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Friday, September 12, 2014


I'm not sure you youngsters know just how hard it is for me to keep writing light, amusing things on this blog while the world around me is going to hell.  There is so much to be angry about -- legitimately morally outraged -- at home and abroad that I can scarcely get through the day without encountering six or seven reasons to despair.  It requires an advanced utilitarian calculus just to decide how to rank order them.  I am not talking about natural disasters like tornados and hurricanes and droughts and new strains of deadly diseases.  I am talking about genuine man-made evils [and they do seem to be mostly man-made rather than woman-made, by the way.]  Sometimes they spring from religion, such as the barbarism of ISIS or the oppression of the Palestinians.  Sometimes they are rooted in bureaucratically entrenched racism, like the murder of Michael Brown.  Often they are grounded in the very structure of our political economy, like the obscene inequalities of wealth and income.

And the worst of it is that at least in this country, many of those evils could be eliminated or at least lessened if the people most harmed by them would just get off their Barcaloungers and bother to vote.

Why, you may ask, do I not fulminate more, as many bloggers and political commentators do?  Well, I am eighty years old, and it seems I have been angry at the evils of the world for all but the first twelve or thirteen of those years.  I feel as though I came into the world angry, and I really would rather not go out the same way.  Besides, any decent composer will tell you that you cannot write all four movements of a symphony fortissimo.  There has to be a rondo or a minuet or a gigue, and at least an occasional passage piano.   Not even Wagner made everything loud.

But it is hard, it is hard.

So let's have a little sympathy for the old guy, apoplectic though he may be.


James Camien McGuiggan said...

I'm reminded of Harry Haller's dream with the 82-year-old Goethe in 'Steppenwolf'.

'"You have, Herr van Goethe, like all great spirits, clearly recognised and felt the questionableness, the hopelessness of human life; the splendour of the moment and its wretched fading [...] and yet during your entire life you preached the opposite, expressed faith and optimism, put on a show of constancy and put forth a sense of our spiritual strivings before yourself and others. This is the insincerity we reproach you with."'

Goethe meets the accusation with mischievous unhelpfulness, and then:

'[H]e danced joyfully and nimbly up and down and first made the primrose shoot out from his star like a rocket, then made it become small and disappear.'

Robert Paul Wolff said...

James, what a perfectly wonderful quote, with which I was totally unfamiliar. Thank you. I am in good company indeed! A lovely association.

Tony Couture said...

I try to use Henry Thoreau's techniques for keeping calm, described in his famous essay, "Walking":

Thoreau said: " I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least - and it is commonly more than that - sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say a penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them - as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon - I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

[7] I who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour of four o'clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the day-light - have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for, I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance - to say nothing of the moral insensibility of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye and years almost together.
[9] No doubt temperament, and above all age, have a good deal to do with it. As a man grows older his ability to sit still and follow in-door occupations increases. He grows vespertinal (9) in his habits, as the evening of life approaches, till at last he comes forth only just before sundown, and gets all the walk that he requires in half an hour.

[10] But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours - as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man's swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.

[11] Moreover, you must walk like a camel which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth's (10) servant to show him her master's study, she answered "Here is his library, but his study is out of doors."

[13] When we walk we naturally go to the fields and woods; what would become of us if we walked only in a garden or a mall? Even some sects of philosophers have felt the necessity of importing the woods to themselves since they did not go to the woods, "They planted groves and walks of Platans" where they took subdiales ambulationes in porticoes open to the air. Of course, it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village.

Magpie said...

"When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them - as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon - I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago."

That's the kind of quote one should email one's friends on Mondays!! :-)