Delight Springs

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rain delay

First morning in recent memory when weather's kept the dogs and me from our appointed rounds through the neighborhood, and it's kinda nice sitting out here under our tin roof enjoying the gentle clatter. Habit and routine may be the enormous flywheel of society and sanity, but it's good too, periodically, to break routine and look at things aslant. Like climbing up on Mr. Keating's desk, reminded there's more than one way to seize the day.

   Image result for dead poets society desk scene

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

McEwan's thinking machine

Ian McEwan, reflecting on the experience of writing pre- and post-computing, reminds me of those primitive grad school days and nights when they chained us to typewriters and ordered us to churn out proof of our worthiness every three days, for nearly two weeks. The idea was either to kill us (i.e., cull us from the program) or make us stronger for the next hurdle, the Ph.D. I still like writing longhand, and sometimes feel nostalgic for my old Selectric. But McEwan is right, this is more like thinking... less pressure to get it right the first time, more opportunity to play with possibilities.
When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: “In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.” WA
Right. Sometimes the machine sulks and crashes, but more often it's the operator.

Image result for smith corona selectric


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Morning air & communion

Speaking of air, which was again lovely and chill this morning - actually had to don a jacket for our dawn stroll - Henry had it just right: "...let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world." We inebriates of air can't stop feeling a bit superior to those who sleep away their only shot at the fountainhead.

The other lingering feeling I continued to enjoy this morning, in the backwash of another pleasant Fathers' Day, is that of paternal pride and sentiment. On that holiday in 2001, our girls  presented me with a shirt upon which they had imprinted their hand- and footprints. Sixteen years later, an update (with supplemental pawprints):


The sentiment is gratitude, for their persistence (this being the year they each graduated, from college and high school, respectively) and their grace. I was an @home dad when that first shirt arrived, and I will always look back on those charmed days in the company of our joyous and inquisitive children as the very best of times. As I've noted before, in echo of one of my favorite essayists, "daily companionship with a questioning child is a reminder of what intelligence is for--not, ultimately, for dominion, but for communion." 

Yes, that form of communion I'll always happily take. Why do I dote on my dogs? Practice, for the next time I'm graced with the steady company of a questioning child. 

In the spirit of communion, then, this slightly-tardy recognition of Fathers Day in the form of an 1895 letter from William James to his little girl Peggy. It reminds me of the picture book-inspired conversations I used to have with my little girls.
El Paso, Colo.Aug. 8, 1895.
Image result for william james and his daughter peggySweetest of Living Pegs,—Your letter made glad my heart the day before yesterday, and I marveled to see what an improvement had come over your handwriting in the short space of six weeks. "Orphly" and "ofly" are good ways to spell "awfully," too. I went up a high mountain yesterday and saw all the kingdoms of the world spread out before me, on the illimitable prairie which looked like a map. The sky glowed and made the earth look like a stained-glass window. The mountains are bright red. All the flowers and plants are different from those at home. There is an immense mastiff in my house here. I think that even you would like him, he is so tender and gentle and mild, although fully as big as a calf. His ears and face are black, his eyes are yellow, his paws are magnificent, his tail keeps wagging all the time, and he makes on me the impression of an angel hid in a cloud. He longs to do good.
I must now go and hear two other men lecture. Many kisses, also to Tweedy, from your ever loving,
Dad.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Inebriates of air

Here's an antidote to radical pessimism: reaffirmation of the will, as articulated by Robert Richardson in his 2010 talk at the William James Society's gathering in Chocorua, New Hampshire.


"Will You or Won't You Have It So?" is our "most probing question," James said. "We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words." Consent isn't just talk, it's volitional action drawn by the vision of something better than the status quo, by refusal to surrender to fate. Richardson finds great inspiration in James's imploring challenge to teachers, as urgent now as ever:
Spinoza long ago wrote in his Ethics that anything that a man can avoid under the notion that it is bad he may also avoid under the notion that something else is good. He who habitually acts sub specie mali, under the negative notion, the notion of the bad, is called a slave by Spinoza. To him who acts habitually under the notion of good he gives the name of freeman. See to it now, I beg you, that you make freemen of your pupils by habituating them to act, whenever possible, under the notion of a good. Get them habitually to tell the truth, not so much through showing them the wickedness of lying as by arousing their enthusiasm for honor and veracity. Wean them from their native cruelty by imparting to them some of your own positive sympathy with an animal's inner springs of joy. And, in the lessons which you may be legally obliged to conduct upon the bad effects of alcohol, lay less stress than the books do on the drunkard's stomach, kidneys, nerves, and social miseries, and more on the blessings of having an organism kept in lifelong possession of its full youthful elasticity by a sweet, sound blood, to which stimulants and narcotics are unknown, and to which the morning sun and air and dew will daily come as sufficiently powerful intoxicants.
And then, to illustrate, Richardson tosses off an allusion to Emily Dickinson that speaks directly to the peripatetic soul. The aspect of good that draws us walkers and cyclers out into the open and rejuvenating air of morning, day after day, is an intoxicant without painful residue. It leaves us better than we were, un-hungover, moving forward. An "inebriate of air" is positively addicted, happily dependent, and free. There's nothing wrong with leaning on the sun.
I taste a liquor never brewed
I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol! Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue – When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more! Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886
Related posts. Chocorua... Stonewall... More footsteps... 95 Irving St... A pleasing confidence... R.I.P. WJ... last stand... flickers & twinkles... in transition... James bio 8... WJ 8.1... John Kaag, The philosopher and the thief (Harper's)... Summers and semesters (Harvard Magazine)

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Radical pessimism at the door

Back from a satisfyingly heat-beating bikeride-and-walk to and through the Richland Creek Greenway. Reflected a bit on the British view of the American experience during the revolutionary period, through the lens of the BBC's This Sceptred Isle . There's always another side to every story.

I wonder if I'd have been a Loyalist or a Patriot? In the present context, I'm neither - the present context being the borderline dystopia lately surveyed in Jill Lepore's New Yorker essay on the new literature of radical pessimism. “We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power,” indeed. I'm not surrendering to pessimism yet, but these are challenging days for a melioristic pragmatist. That's probably why I find myself drawn to the bigger picture, and to history. This too shall pass. And meanwhile?

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's ride-and-walk through the Warner Parks.
==
My Vandy pals who argue that pluralists can't be pragmatists are spotlighted in the new Vanderbilt Magazine, arguing in the spirit of J.S. Mill for a vigorous civil discourse. I will continue to argue the point with them, civilly and vigorously - as soon as I figure out exactly what's flawed in their argument... maybe their new book will shed needed light. They'll have to send me a copy for review, I sure can't afford it (must be a hell of an argument)!
Pragmatism, Pluralism, and the Nature of Philosophy (Routledge Studies in American Philosophy) by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Hardcover $ 133 08  $140.00PrimeAvailable for Pre-order
Dec 31, 2017


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anglo-American Minds

John Lachs makes his usual good pluralistic sense with a warning, a couple minutes into Phillip McReynolds' brisk film American Philosopher, to beware talk of the American philosopher or mind or character or, really, the pretty-much-anything. It's too late for a formal rechristening of our summer class The Anglo-American Mind, but henceforth we'll just be AAM to ourselves - M is for minds, and what Anglos and Americans do with them.


It's great to see so many of my old friends featured here, saying mostly sensible things. Not one of them "hates America," but like William James they're all immunized against what he called, in that wonderful letter to H.G. Wells, "our national disease." (“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That - with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word 'success' - is our national disease.")

Patrick Allitt, a Brit at Emory University whose "Great Course" on The American Identity, admits the danger of oversimplifying our pan-American distinctions and differences but also insists on the rootedness of cultural stereotypes in some degree of reality. Not all Brits carry on with stiff upper lips, not all Americans have an optimistic can-do, cash-value commitment to problem-solving. But those are good tropes to test. As our first week's short essays and comments begin to appear, let the happy testing begin!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Worms at core and root

The dogs were at the door too early again this morning, we were out and roaming the neighborhood in the unseasonably chilly pre-dawn. I'm forcibly re-learning the lesson Richard Powers' character Peter Els learned "way too late in life":
Els learned that the time to concentrate yourself was right before sunrise. His greatest art now was to walk two hours before the neighborhood woke. Moving his legs left him blissful. Had he discovered the routine in young adulthood, he might have long ago amassed a portfolio of playful, exuberant creations that pleased him and gave delight to others.
So, I concentrated myself this morning on another Mill-James connection: William James, I've often noted, bemoaned "the worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight..." Can it be a coincidence that his hero Mill had also tracked, in his Autobiography, a nefarious nematode? 

Noting that a too-intent fixation on habits of intellectual analysis can impair our spontaneity and delight in feeling, Mill wrote that such habits feed "a perpetual worm at the root both of the passions and of the virtues; and, above all, fearfully undermine all desires, and all pleasures..."

James and Mill could have learned from Els. Walk away from the worms every morning, habitually, and feel better. Save the melancholy metaphysics for sundown.