Reversals and Deception

Joachim Du Bellay prefaces his Regrets: "If it pleases your palate, come as a guest. If not, please go away." Such an opening, inviting as listeners only those who are willing to appreciate the value of what is being offered, is present in much traditional Chinese literature, often in parable, and is reminiscent of how Confucius did not waste time trying to teach those who did not understand. More popularly, the idea can be found in the Chinese proverb 對牛彈琴, playing the qin to a cow, as well as Proverbs 23:9. How opposite this is to the idea that with enough funding and marketing, any idea can be made appealing to just about anyone. But there is a third idea - what if talent is wasted when it is not appreciated? There is a poem (translated here) about how some fruit was finally ready to be tasted, but "in the end ... proved unpleasant to the palate" and were cast by the roadside. "So long as the original roots are intact, what harm, indeed, can this abandonment bring to it?" Not all plums are meant for all audiences. Being open to the possibility that one can be deceived and the difficult road of discernment is not for everyone.
To return to Du Bellay, he considers Regrets to give "the taste of gall and honey mixed with salt" - one imagines not unlike the plums that were spat out (though discernment remains where it is well rooted, as opposed to the fickle fruit of happenstance).
The phrase, gall (or bile) and honey, connotes the curative - used in both ancient Greek and Chinese medicine most commonly for problems of the skin and liver; opposition or reversal; deception of sense perception - the consequent in a hypothetical proposition is not necessarily a consequence of the antecedent. 
The latter is an example given by Aristotle in On Sophistical Refutations (5 and 6) wherein: honey is yellow and gall is yellow (the antecedent) does not mean honey is gall (the consequent) - though babies seemed to think so, when gall replaced the honey of weaning. Aristotle argues that one is to learn to clarify what is in question - e.g., the consequent that all yellow things are identical should not be assumed. I mention this here not for the accidental similarity of there being gall and honey in the illustration but because my intent in this blog post is to write something about life that is difficult to understand: the lived experience is painful, beautiful, and also deceptive. I cannot get past this third category: it is not enough for me to stick to the antithesis because I think that sometimes we think we are doing the right thing, thinking the right thing, but it is only later that we see that our proposition was wrong.




One might wish to emulate Marcus Aurelius where he writes in Meditations: "If someone is able to show me what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one is ever harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed." Except men "seize upon consequence" and replace truth with their deception. So one must try to see this thing called truth, which might not be the same vision held by the many. Marcus Aurelius also writes about learning to be prepared for personal attack by false opinion:
Habituate yourself to the perception of all-pervading change; dwell on it continually, and order your thoughts accordingly; nothing more elevates the mind, and emancipates it from the body. He who realises that at any moment he may be called on to leave the world and to depart from among men, commits himself without reserve to justice in all his actions, to Nature in all that befalls. To what will be said or thought of him, to what will be done against him, he does not give a thought; but is content with two things only — to be just in his dealings and glad at his apportioned lot. X:11
The apportioned lot will have gall and honey. There is a wonderful phrase in The Mountain Wreath, "A cup of gall for honey equally doth call, Swallowed easiest when mixed." I think that one is to look for the beauty one can find in one's situation, taking the middle line between spoiling self and self denial. I would quote Plautus in Cistellaria, "Love is most fruitful both in honey and in gall" not Truculentes (the tongue of honey vs. actions of gall).
But what if the gall were actually some sort of saving grace, as it is curative? Dealing with bitterness can bring serenity. I was reading part of Περί διακρίσεως in Κλίμαξ this evening and thinking about how this contemporary thought disease of "am I taking the right path" might be cured by following one with resolve, serenely. Serenity only gets 'discovered' in the τόπος of bile or adversity.
In one of my favourite Rumi poems, he writes about reversals and deception:
I've said before that every craftsman searches for what's not there to practice his craft. A builder looks for the rotten hole where the root caved in ... Dear soul, if you were not friends with the vast nothing inside why would you always be casting your net into it, and waiting so patiently? This invisible ocean has given you such abundance but still you call it 'death', that which provides your sustenance and work. God has allowed some magical reversal to occur, so that you see the scorpion pit as an object of desire, and all the beautiful expanse around it, as dangerous and swarming with snakes.






If you are also interested in further literary references to bile and honey, I can save you a good half hour by listing the following: Sappho (fgt. 130) and later also in Anacreon, later still in Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, Dickens, to list a few, each echoing one of Plautus' uses.




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