Delight Springs

Monday, August 31, 2015

I believe in walking and talking

And pedaling. My wife and I went for a bikeride yesterday on the old converted rails-to-trails greenspace that runs along the Cumberland River near Ashland City, enjoying the mild breezy weather and even the light rain that accompanied the last leg of our trip. Good conversation and good times just seem to flow better when you're moving but in no hurry to get somewhere.

In CoPhi today we revisit "This I Believe," in book form the freshman summer read (again) and in format the model I'm suggesting students follow for their final reports this semester. They can post their short essays of core conviction on our site and on TIB's, along with accompanying podcast recordings if they choose.

Some philosophy teachers encourage their Intro students to focus more on what others have believed, but I believe a philosophy course is all about finding words and voice for the inarticulate philosophy William James says we all have whether we know it or not.

So I've asked students to find TIB essays they like, share them, talk about them, listen to their classsmates' views, and begin thinking about how to frame their own TIB essays. Some of their early nominations: Warren Christopher on trust, Jackie Robinson on free minds & hearts, M. Gandhi on peace, moving beyond stereotypes, being cool to the pizza dude, the power of hello...

And because we're still getting accustomed to the walk-and-talk approach to philosophy and learning, today we're looking at what peripatetics believe too.
Time is not money; time is a an opportunity to live before you die. So a man who walks, and lives and sees and thinks as he walks, has lengthened his life. Donald Culross Peattie, Joy of Walking
Walking means seeing the unseen, understanding, friendship, privacy, emotional perspective, physical capacity... an image of life itself. John Man, Walk!
This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done -- was only possible -- while on foot... walking [is] a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways
I believe they're right.

And I believe Calvin shouldn't worry so much about what other people think.


5:50/6:19, 66/86

Friday, August 28, 2015

A happy start

This has been just about as perfect a first week of class as I've ever enjoyed, with enthusiastic students, mild weather, and a convivial revival of the post-Happiness Happy Hour tradition at the Boulevard last night. We were all peripatetic, no one was pathetic, all is copacetic. Everyone in Happy Class seems already to get the crucial point of presence, of being fully awake and alive to the moment at hand. We all seem happy to be here this week, and happy to keep on walking. Happy but not sappy, with nuanced views of the backdrop of cruelty and suffering that honest happiness cannot ignore or explain away. When I asked students to react to old Schopenhauer's repudiation of our subject, the responses were thoughtful, balanced, and wise.

Athletes speak of "staying within themselves," which I interpret to mean something like presence in motion and a disciplined commitment to training.  For a peripatetic philosopher that translates into a series of measured steps, establishing a reliable rhythm of corporeal movement that the mind naturally falls in with, making thought and forthright conversation flow. Endorphins too. Maybe that's how you "dissolve" (as Maria Popova says Willa Cather said) into happiness. And health. And a sense of meaning and purpose, if that's what you're looking for too.

Walk on!

5:30/6:17, 64/87

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Peripatetics in Tennessee

The great peripatetic experiment seems to be working. Took both of my afternoon CoPhi classes out and across campus yesterday, 30+ students in each, ambling at a leisurely pace in discussion groups of 3, chewing on the questions What's philosophy, what's yours, & who's your favorite philosopher? We all met up at the Naked Eye Observatory, the Uranidrome, to compare notes, in the mid-to-late afternoon shade of Pluto and the Trans-Neptunian Objects, and after a bit resumed our trek. Complaints about bugs and heat and weary feet were few, appreciation of the open sky (which of course the brain is wider than, as Emily Dickinson the philosopher said) and fresh air was evident on many faces.

Image result for naked eye observatory mtsu

Next stop, the steps of the oldest and most classical-looking structure on our campus, the Old Main (KOM). Many interesting things were reported and later posted on our site. Some named usual suspects as their faves - Aristotle, Hume, Thoreau - while others surprised us - D.H Lawrence (or T.E., they weren't certain), T.S. Eliot, the author of  Kite Runner. 

Image result for kom mtsu

And then, the fire engine and campus police suddenly swarmed our location with sirens blaring. We decided it might be best to move along. But we'll be back.

And back as well, at least in one small corner of middle Tennessee, is the proud, unduly-neglected, and now no-longer-dormant old Lyceum tradition of walking-and-talking philosophy.

5:30/6:16, 60/84

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Small stuff

Had two more Opening Day classes yesterday, beginning with my first-ever 8 am class and concluding with the Philosophy of Happiness. Both went well, dwarfing the trivial annoyances, interruptions, and worries - a malfunctioning machine, a pair of looming deadlines, a nonconforming online form - that crowded in to fill the day's midsection. The early class gave me just the timely distraction I needed, from a rude school crossing-guard's gratuitous shout and whistle. (There must be magic in those whistles, the way they seem to empower some of their blowers with a sense of arrogant authority.) The later class compensated for the computer "help" that was no help at all.

The great thing about my job, and I suppose any job that regularly offers the possibility of absorption and constructive interaction with interested/interesting humans, is that when it goes well it makes all that other stuff and nonsense feel as small as it really is. A time-out from turbulence and trouble, a reminder of the shopworn wisdom in the old cliche about not sweating the small stuff.

In Happiness class I solicited a class Grump, someone who would admit to being unimpressed by our culture's manic pursuit of happiness and disinterested in its attainment. One or two confessed to a streak of pessimism but most seemed amenable to my Jamesian starting-point:
If we were to ask the question: “What is human life's chief concern?” one of the answers we should receive would be: “It is happiness.” How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure. William James
So, we'll let Schopenhauer's ghost be our class Grump this time:
What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.”
Well, I said, he's wrong. Oh, the world offers us plenty of small-potatoes unhappiness every day (see paragraph 1 above), the small stuff we all tend to sweat. But as yesterday reminded me, it offers other stuff too. Good stuff.

And I'm going to push my line on Schopenhauer: his ghost will never admit it, but his profession of pessimism made him happy.

5:30/6:16, 59/81

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


New Orleans was founded on this date in 1718. Some of my new students are from there (met two of my new classes yesterday, two more today), as is one of my favorite old ones. The scene in the courtyard yesterday just outside my classroom on Opening Day was perfectly mild and evocative of summer's transition to school days. The soundtrack would have to be something sweet and jazzy.

Quick free association: first thing you think of, when you think of the crescent city? Louis Armstrong, Mardi Gras, letting the good times roll? Katrina? For me it's one Ignatius J. Reilly, philosopher-slob, critic of modernity, Boethius and Batman enthusiast who said “leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.” I love it that New Orleans has a statue of him, not that many fictional antiheroes earn such a distinction.

"You must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age," Ignatius said solemnly. "Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books... I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he's found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.” ― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces 

5:30/6:15, 58/80

Friday, August 21, 2015

Staying awake

It's Fall Faculty Meeting day already, that annual kickoff event just  before classes begin when we all are supposed to crowd into the stuffy dramatic arts auditorium for a pep talk - last year more a scolding - from the top, a roll-call of new colleagues, and a sentimental farewell from one of our retiring number. We don't all go, there are boycotters among us, but I wouldn't miss it. Or the free lunch to follow. It's good to begin the year with a sense of the campus zeitgeist and the policy imperatives our administrative controllers intend to execute. As William Stafford's poem says, "it is important that awake people be awake... the darkness around us is deep." WA

It's the birthday of late novelist Robert Stone (1937), who said "Writing is lonely... most of the time you are in a room by yourself. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa." Staying awake is today's theme, it seems. Not everybody manages that well, at the fall faculty meeting.

I've given myself one last summer read, or re-read, just finishing again the masterful Wallace Stegner's All the Little Live Things. What a depth of insight into the crotchety and complicated relations between the generations, and into the contradictory ways nature and life are both beautiful and cruel. From beginning (“How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”)  to end (“I shall be richer all my life for this sorrow”) Stegner kept me both awake and dreaming in the surrounding darkness, the way only really great literature can. What a magnificent writer. He's one I'll mention the next time a student tells me she doesn't read fiction because it's not "true." Wake up, kids, and dream.

And now my summer's dream ends. It's back onto the highway for the long commute to school. I have an event-appropriate audiobook cued up for the ride: William Deresewiecz's Excellent Sheep. His recent postscript in Harper's is worth every educator's time, and it'll be much on my mind in Tucker Auditorium this morning. "How college sold its soul," indeed. Thank goodness for the honest refuge of fiction.

5:25 am/6:12, 61/83

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Music of the spheres

Voyager 2 was launched 38 years ago today, towing a golden (actually copper) record featuring the sites, sounds, voices, and music of earth.
The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras...
Would an alien intelligence listen to music, or even have ears? Mathematics is supposed to be the universal language, but this is way more fun to imagine. ET be goode!

"The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."
And about musical sophistication in the cosmos.

Gene Roddenberry imagined our first warp drive ride into space accompanied by Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." Wouldn't it be nice!

6 am/6:11, 67/82

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

We built that

Gene Roddenberry, the "Great Bird of the Galaxy," would have celebrated his 94th birthday today. His optimism spoke to a basic need I too seem to have had already at age 9 (and still have), when he introduced the Enterprise, Vulcan philosophy, the Prime Directive, and intergalactic and inter-species (never mind interracial) comity. His version of the human trek insisted that "there is a tomorrow — it's not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, the human race is improving, we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids — human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard." WA

I saw Roddenberry speak at my school when I was an undergrad in the 70s, at a time of American "malaise" when we all seemed to need a  re-infusion of that kind of humanistic, pluralistic, naturalistic, melioristic thinking. We could use a booster. Who else is going to build the better future?

In an episode from Trek's next generation, a young space cadet informs his captain that "William James won't be on my Starfleet exams" and is instructed, in a line Roddenberry didn't write but did inspire, "Nothing really important will be. Open yourself to the past, history, art, philosophy, and all of this might mean something."
5:45/6:10, 74/82

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

‘The Philosopher’

I think I've found this academic season's poetic anthem and keynote, just in time for the first day of the Fall term in what I'm dubbing the Year of the Peripatetic. We'll be leaving our "chamber drear" at every opportunity, especially while the summer's sun is still with us. 
Enough of Thought, Philosopher;
Too long hast thou been dreaming
Unlightened, in this chamber drear –
While summer’s sun is beaming –
Space-sweeping soul, what sad refrain
Concludes thy musings once again?
– Emily Brontë (1818-1848), ‘The Philosopher
Emily Brontë - Philosopher
6 am/6:09, 73/81

Monday, August 17, 2015

We forget

Late in his lovely memoir of growing up in Memphis, Screening RoomAlan Lightman steps briefly away from the intimate family narrative to recall one of the ineluctable realities revealed by his subsequent scientific vocation.
Caught up in the inches and minutes of our lives, we forget that we are specks on the surface of a sphere 12,000 miles across, which hurls us through six hundred million miles of empty space every year--as it orbits about a bigger sphere of gas and fire. And that larger sphere, our sun, makes its own circuit about the center of the galaxy every two hundred and fifty million years.
I try not to forget all that. Every time I gaze at the sky, day or night, I prod myself to keep things on the ground in perspective. I think about the cosmic scale of time and space, wonder what's out there, and regret the absence of perspective so widely suffered by those who never look up from the gritty details of daily living.

Lightman surprises me when he continues,
If we thought about such enormities, we would be unable to speak. We would be unable to write our few feeble words, build our flimsy cities. We would just wait for our minute of life and awareness to pass.
I suppose that's true of some of us. But I hope it's rather the case that if most humans ever really learn to keep it all in perspective, we'll become better people: more reflective and wonder-struck, less belligerent and cruel and stupid. More sustainably committed to living well together during our brief opportunity to circle the sun, and to passing along a solid legacy as the spotlight of time shifts ahead.

And I'd like to think we'd be better writers. Like Lightman.

I wonder if he ever read today's WA poem, Louise Gluck's "Telescope"? It shares his sense of incommensurability between the human and cosmic scales, and insinuates a delusional human tendency to see things as closer and more manageable than they really are. Moving away from the telescope's image of distant bodies, she says, "You see again how far away each thing is from every other thing."

Maybe. But I think it's also possible to see that we're connected with even the most remote realities, and that bearing them in mind prevents a kind of obtuse forgetfulness that we simply must overcome if we're ever to shrink the distances between ourselves and the stars. Or between one another.

5:30/6:08, 72/77

Friday, August 14, 2015

Steve Martin

Steve Martin is 70?! The wild and crazy philosophy major turned stand-up comedian turned actor turned bluegrass musician doesn't act his age in public. But he's studiously pondered  the philosophy of humor, and was deeply influenced by an early reading of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge (whose protagonist was in turn deeply influenced by William James). His re-enactment of the death of Socrates rivals Woody Allen's version, if not Plato's.
[College] "changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non sequiturs appealed to me... If you’re studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life."
But in a good way.

5:30/6:06, 65/90

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Healthy and wise

Dawn-rising doesn't work for everyone, and can in fact (says Charles Bukowski's WA poem this morning) be an impediment to awareness and wisdom. But even when I throw away the alarm clock in summer, my body clock hauls me up and out. If that doesn't make me healthy, wealthy, or wise, at least it makes me routinely reliable and (by summer standards) productive. Days when I've overslept 'til 7 tend to go off the rails - like Bukowski's life, as he cultivated the style and sensibility of "the defeated, the demented and the damned." That's one way to win a cult following, I suppose. Takes all kinds. The dissipated life's not for me.

It's Alfred Hitchcock's birthday. Note to Older Daughter:  he said “a good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission, and the babysitter were worth it." He also said happiness is "a clear horizon — nothing to worry about on your plate, only things that are creative and not destructive..." That's healthy and wise, at any hour. And if you're healthy and wise, you're wealthy in the most valuable currency there is.

6 am/6:05, 62/86

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nothing important to communicate

 "Echo 1, NASA’s first communications satellite, was launched on this date in 1960." WA 

What a different world we live in now, constantly chattering and listening to chatter that's been beamed into space and back. But Thoreau's point about the telegraph still applies, doesn't it?
As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance.. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.
 Much of what leaks into our broad, flapping ears lately seems to be gossipy infotainment (including most political discourse and other "reality" programming). I don't want to ditch the satellites - Commander Kelly's satellite transmissions have been transcendent - but down here on the ground there's definitely room for real "improvements."
6 am/6:04, 71/87
podcast (including previous posts)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Moving in

Back from moving Older Daughter to school, this time ahead of the throng since she's signed on as a Resident Assistant this year and had to report early for training. It's a different vicarious experience, moving your kid into an utterly empty college dorm. Same feeling of clean-slate anticipation and excitement, curiosity and mild concern, eagerness and trepidation, worry and hope.

But walking those empty corridors, peering into those identically scrubbed and denuded rooms, I was also struck by a feeling of the contingent, constructed nature of the collegiate experience we've inherited. Our traditional ways of educating and transitioning our young, preparing them for independence, happiness, and success, might be otherwise.

The appalling expense of higher education in this country (and non-public secondary education), the emphasis on preparing students for careers and and competitive participation in a "global economy," the false assumption (as Frank Bruni put it) that where you go wholly determines who you can be... these "givens" are mythic, and largely unquestioned. We just do it this way because we've done it this way. We could change.

5:35/6:04, 76/90

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Truth and youth

Birthday of poet Sara Teasdale (1884), who understood life's bargain opportunity: “When I can look life in the eyes, / grown calm and very coldly wise, / life will have given me the truth, / and taken in exchange — my youth.” WA

Beware young people who think they already know it all, and old people who don't accept the bargain.

On this day in my youth, in 1974, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. TD I was sure that would change our politics in a big way, for the better, and usher in generations of wise, honest leadership in America. I wasn't quite looking life in the eyes then. Now, I no longer expect politics to deliver transformational change.

That's one of the unfortunate truths the poet may have had in mind. It's not "the truth," the only truth - that would not be wise. She was trying to rhyme.

Jon Stewart was telling a truth when he signed off the other night: "bullshit is everywhere." (Remember when he hosted Harry Frankfurt?) Paul Krugman was too, in yesterday's Times: "the Republicans can't be serious." Still, after all these years.

Tom Tomorrow cartoon

7 am/6:01, 67/90

Friday, August 7, 2015

At sea

Beautiful night at the ballpark last night, a rare doubleheader and a sweep for the home team against Memphis. Amused myself between innings monitoring tweeted updates from the so-called GOP debate. What a ludicrous spectacle. What a letdown for all who still entertain the fantasy of responsible dialogue between serious and worthy applicants for the nation's most important position of leadership. As the Donald said, it was not "nice." Don't go, Jon Stewart, we need you!

Meanwhile, in our local election, none of the at-large candidates for five spots on our bloated city council could manage to garner even 10% of the vote. Rather than a run-off, since the amendment to shrink the council failed, how about a lop-off? The voters have spoken.

But there's good news: the right mayoral contender came up just a little short.

Today's the birthday of anthropologist Louis Leakey (1903), who showed that our earliest ancestors were "out of Africa," and the anniversary of ethnologist Thor Heyerdal's Kon-Tiki expedition (1947) showing that some of our later ancestors were a lot more resourceful and nautically intrepid than previously thought. WA

How would the current crop of political pretenders fare on Heyerdal's raft? They're already adrift and at sea. How far can they go? I'd like to find out. Shove off, guys.

5:50/6:00, 72/86

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (1965). We're still overcoming.

Appropriately it's voting day here in Nashville, near ground zero for events that precipitated that historic legislation. Our mayoral race does not excite me, though I do want to see the defeat of the candidate who was stupidly quick to declare the Charleston atrocity non-racially motivated.

I am eager to vote for the elimination of several city council seats. That body is ridiculously overstaffed and underwhelming. Like the Tennessee state House and U.S. Congress.

How many of us would have voted to drop "Little Boy" on Hiroshima seventy years ago this morning? And how many would have voter's remorse?

Would we have voted for penicillin in 1881? Or would there have been an anti-antibacterial movement?

We the people aren't as informed or as reflective as we ought to be, as participants in popular democracy, nor are our public educational institutions adequately supported and funded to that end. Was it H.L. Mencken who said the public is an ass? It is, often enough. But the plutocracy's a bigger one. Anyway, he was speaking publicly too.

Anti-intellectualism has always been a problem here, as Douglas Hofstadter documented. It's his birthday too. And as Isaac Asimov said,
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
Vox populi clearly does not always reflect the public interest, as old Rousseau rightly said, but it's always in the public interest to solicit the voices of the people and start a conversation. To the polls.

Postscript, 8:15 am. Getting antsy, waiting for the heavy rainfall to subside so I can get on with my habitual 8 am walk. Thoreau said he always went, "in any weather," but I'll bet there were mornings when he waited it out in his pondside shack too. Good time to invoke Stoic patience, consult the radar, admit will's natural limitations, and ponder this:
“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obli­gation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.
There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote."  On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
Polls don't close 'til nightfall, there is more day to dawn.

6:30/5:59, 72/82

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wendell Berry

Birthday of poet/novelist/farmer/environmentalist Wendell Berry (1934), whose poem about a man who diligently archives his vacation but still misses it could be an allegory of life in our socially mediated, digitally translated time. WA
...preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
Aren't we rarely "in it" these days, many of us, though constantly online, in touch, in REC mode? Framing, documenting, liking, sharing, but not fully experiencing the moments of our lives?

Or is that just Chicken Little the Luddite squeaking?

Either way, Wendell Berry is an admirable defender of authentic existence and living at first hand, in touch with the earth that sustains us. Like his friend Gary Snyder he reminds us that nature isn't just something external to our lives but is life itself. We need to be there for it. In it.

I went to Berry years ago for help assembling my thoughts on the place of hope in our affairs, in Springs of Delight.
Writer and poet Wendell Berry tautly summarizes the call to hope I find so prominent in James and Dewey: "A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study life and our conditions, searching always for the authentic underpinnings of hope." But, he elaborates significantly, the search must center on ourselves, in our own time:
"We can do nothing for the human future that we will not do for the human present. For the amelioration of the future condition of our kind we must look, not to the wealth or the genius of the coming generations, but to the quality of the disciplines and attitudes that we are preparing now for their use . . . [T]he man who works and behaves well today need take no thought for the morrow; he has discharged today's only obligation to the morrow."

Berry goes on to illustrate but also to strain this correct emphasis on the present as preparing (and possibly sabotaging) but not simply waiting on the future. He says that disciplined attention to present needs aligns us "with natural processes, [with] no explicit or deliberate concern for the future. We do not eat, for instance, because we want to live until tomorrow, but because we are hungry today and it satisfies us to eat." In fact, both kinds of reasons—present satisfaction and continued existence—are coordinate in human action.
Maybe the best thing the eminently-quotable Berry ever said: "Be joyful because it is humanly possible." At least be present.

5:50/5:59, 75/90

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Happy existentialists

Birthday of Louis Armstrong (1901), who really did think it's a wonderful world; and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), kicked out of Oxford for writing risque poetry and disbelieving in God, who said "Do it now — write nothing but what your conviction of its truth inspires you to write.” He died before he was 30. WA

Yesterday's Godot post left me thinking about Existentialism and its popular but false reputation for bleakness. The proto-existentialist pioneers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche weren't philosophers of bleakness, though both depicted a stark world of lonely choice, personal isolation, and irreversible responsibility. When I think of them, though, the starkness recedes and a joyful, affirming, peripatetic mood steps up. Nietzsche's "formula" for happiness was "a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal." He said
“all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Rising at dawn, Nietzsche would stalk through the countryside till 11 a.m. Then, after a short break, he would set out on a two-hour hike through the forest to Lake Sils. After lunch he was off again, parasol in hand, returning home at four or five o’clock, to commence the day’s writing. Gymnasiums of the Mind
 Kierkegaard, the Melancholy Dane, cheerfully advised:
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” K's Journals and Papers
In contrast to Samuel Beckett's waiters, no peripatetic existentialist ever despaired to take the next step.

 6:50/5:58, 72/97

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tired of waiting

It's been sixty years since Samuel Beckett affronted English theater convention with Godot. WA
VLADIMIR: There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet... We can still part, if you think it would be better. ESTRAGON: It's not worthwhile now.Silence.VLADIMIR: No, it's not worthwhile now.Silence. ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go? VLADIMIR: Yes, let's go.They do not move.
And the first curtain fell. Would you have stayed for the second act? Or would you have moved?

Peripatetics, or this one anyway, find that play's inertial heaviness unnerving. Those guys, like most angsty existentialists, just needed to go.

As do I, on this lovely autumnal August morning. Just a few lines of dialogue more, for the road, but then I'm not waiting another moment.
VLADIMIR: Try and walk. (Estragon walks.) Well? ESTRAGON: It fits. VLADIMIR: (taking string from his pocket). We'll try and lace it. ESTRAGON: (vehemently). No no, no laces, no laces! VLADIMIR: You'll be sorry. Let's try the other. (As before.) Well? ESTRAGON:(grudgingly). It fits too. VLADIMIR: They don't hurt you? ESTRAGON: Not yet. VLADIMIR: Then you can keep them. ESTRAGON: They're too big. VLADIMIR: Perhaps you'll have socks some day. ESTRAGON: True.VLADIMIR: Then you'll keep them?ESTRAGON: That's enough about these boots...VLADIMIR: Yes, but—ESTRAGON:(violently). Enough! (Silence.) I suppose I might as well sit down.He looks for a place to sit down, then goes and sits down on the mound.VLADIMIR: That's where you were sitting yesterday evening.  I could only sleep. VLADIMIR: Yesterday you slept. ESTRAGON: I'll try.He resumes his foetal posture, his head between his knees.VLADIMIR: Wait. (He goes over and sits down beside Estragon and begins to sing in a loud voice.) Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye– ESTRAGON: (looking up angrily). Not so loud! VLADIMIR: (softly).
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye . . .
And there they go again, blaming the boot for the foot's ambivalence. What Beckett said of uncomprehending critics, I say of his characters and all who identify with them: "Why people have to complicate a thing so simple, I can’t make out.” Just pick a direction and go, guys!

Set some goals, make a plan, do something... like my young friend who, following the example of his hero Penn Jillette, has reclaimed health and happiness and set himself on the path of the philosopher."The most basic things we owe each other as humans are love, respect, and telling the truth as we see it."

In fairness to the real substance beneath his innovative and surprising style, I'm sure Beckett would agree

6 am/5:57, 66/97