17 January 2021

Sounds Like a Nice Place

Ajahn Jayasaro describes the people of Isan (northeastern Thailand) in Stillness Flowing; The Life and Teachings of Ajahn Chah (Pakchong: Panyaprateep Foundation, 2017), p. 19:

The idea of persecuting others for holding beliefs different from their own has always been incomprehensible to them. They are not particularly cerebral – abstract theories and philosophies rarely excite them – but they are skilful pragmatists with a considerable talent for compromise; the bamboo bending in strong winds has always been one of their favourite images. They avoid open confrontation wherever possible and consider the unfiltered expression of strong feeling to be uncouth and immature. They admire the ability to remain calm and unruffled under stress, and they aspire to ‘a cool heart’.

 

Buddhist monk in Phu Kradung National Park (image from Wikipedia)

14 January 2021

Half Rations

Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory (London: Cassell and Company, 1957), p. 195:

When any of the forward formations had to go on half rations, as throughout the campaign they often did, I used to put my headquarters on half rations too. It had little practical effect, but as a gesture it was rather valuable, and it did remind the young staff officers with healthy appetites that it was urgent to get the forward formations back to full rations as soon as possible.
 

Slim as commander of the Fourteenth Army, c. 1945
Slim as commander of the Fourteenth Army, c. 1945

12 January 2021

Blend in With the Rest of the Chimps

James Clear, Atomic Habits (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), p. 120:

The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. For example, one study found that when a chimpanzee learns an effective way to crack nuts open as a member of one group and then switches to a new group that uses a less effective strategy, it will avoid using the superior nut cracking method just to blend in with the rest of the chimps.

Humans are similar. There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.

The human mind knows how to get along with others. It wants to get along with others. This is our natural mode. You can override it — you can choose to ignore the group or to stop caring what other people think — but it takes work. Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.

 

David Teniers the Younger, A Monkey Encampment (1633)

11 January 2021

Peevish, Petulant, Personal Comment

Richard Burton on critics and reviewers, quoted in Isabel Burton, The Life of Captain Sir Richard F. Burton, Vol. 2 (London: Chapman & Hall, 1893), p. 262:

They no longer review books; when they are incompetent they review the author, and if the author's politics and religion do not happen to agree with the office of that paper, it admits scurrilous and personal paragraphs on the authors themselves, bringing up a sort of dossier of the author, which would be considered even disgraceful in a trial in a criminal court. Thirty years ago this would never have been allowed. This may amuse the writer, it may excite the reader, but I protest against it. Nothing can be less profitable to an author or a reader than a long tirade of peevish, petulant, personal comment, and unanswerable sneer. This is only used by people who can shelter themselves under an anonymous signature, or a Critique manqué, and is quite the mark of a pretender in literature and critical art, and which seldom disfigures the style of a true or able critic.
  

Photo of Richard Burton from the Crewe Collection
pasted to the front flyleaf of First Footsteps (1856)

Related posts:

7 January 2021

Gentle Drops of Forgetfulness

Thomas More, Epigram 121 (On Sleep, Which Makes the Poor Man the Rich Man's Equal), The Latin Epigrams of Thomas More, tr. Leicester Bradner and Charles Arthur Lynch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 180 (note omitted):

O sleep, restful part of life, hope and comfort of the poor, whom by night you make equal to the rich, you comfort sad hearts with gentle drops of forgetfulness and drive away all recollection of woe. Generously in happy dreams you confer wealth upon the poor man. Why do you, rich man, scorn the poor man’s fancied wealth? Real wealth brings to the rich worry, pain, and grief; imagined wealth brings the poor real joy.

 The original, from pp. 56-57: 

DE SOMNO AEQVANTE PAVPEREM CVM DIVITE

Somne quies uitae, spes et solamen egenis,
   Diuitibus noctu quos facis esse pares.
Tristia demulces lethaco pectora rore,
   Excutis et sensum totius inde mali.
Laeta benignus opes inopi per somnia mittis.
   Quid falsas rides, diues, opes inopis?
Diuitibus uerae curas, tormenta, dolores
   Pauperibus falsae gaudia uera ferunt.

Related posts:


Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Le Rêve (1883)
"Love, Glory, and Wealth appear to him in his sleep."

5 January 2021

On the Backs of the Creatives

Christopher Schwarz, one of the founders of the Lost Art Press, at the 7:05 mark in the December 28 episode of Jonathan Pritchard’s Mind Reader University podcast:

When I got thrown into the corporate world and corporate publishing, what I found out is that you can really print money. It is a licence to print money. The profit margins in corporate publishing are astonishing by most manufacturing standards, and they do that by just screwing people. It’s horrible to see. It’s on the backs of the creatives that they make their money, and creatives see very little of that money. So when I set out to make a publishing company with my partner John Hoffman, the idea was… From a quality point of view I love nicely made things, I grew up with nicely made things. It wasn’t that we were rich and were surrounded by Chippendale stuff, it was that my dad made this, my grandfather made this, it will last, and I still have these things. So whatever we’re going to make, it’s going to be nice. The second thing was that, however we run our business, it was going to be the exact opposite of the way I was trained to do it. I always thought that would be a successful model.

 

Image from my copy of Schwarz's Campaign Furniture
(Fort Mitchell: Lost Art Press, 2014), pp. 214-215

3 January 2021

French Critics and Dutch Painters

Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard (undated), The Letters of a Post-Impressionist; Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent van Gogh (London: Constable, 1912), p. 63:
Of course the Dutch painters are too widely distributed over the Museums and collections of the world for us to be able to form any adequate idea of their work, and this is still more difficult when one knows only the Louvre. And yet it is precisely the Frenchmen, Ch. Blanc, Thoré and Fromentin, who have written the best things about them.

Eugène Fromentin, Canal Della Misericordia (1871)

2 January 2021

New Year, Old Blog

I've been reluctant to clutter up Charon's Barque with anything that is unrelated to the work at hand, and have missed having somewhere to keep my arbitrary notes, so I'm dusting off this old commonplace book. 

I still think the Blogspot platform is unwieldy, but if I am going to maintain a second web site, well, I might as well resurrect the one I already have.

From now on I'll house quotes gleaned from my personal reading here, and only use the other place to share information about The Obolus Press.

Welcome back.


Lovis Corinth, Baccants Returning Home (1898)
Lovis Corinth, Baccants Returning Home (1898)

31 July 2020

Goodbye, Google

I am transferring my admiral's flag to a more seaworthy vessel.

I've been meaning to switch platforms for a while, but the cack-handed “improvements” that Google is making to Blogspot (which powers this site) have spurred me into action. I am abandoning this place and moving my online notebook to a new home:

https://oboluspress.com/blog

You will see that it is set up as a subdirectory of the Obolus Press, which is the publishing company I established some time ago.

Everything will remain here, dormant, but all future posts will be on the other blog.

I hope you'll follow me there.


Aubrey Beardsley, Ave Atque Vale (1896)

24 July 2020

Really Worth a Life

Stephen MacKenna, entry for January 15, 1908 (his 36th birthday),  Journal and Letters , ed. E. R. Dodds (London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1936), pp. 117-118:
I feel that my life is one long series of beginnings: I am always planning for next year, always working towards something, never at something. The one clear reason — whether 'tis an excuse or not, I don't know — is that nothing that is within my power interests me or seems worth doing. I am interested in Plotinus: to translate him into beautiful English and then to interpret him and press him into the use of this century seems to me, has always seemed to me, really worth a life — but I have not been able to give the work all my time and thought: I must write bosh and run about the world on stupid people's tracks.... I utterly lack the power many or most men have of working indifferently well at some one trade for livelihood while keeping two or three passionate efforts always marching quietly but surely on towards the great ends that are the real meaning and use of life. And, deep down, I cannot find in myself, in power or vision, any reason for believing that I can really add anything to the world, do any service: and anything less than such an effective service as will reach far beyond myself seems to me utterly unworthy. I have no interest in trifles, in trifling things or trifling people, and, being below or outside of the serious, I become trifling myself. The others I quietly scorn; myself I scorn bitterly, angrily.
MacKenna did manage to escape from journalism: He endured poverty, but completed his translation of Plotinus in 1930. He died four years later. May the earth rest lightly upon him!

All five volumes of his translation of the Enneads are on Archive.org:

They are lovely books. There's a full set available on Abe for $255.



Left: Title Page from Vol. 1                Right: Portrait of Plotinus from the Museo Ostiense, Inv. 68 (c. 205–270 AD)