28 February 2016

Use This Time as an Aristocrat Would

Cal Newport, Deep Work (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), p. 99:
[Arnold] Bennett suggests [in How to Live on 24 Hours a Day] that his typical man see his sixteen free hours as a “day within a day,” explaining, “during those sixteen hours he is free; he is not a wage-earner; he is not preoccupied with monetary cares; he is just as good as a man with a private income.” Accordingly, the typical man should instead use this time as an aristocrat1 would: to perform rigorous self-improvement — a task that, according to Bennett, involves, primarily, reading great literature and poetry.

Bennett wrote about these issues more than a century ago. You might expect that in the intervening decades, a period in which this middle class exploded in size worldwide, our thinking about leisure time would have evolved. But it has not. If anything, with the rise of the Internet and the low-brow attention economy it supports, the average forty-hour-a-week employee — especially those in my tech-savvy Millennial generation — has seen the quality of his or her leisure time remain degraded, consisting primarily of a blur of distracted clicks on least-common-denominator digital entertainment. If Bennett were brought back to life today, he’d likely fall into despair at the lack of progress in this area of human development.

To be clear, I’m indifferent to the moral underpinnings behind Bennett’s suggestions. His vision of elevating the souls and minds of the middle class by reading poetry and great books feels somewhat antiquated and classist2. But the logical foundation of his proposal, that you both should and can make deliberate use of your time outside work, remains relevant today...

My notes:
1.  Presumably this refers to aristocrats such as the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury or the 1st Viscount Bolingbroke and not inbred halfwits who only view the world from between a horse's ears.
2. Insert the sound of Andrew groaning and breaking wind simultaneously.

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25 February 2016

Professorial E-mail Sorting

Cal Newport, Deep Work (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), p. 118:
As a graduate student at MIT, I had the opportunity to interact with famous academics. In doing so, I noticed that many shared a fascinating and somewhat rare approach to e-mail: Their default behavior when receiving an e-mail message is to not respond.

Over time, I learned the philosophy driving this behavior: When it comes to e-mail, they believed, it’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worthwhile. If you didn’t make a convincing case and sufficiently minimize the effort required by the professor to respond, you didn’t get a response.
Ibid., p. 119:
Professorial E-mail Sorting: Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies:
  • It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
  • It’s not a question or proposal that interests you.
  • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.

24 February 2016

Here the Struggle Ends

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit  (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
There are men who, at the bottom of the ladder, battle to rise; they study, struggle, keep their wits alive and eventually get up to a place where they are received as an equal among respectable intellectuals. Here they find warmth and comfort for their pride, and here the struggle ends, and a death of many years commences. They could have gone on living.

22 February 2016

Wir schaffen das

Ambrose Bierce, A Cynic Looks at Life (Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Co. 1912), pp. 11-12:
The tree is known by its fruit. Ours is bearing crab-apples. If the body politic is constitutionally diseased, as I verily believe; if the disorder inheres in the system; there is no remedy. The fever must burn itself out, and then Nature will do the rest. One does not prescribe what time alone can administer. We have put our criminals and dunces into power; do we suppose they will efface themselves? Will they restore to us the power of governing them? They must have their way and go their length. The natural and immemorial sequence is: tyranny, insurrection, combat. In combat everything that wears a sword has a chance — even the right. History does not forbid us to hope. But it forbids us to rely upon numbers; they will be against us.

19 February 2016

Women Who Procreate

Roland Jaccard, L'âme est un vaste pays (Paris: Grasset, 1984), my translation:
I cannot prevent myself from thinking poorly of women who procreate. They loose a great deal of their humanity in my eyes. Knowing that this is a stupid prejudice is not enough to rid me of it.
Je ne puis m’empêcher d’avoir une piètre opinion des femmes qui procréent. Elles perdent beaucoup de leur humanité à mes yeux. Savoir que c’est un préjugé stupide ne suffit pas à me l’enlever.
As far as I know only one of Jaccard's books (on Louise Brooks) has been translated into English. I'm not sure how I would describe his work... he is a nihilist, a pessimist. I might call him a more refined version of Bukowski, but that is a poor comparison. He regularly uploads haïkus visuels to his YouTube channel: some are humorous, others vulgar, still others discuss Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and the joys of family life.

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17 February 2016

A Fool's Trick

David Christie Murray in The Art of Authorship, ed. George Bainton (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1890), p. 217:
There are some things which cannot be made comprehensible to the common mind; but the affectation of obscurity, the wrapping a mere farthing's-worth of meaning in a whole bale of verbiage, is a fool's trick and no more.
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16 February 2016

Life Is Short and Hard

W. Somerset Maugham on Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Loaf, quoting a passage from his novel Christmas Holiday  in "Paintings I Have Liked," A Traveller in Romance, ed. John Whitehead (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1984), p. 51:
It’s so humble, so natural, so friendly; it’s the bread and wine of the poor who ask no more than that they should be left in peace, allowed to work and eat their simple food in freedom. It’s the cry of the despised and rejected. It tells you that whatever their sins men at heart are good. That loaf of bread and that flagon of wine are symbols of the joys and sorrows of the meek and lowly. They ask for your mercy and your affection; they tell you that they’re of the same flesh and blood as you. They tell you that life is short and hard and the grave is cold and lonely. It’s not only a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine; it’s the mystery of man’s lot on earth, his craving for a little friendship and a little love and the humility of his resignation when he sees that even they must be denied him.
Still Life with Bottle, Glass, and Loaf, National Gallery #1258

See Laudator Temporis Acti for more on this painting.

15 February 2016

Manure

Charles Buxton, Notes of Thought  (London: John Murray, 1883), p. 95:
Reading spreads facts, like manure, over the surface of the mind; but it is thought that ploughs them in.

11 February 2016

Noble Bohemianism

Philip G. Hamerton, "The Noble Bohemianism," Human Intercourse (London: Macmillan, 1884), pp. 297-298:
A true Bohemian, of the best kind, knows the value of mere shelter, of food enough to satisfy hunger, of plain clothes that will keep him sufficiently warm, and in the things of the mind he values the liberty to use his own faculties as a kind of happiness in itself. His philosophy leads him to take an interest in talking with human beings of all sorts and conditions, and in different countries. He does not despise the poor, for, whether poor or rich in his own person, he understands simplicity of life, and if the poor man lives in a small cottage, he too has probably been lodged less spaciously still in some small hut or tent. He has lived often, in rough travel, as the poor live every day. I maintain that such tastes and experiences are valuable both in prosperity and in adversity. If we are prosperous, they enhance our appreciation of the things around us, and yet at the same time make us really know that they are not indispensable, as so many believe them to be; if we fall into adversity, they prepare us to accept lightly and cheerfully what would be depressing privations to others. I know a painter who in consequence of some change in the public taste fell into adversity at a time when he had every reason to hope for increased success. Very fortunately for him, he had been a Bohemian in early life, a respectable Bohemian be it understood, and a great traveller, so that he could easily dispense with luxuries. "To be still permitted to follow art is enough," he said, so he reduced his expenses to the very lowest scale consistent with that pursuit, and lived as he had done before in the old Bohemian times. He made his old clothes last on, he slung a hammock in a very simple painting-room, and cooked his own dinner on the stove. With the canvas on his easel and a few books on a shelf he found that if existence was no longer luxurious it had not yet ceased to be interesting. 
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9 February 2016

The Good Writer Never Applies to a Foundation

William Faulkner in an interview with The Paris Review in 1956:
The writer doesn’t need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He’s too busy writing something. If he isn’t first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn’t got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.
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8 February 2016

Soaked in History

George Macaulay Trevelyan, The Recreations of an Historian (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1919), p. 32:
History and literature cannot be fully comprehended, still less fully enjoyed, except in connection with one another. I confess I have little love either for "Histories of Literature," or for chapters on "the literature of the period," hanging at the end of history books like the tail from a cow. I mean, rather, that those who write or read the history of a period should be soaked in its literature, and that those who read or expound literature should be soaked in history. The "scientific" view of history that discouraged such interchange and desired the strictest specialisation by political historians, has done much harm to our latter-day culture. The mid Victorians at any rate knew better than that. 

4 February 2016

The Lost Art of Phrenology

Wilhelm von Gwinner wrote three biographies of his friend Arthur Schopenhauer: in 1862, 1878, and 1910. His granddaughter Charlotte von Gwinner edited and annotated them, producing a couple more versions in 1922 and 1963.

I just received a copy of the one published at Leipzig by F. A. Brockhaus in 1910, and discover that it contains this glorious foldout:

Translation: A geometrically accurate outline of 
Schopenhauer's skull, based on a plaster cast

2 February 2016

An Affected Style

Thomas Gordon Hake, Memoirs of Eighty Years (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1892), pp. 85-86:
When a man begins to write and finds he can hardly spell his name, he looks at Bolingbroke for style, or at Goldsmith, and gets help from both; but woe to him if he falls in love with such rickety writers as were De Quincy, or Carlyle! Both had bandy pens. As a man gets older, if he has anything to say, he is contented with being himself, and covering his thoughts with words that exactly fit them, as the skin fits a race-horse. An affected style betrays an affected character, with its self-respect in abeyance. He finds that some long words contain his idea ready made, but he does better to shun them, and express it in his own way...