Delight Springs

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dawn: A Serenade to the World Becoming Conscious of Itself

In praise of the natural optimism of daybreak.

Dawn: A Vintage Watercolor Serenade to the World Becoming Conscious of Itself
“In the name of daybreak / and the eyelids of morning / and the wayfaring moon / and the night when it departs,” Diane Ackerman wrote in her wondrous poem-prayer for presence. There is a singular and deeply assuring beauty to the prayerful optimism that daybreak brings. On the darkest of days, the knowledge that the sun will rise is the sole certainty we can hold on to. And when it does rise, it ignites the splendor of a world becoming conscious of itself — the first birdsong, the first breath, the first catlike stretch, the first cup of tea.
That splendor is what the great Polish-American children’s book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz (b. February 27, 1935) celebrates with uncommon tenderness of heart and brush in his 1974 masterpiece Dawn (public library) — a watercolor serenade to the world as it becomes conscious of itself.
The book opens with a splash of quiet stillness in the final stretch of night... (continues)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

It's 5 o'clock somewhere

LISTEN. Well, "starting now" was an aspirational resolution, and now is a rough approximation that may have to await the end of the MLB postseason before it can be delineated with more precise intention. I'm not sorry I didn't forego last night's latest late-night thriller from Houston, and thus wouldn't answer the bell a few short hours later. Only a game, sure. But what a game. Those Sox outfielders!

 I don't care who wins, but I care that they care enough to perform with such grit and elan. And it's reassuring to see nail-biting nervous spectators in Houston, Boston, Milwaukee, and LA attesting to the human capacity to care about something so inconsequential. If we can be so invested in that, perhaps we can still muster the will to rally and save the things that really do matter-like, say, American democracy. That's the gist of Roger Angell's smart rationale for sports fandom, as I recall. [Yes, recollection confirmed...]

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring—caring deeply and passionately, really caring—which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

So... maybe I'll get up at 5 mountain time, or Pacific. Point is to prioritize regular reporting to this journal of no very wide circulation, whatever the clock says. Improve the nick of time, notch the stick of reflective memory, toe the line, keep an open gate, anticipate more than mere dawn and sunrise. Point is not to sacrifice sleep, health, and sanity in the process. Keep your health, your splendid health, advised William James. Mine's not so splendid lately, and precious sleep (say all the studies) is nothing to trifle with.

Anyway, it's good to place another buffer between dawn's early light and first notice of the latest abominations from D.C. Good morning.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Small daily tasks, and pithy statements, before dawn

LISTEN. Alright, fellow dawn treaders: time to shake off slumber's self-indulgence, scrape off nighttime's cobwebs, and get up and going!

My extended experiment in a slightly different approach -- rising at dawn, naturally, but then heading straight to the remote enclosure at the back of our property we call Dogland, sipping coffee while the pooches slowly return to life themselves, then rounding up the posse and hitting the streets -- has been instructive. It's instructed me that I'm most productive when I head to the keyboard and this very venue first.

So, starting now, it's back to that: to rising well before dawn and working while the household sleeps. The great challenge to overcome, of course, is the pleasure of sleep in warm sheets, in this increasingly wintry autumn. It's easy to say you'll sleep when you're dead. Well, it's easy to do that too. It's not so easy to fling those sheets back and greet the cold dark night, morning after morning, until the habit forms. But habit is a tremendous ally, in all good things.

(Just ask Edward Bear, aka Pooh, about his honey habit. We saw his movie yesterday, Christopher Robin-highlight of Fall Break!)

My inspiration, aside from direct personal memory, comes from all those writers who've successfully followed a similiar routine. Anthony Trollope, for one: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Here we go.

Today's small task in CoPhi is to introduce three gallic wits of half a millennium ago whose preoccupations have barely aged: Rene Descartes, Michel Montaigne (the anti-Descartes who preceded him), and Blaise Pascal. Of the three, Montaigne the peripatetic skeptic essayist, is most to my taste. I so envy his book-lined tower, and his pluck in inventing the personal essay.
From the windows on the top floor he had a commanding view of the estate and could give orders and instructions to the estate workers. As he walked around the Tower he could see above him painted on the beams favorite quotes (mainly in Latin, but some in Greek) from his favorite Classical writers; Also as he walked, thought and dictated he would stop and consult his books to check a quote or story... Reading the world – visiting Montaigne’s Tower
The quotable essayist:
  • “On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” 
  • “I quote others only in order the better to express myself.” 
  • “When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.” 
  • “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.” 
  • “To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death... We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere." 
  • "To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” 
  • “There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.” 
  • “When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts drift to far-off matters for some part of the time for some other part I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself.” 
  • “He who establishes his argument by noise and command, shows that his reason is weak.”
  • “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself” 
  • “The thing I fear most is fear.” 
  • “Saying is one thing and doing is another” 
  • “There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.” 
  • “Que sçais-je?" (What do I know?)” 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hecht on Hobbes

LISTEN "The two great figures of atheism in the seventeenth century were Spinoza and Hobbes—although neither ever described himself as an atheist. Hobbes is best known today for the political science of his masterwork, Leviathan, which claims that without authoritarian government people’s lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” It was a support for the monarchy of his time, but the book was at least as important for its role in the history of doubt. Hobbes said we do not know anything about God other than that he exists. His biblical criticism treated the Bible like any mixed-up historical text; he teased apart its different authors on the basis of literary and historical analysis, much as Spinoza did. The truth about religion, as Hobbes explained it, is that it had been formed and sustained by people in power, to control their subjects. He allowed that religion was good for people but said there was no reason for the priesthood ever to have power above the monarchy, since the clergy have no special information on God. They just operate the cult. Hobbes understood the world as a machinelike thing that runs itself. He also claimed that our souls are mortal (he cites Job saying so), but that the saved will be revived at Judgment Day while the others simply will not. Hell, he said, was just a fantasy to control people. Foolish people, “they that make little or no enquiry into the natural causes of things,” are driven by anxiety about their future and make up fanciful relationships between events and “powers invisible,” and end up “in awe of their own imaginations, and in time of distress… invoke them, and as also in the time of an expected good success, to give them thanks, making the creatures of their own fancy, their Gods.” Hobbes said people believe religion as an explanation for why good and bad things happen. When someone “cannot assure himself of the true causes of things (for the causes of good and evil fortune for the most part are invisible), he supposes causes of them, either such as his own fancy suggesteth, or trusteth to the Authority of other men...”"

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Nothing matters?

Pyrrho and the ancient skeptics also wanted us to believe that "nothing matters" (or so we're told in our text today in CoPhi). But does it matter that nothing matters? This is no deep paradox, just a shallow confusion. But it makes for good animated satire.

Philosophy Matters (@PhilosophyMttrs)
Nothing Matters Part 2: Rick and Morty and Nietzsche ...

I much prefer the late Christopher Hitchens' statement about nihilism and meaning:

"A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so."

Monday, October 1, 2018


LISTEN: Skeptics

That's the topic today in CoPhi...

It's October! I'm never skeptical about the MLB postseason, which gets a jumpstart with a pair of one-off pre-playoff tiebreakers today. No doubt about it. Go Cubs & Rockies.

Nor am I ever skeptical about Younger Daughter's visits, which usually include fine dining. Pie season's here! And the food truck dining was good at Good Neighbors Day on Saturday in Richland Park. Pulled pork makes a strong nonethical case against veganism, I'm afraid.

As for skepticism, I'm increasingly drawn to the Ruler of the Universe's version. "I say what it occurs to me to say when I think I hear people say things. More I cannot say."

Say no more? Doubtful.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Morning poems from Merwin

Dew Light

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age
“Dew Light” by W.S. Merwin from The Moon Before Morning. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014. 

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone
“Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning” by W.S. Merwin from Garden Time. © Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

Still Morning

It appears now that there is only one
age and it knows
nothing of age as the flying birds know
nothing of the air they are flying through
or of the day that bears them up
through themselves
and I am a child before there are words
arms are holding me up in a shadow
voices murmur in a shadow
as I watch one patch of sunlight moving
across the green carpet
in a building
gone long ago and all the voices
silent and each word they said in that time
silent now
while I go on seeing that patch of sunlight
"Still Morning" by W.S. Merwin, from Collected Poems: 1996-2011. © Library of America, 2013. 

Old man needs a dog.

Dog Dreaming

The paws twitch in a place of chasing
Where the whimper of this seeming-gentle creature
Rings out terrible, chasing tigers. The fields
Are licking like torches, full of running,
Laced odors, bones stalking, tushed leaps.
So little that is tamed, yet so much
That you would find deeply familiar there.
You are there often, your very eyes,
The unfathomable knowledge behind your face,
The mystery of your will, appraising.
Such carnage and triumph; standing there
Strange even to yourself, and loved, and only
A sleeping beast knows who you are.
"Dog Dreaming" by W.S. Merwin, from Green With Beasts. © Knopf, 1956