This earnestness, which is a pledge, true to the root of the word, for even when not realised it remains present as an outstanding debt, can be confusing because people less committed will seek to bury alive that part of the person through a stifling lackadaisicalness.
"Une pierre, aux passants demandant un soupir, Du naufrage des ans a sauvé leur mémoire; Une muse ignorante y grava leur histoire", writes Chateaubriand in his poem, "Les tombeaux champêtres" on the country graves of those unknown, the lives of whom are recorded by an ignorant muse, and yet may prompt passers by to seek new paths, of friendship, "Qui ne tourne la tête au bout de la carrière? L’homme qui va passer cherche un secours nouveau: Que la main d’un ami, que ses soins chers et tendres, Entrouvrent doucement la pierre du tombeau !" It is the touch of friendship that lives beyond the grave. It is the word of friendship that can keep us alive when we are threatened by the stone of an ignorance greater than one's own, that of complacency.
But who would choose for the ignorant muse to write their history? If a trap has been set for one's paradoxical qualities, if these are fruitful, one must remove oneself, surely. Some level of avoidance or assent can be achieved through style. Sartorial or verbal range can defy expectations. Or like my friend de plume wrote today, writing style can crown one's confidence. These are tools, not idols, though how quickly they can be raised up and mistaken for gods. One may wish always to appear in the best light and prostrate oneself to cosmetics, forgetting the living thing underneath.
Friendship leads us out, affinities. And if we want to have good friends of the stable kind, we need to become better friends ourselves. Through cultivating the disposition of soul that determines our manner of diction, and speech, as Socrates says in Plato's Rep. 3.400. "Good speech, then ... wait[s] upon good disposition, not that weakness of head which we euphemistically style goodness of heart, but the truly good and fair disposition of the character and the mind."
If good speech relies on the disposition of the character and mind and is distinguished from "weakness of head" called "goodness of heart," it stems from a goodness impaled in resolve. A goodness that is a pledge, not a passing fancy. Style and communication is important in Rep., and one interesting section is at 396c, where it is stated that the good man will not imitate the inferior man and will be embarrassed to do so, being unpracticed at such. Yet Plato himself imitates the inferior through many of Socrates' interlocutors in his dialogues, which are a case in point of the use of such imitation; to know how to engage or respond to all sorts of people. (Granted, there are concessions made in the Rep. that some art or skills not praised have their use.)
I wrote above that some sorts of people might attempt to bury one alive, belittling accomplishments, work, values, etc. If a person takes those words to heart, he or she may stop believing in their Ossian world of beauty (the narrator who either wrote a 3rd c. poem or was invented by Macpherson in 18th c., who claimed to have discovered Ossian's epic). The point regarding that poem is that it could have been. Interestingly, the (faux?) plumed poem also gave rise to 18th c. cultural independence and romantic nationalism, which may be described as what could be. Just like Chateaubriand's Les martyrs, inspired by Ossianism, was also inspired by an imaginary megalithism according to which the megaliths were made by Druids (along with associated clichés, including forests, mournful processions, and human sacrifices). There are also ways in which Plato's Republic is a portrait of what could be.
Any person could be better. If one knows the right words, one could even create a situation for an oft destructive person to be of constructive assistance. A knowledge of many styles can be of use: this is what allows one to begin with a joke to break the ice if necessary—for few are won over through preaching; rather, trust may be earned sometimes only by engaging with the vulgar vulgate of the throng. Logan Pearsall Smith writes in Words and Idioms, "human speech is after all a democratic product, the creation, not of scholars and grammarians, but of unschooled and unlettered people. Scholars and men of education may cultivate and enrich it, and make it flower into the beauty of a literary language; but its rarest blooms are grafted on a wild stock, and its roots are deep-buried in the common soil." It was Montaigne's conviction that man would never be happy until he had the courage to accept his human condition. Courage may be the key word: the courage to face one's own paradoxes and understand something of the humanity around one if one isn't set on castigating it. If stilus meant at once stake, mode of expression, mode and manner of writing, what is it we look to pin down with words and why?
Curves (top image): thethiirdshift; brush: ~egg9700, both on DeviantART.
Images taken at the Benaki Museum.
Images taken at the Benaki Museum.