it was even in the early hours of the morning, and the most beautiful bird song echoed through the neighbourhood trees along with the early bells of Liturgy, I read of two images that bring this idea of tension within a frame. First: Diogenes who said that when a man owns a lion, a lion owns a man (cited here, thanks to via). I see this picture representative of those times when, despite our dutiful wishes to master life, it is best just to accept that some things lie outside the control of our little hands, our little manicules! Of manicules, those little cartoon hands drawn in margins to indicate important parts of texts in the Middle Ages, our attention is turned to one particular passage: "And yet tokest thou not awaye from them that wicked hert, that thy lawe might brynge forth frute in them. For the first Adam bare a wicked hert, transgressed, and was ouercome, and so be all they yt are borne of him."
Because as I struggled with this post last night, the thought that looped through my mind was that it is only in the hard times that we can show what we are made of. Sometimes, a tooth must be pulled from a person's life. I've had a tooth pulled, not through any fault of my own. I mourned for it more before I lost it than afterwards.
The tension of growth is a constant test, and the elderly people who are my dearest friends do not shirk, too much, from the growth that they, too, are required to undergo. A lost and beloved husband, even more problems with the children - many are the causes. We are pushed, and pushed again to pull the bad teeth, fears, dislikes, weaknesses, made harder when those around us show no empathy. Epictetus advises to leave such things, beyond our control as they are, to the wayside. Even if they are one's own flesh and blood. I don't know why that part is so hard for me. Experience,, is also learning when to let go.
Like in teaching. I cited about an interview with Davenport which I read this morning: his candid discussion of teaching was a refreshing alternative to the oft-crafty dance around the topic of how much learning is getting done. His description of his imaginary Disney college was most amusing. But Confucius said it centuries ago - as if such things could be changed by methodology! masked, maybe, but not changed - some students, like rotten wood, cannot be carved. It is not their fault, and one isn't to insist once one realises.

Much depends on the dance we do around the tension. Davenport, at his university, had time to write other things. I was also interested to read he was the first to write about Joyce. Both of my academic works, too, are "firsts" in literature. "I learned early on that what I wanted to learn wasn't what I was being taught," Davenport writes - which really struck a chord: I often think how in this age, we are called to become our own teachers (so little is shared or revealed: beginnings are sooner forgotten than used to give counsel). The resulting freedom comes with tension of responsibility.
Especially in the classroom: Davenport was right about Disney - all the better for professors with star-quality and the more embarrassing for those who resort to the tactics of the clown. Learning is supposed to bring a better quality of life, which requires dealing with very difficult and complex questions, difficult when students have not been taught to beware elementary things like the hasty generalisation. Things may be more complicated than they first appear.

Once upon a time, I shirked from the fact that I had been employed to teach and wished to become a labourer, a craftsman. Just like one of the most successful people I knew was often jealous of graceful bartenders. In the search for that which is beautiful, sometimes we would wish to oversimplify ourselves. I still keep wanting to run away to start a vineyard. But Ruskin has helped me with my residual disappointment of not being a labourer, free of so much thought (but burdened, as he points out, with other difficulties). To be born into books, books it is. 尝鼎一脔. Try a morsel and you will know the pot. If one, ever since childhood, was surrounded by books and the edifying conversation of elders, should one not just accept the tension of the academy, producing frute from this tension where possible?



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