Sunday, February 21, 2016

Memorial to a familiar stranger

I read of the death of Umberto Eco yesterday.  'Oh no,' was the mundane, involuntary phrase on my lips.  My first wild thoughts were to proclaim it to every friend and acquaintance as a calamity that ought to have cracked the Earth to its mantle.  A great man was dead; a man whose insights excited so many of my own half-reasoned ruminations.

Dead!  How many anecdotes, how many hidden plots, how many conjectures died in that hour?  How much was planned and left undone?

I feel a debt to this utter stranger for the joy and sorrow I have found in his words.  A week prior and I could have established a discourse with him (not that I would have) about the protagonist of The Mysterious Flame, or questioned him about the powder of sympathy, oil of vitriol, or Seven Seas Jim.

And I find it so strange, considering him now one of those dead with whom I can commune only through the words he leaves behind.

May he find paradise somewhere, rusticating in some splendid mountain villa, loafing forever without a past or a future.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Wo ist er nun?

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Earth, Wind and Stars (tr. Lewis Galantiere)

Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame.  No one ever helped you escape.  You, like a termite, built up your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce.  You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars.  You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man.  You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers.  You are a petty-bourgeois of Toulouse.  Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time.  Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Saint-Ex's Beautiful Philosophy

I've spent the last few nights finishing off Wind, Sand and StarsOverwhelming even the craftsmanship of his well rounded-tales, the beautifully humanistic nature Saint-Exupery's underlying philosophy is the most intoxicating aspect of this collection of memories.  Condensing the diverse expressions of this book into a single moral interdict is futile, but here I'll essay it nonetheless.

The general imperative I've absorbed from the worldly experiences of Saint-Exupery is this:
Love life; both yours and your fellow man's.  Develop yourself based upon the inner truth you discover in your interests, and respect the truths of others.
The message seems to me an embellishment upon the call of Orwell to treat others with a sentiment of 'common human decency.'  It is a fine creed, unfettered by the expectations of secular or religious rewards.  I have likely oversimplified the thoughts of this remarkable man, but I feel that I have at least absorbed the spirit of its beautiful meaning.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Insights of Mr. Wimbush

Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow

     "I shall be glad," said Henry Wimbush, "when this function comes at last to an end."
     "I can believe it."
     "I do not know how it is," Mr. Wimbush continued, "but the spectacle of numbers of my fellow-creatures in a state of agitation moves in me a certain weariness, rather than any gaiety or excitement.  The fact is, they don't very much interest me.  They aren't in my line.  You follow me?  I could never take much interest, for example, in a collection of postage stamps.  Primitives or seventeenth-century books--yes.  They are my line.  But stamps, no.  I don't know anything about them; they're not my line.  They don't interest me, they give me no emotion.  It's rather the same with people, I'm afraid.  I'm more at home with these pipes."  He jerked his head sideways towards the hollowed logs.  "The trouble with the people and events of the present is that you never know anything about them.  What do I know of contemporary politics?  Nothing.  What do I know of the people I see round about me?  Nothing.  What they think of me or of anything else in the world, what they will do in five minutes' time, are things I can't guess at.  For all I know, you may suddenly jump up and try to murder me in a moment's time."
     "Come, come," said Denis.
     "True," Mr. Wimbush continued, "the little I know about your past is certainly reassuring.  But I know nothing of your present, and neither you nor I know anything of your future.  It's appalling; in living people, one is dealing with unknown and unknowable quantities.  One can only hope to find out anything about them by a long series of the most disagreeable and boring human contacts, involving a terrible expense of time.  It's the same with current events; how can I find out anything about them except by devoting years to the most exhausting first-hand study, involving once more an endless number of the most unpleasant contacts?  No, give me the past.  It doesn't change; it's all there in black and white, and you can get to know about it comfortably and decorously and, above all, privately--by reading.  By reading I know a great deal of Caesar Borgia, of St. Francis, of Dr. Johnson; a few weeks have made me thoroughly acquainted with these interesting characters, and I have been spared the tedious and revolting process of getting to know them by personal contact, which I should have to do if they were living right now.  How gay and delightful life would be if one could get rid of all the human contacts!  Perhaps, in the future, when machines have attained to a state of perfection--for I confess that I am, like Godwin and Shelley, a believer in perfectibility, the perfectibility of machinery--then, perhaps, it will be possible for those who, like myself, desire it, to live in a dignified seclusion, surrounded by the delicate attentions of silent and graceful machines, and entirely secure from any human intrusion.  It is a beautiful thought."

                                                                                            pp 141-142

Saturday, February 6, 2016

El Hombre Invisible

Everything and Nothing, Jorge Luis Borges (tr. Andrew Hurley)
There was no one inside him; behind his face (which even in the bad paintings of the time resembles no other) and his words (which were multitudinous and of a fantastical and agitated turn) there was no more than a slight chill, a dream someone had failed to dream.  At first he thought that everyone was like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of an acquaintance to whom he began to describe that hollowness showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual ought not to differ from its species.  He thought at one point that books might hold some remedy for his condition, and so he learned the "little Latin and less Greek" that a contemporary would later mention.  Then he reflected that what he was looking for might be found in the performance of an elemental ritual of humanity, and so he allowed himself to be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long evening in June.

At twenty-something he went off to London.  Instinctively, he had already trained himself to the habit of feigning that he was somebody, so that his "nobodiness" might not be discovered.