30 October 2012

The Deepest Degradation of Man

Richard Wagner, "Art and Revolution," in Richard Wagner's Prose Works, trans. William Ashton Ellis, Vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1895), pp. 48-49:
The true artist finds delight not only in the aim of his creation, but also in the very process of creation, in the handling and moulding of his material. The very act of production is to him a gladsome, satisfying activity: no toil. The journeyman reckons only the goal of his labour, the profit which his toil shall bring him; the energy which he expends, gives him no pleasure; it is but a fatigue, an inevitable task, a burden which he would gladly give over to a machine; his toil is but a fettering chain. For this reason he is never present with his work in spirit, but always looking beyond it to its goal, which he fain would reach as quickly as he may. Yet, if the immediate aim of the journeyman is the satisfaction of an impulse of his own, such as the preparing of his own dwelling, his chattels, his raiment, etc.: then, together with his prospective pleasure in the hasting value of these objects, there also enters by degrees a bent to such a fashioning of the material as shall agree with his individual tastes. After he has fulfilled the demands of bare necessity, the creation of that which answers to less pressing needs will elevate itself to the rank of artistic production. But if he bargains away the product of his toil, all that remains to him is its mere money-worth; and thus his energy can never rise above the character of the busy strokes of a machine; in his eyes it is but weariness, and bitter, sorrowful toil. The latter is the lot of the Slave of Industry; and our modern factories afford us the sad picture of the deepest degradation of man, -- constant labour, killing both body and soul, without joy or love, often almost without aim.

26 October 2012

Must I Whine as Well?

Irvin Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy (New York: Basic Books, 1980), pp. 271-2:
But even immersed to the neck, a human being has freedom: he or she chooses how to feel about the situation, what attitudes to adopt, whether to be courageous, stoic, fatalistic, cunning, or panicked. There is no limit to the range of psychological options available. Almost two thousand years ago Epictetus said:
I must die. I must be imprisoned. I must suffer exile. But must I die groaning? Must I whine as well? Can anyone hinder me from going into exile with a smile? The master threatens to chain me: what say you? Chain me? My leg you will chain -- yes, but not my will -- no, not even Zeus can conquer that.
This is no minor quibble. Even though the image of a drowning man's possessing freedom may appear ludicrous, the principle behind the image is of great significance. One's attitude toward one's situation is the very crux of being human, and conclusions about human nature based solely on measurable behavior are distortions of that nature. It cannot be denied that environment, genetics, or chance plays a role in one's life. The limiting circumstances are obvious: Sartre speaks of a "coefficient of adversity." All of us face natural adversities that influence our lives. For example, contingencies may hinder any one of us from finding a job or a mate -- physical handicaps, inadequate education, poor health, and so forth -- but that does not mean that we have no responsibility (or choice) in the situation. We are responsible still for what we make out of our handicaps; for our attitudes toward them; for the bitterness, anger, or depression that act synergistically with the original "coefficient of adversity" to ensure that a handicap will defeat the individual.
In Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (available here for free), James Stockdale refers to the same passage from Epictetus, and says the Enchiridion helped him endure the seven and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. From page 7:
On September 9, 1965, I flew at 500 knots right into a flak trap, at tree-top level, in a little A-4 airplane -- the cockpit walls not even three feet apart -- which I couldn't steer after it was on fire, its control system shot out. After ejection I had about thirty seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed in the main street of a little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: "Five years down there, at least. I'm leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus."

Like Dishes of Meat Twice Drest

Samuel Butler (1613-1680), Characters and Passages from Note Books, ed. A. R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), pp. 170-1:
A Translator
Dyes an Author, like an old Stuff, into a new Colour, but can never give it the Beauty and Lustre of the first Tincture; as Silks that are twice died lose their Glosses, and never receive a fair Colour. He is a small Factor, that imports Books of the Growth of one Language into another, but it seldom turns to Accompt; for the Commodity is perishable, and the finer it is the worse it endures Transportation; as the most delicate of Indian Fruits are by no Art to be brought over. Nevertheless he seldom fails of his Purpose, which is to please himself, and give the World notice that he understands one Language more than it was aware of; and that done he makes a saving Return. He is a Truch-Man that interprets between learned Writers and gentle Readers, and uses both how he pleases; for he commonly mistakes the one, and misinforms the other. If he does not perfectly understand the full Meaning of his Author as well as he did himself, he is but a Copier, and therefore never comes near the Mastery of the Original; and his Labours are like Dishes of Meat twice drest, that become insipid, and lose the pleasant Taste they had at first. He differs from an Author as a Fidler does from a Musician, that plays other Men's Compositions, but is not able to make any of his own. All his Studies tend to the Ruin of the Interests of Linguists; for by making those Books common, that were understood but by few in the Original, he endeavours to make the Rabble as wise as himself without taking Pains, and prevents others from studying Languages, to understand that which they may know as well without them. The Ancients, who never writ any Thing but what they stole and borrowed from others (and who was the first Inventor nobody knows) never used this Way; but what they found for their Purposes in other Authors they disguised, so that it past for their own: but to take whole Books and render them, as our Translators do, they always forbore, out of more or less Ingenuity is a Question; for they shewed more in making what they liked their own, and less in not acknowledging from whence they had it. And though the Romans by the Laws of War laid claim to all Things, both sacred and profane, of those Nations whom they conquered; yet they never extended that Privilege to their Wit, but made that their own by another Title of the same Kind, and over-came their Wit with Wit. 

25 October 2012

A Pharisaic Rite

Reinhold Niebuhr, from an entry for 1927 in Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1957), pp. 173-4:
I wonder if it is really possible to have an honest Thanksgiving celebration in an industrial civilization. Harvest festivals were natural enough in peasant communities. The agrarian feels himself dependent upon nature's beneficence and anxious about nature's caprices. When the autumnal harvest is finally safe in the barns there arise, with the sigh of relief, natural emotions of gratitude that must express themselves religiously, since the bounty is actually created by the mysterious forces of nature which man may guide but never quite control.
All that is different in an industrial civilization in which so much wealth is piled up by the ingenuity of the machine, and, at least seemingly, by the diligence of man. Thanksgiving becomes increasingly the business of congratulating the Almighty upon his most excellent coworkers, ourselves. I have had that feeling about the Thanksgiving proclamations of our Presidents for some years. An individual, living in an industrial community might still celebrate a Thanksgiving day uncorrupted by pride, because he does benefit from processes and forces which he does not create or even guide. But a national Thanksgiving, particularly if it is meant to express gratitude for material bounty, becomes increasingly a pharisaic rite.

24 October 2012


From an article in the New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1921, p. 41:
"Valutastark" means, literally translated, exchange-strong. It is a word coined in Germany to describe a person sojourning today in lands where the currency is depreciated, whose funds come from a land where the currency is not depreciated at all, or, even if below normal, is, nevertheless, better than that of the country where that person is staying.
The author describes in some detail how comfortably an American could live in Berlin during the Weimar hyperinflation.

23 October 2012

A Melancholy and Disconcerting Business

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 94-5:
[A]s a man grows older, as his work stiffens and weakens, he falls out of the race, and he must be content to do so; and he is well advised if he puts his failure down to his own deficiencies, and not to the malice of others. The world is really very much on the look out for anything which amuses, delights, impresses, moves, or helps it; it is quick and generous in recognition of originality and force; and if a writer, as he gets older, finds his books neglected and his opinions disdained, he may be fairly sure that he has said his say, and that men are preoccupied with new ideas and new personalities. Of course this is a melancholy and disconcerting business, especially if one has been more concerned with personal prominence than with the worth and weight of one's ideas; mortified vanity is a sore trial.

20 October 2012

A Beautiful, Strong Tree

Hermann Hesse, "Trees," in Wandering, trans. James Wright (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972), p. 57:
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.
 The original, from Wanderung (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1920), p. 61:
Bäume sind für mich immer die eindringlichsten Prediger gewesen. Ich verehre sie, wenn sie in Völkern und Familien leben, in Wäldern und Hainen. Und noch mehr verehre ich sie, wenn sie einzeln stehen. Sie sind wie Einsame. Nicht wie Einsiedler, welche aus irgendeiner Schwäche sich davongestohlen haben, sondern wie große, vereinsamte Menschen, wie Beethoven und Nietzsche. In ihren Wipfeln rauscht die Welt, ihre Wurzeln ruhen im Unendlichen; allein sie verlieren sich nicht darin, sondern erstreben mit aller Kraft ihres Lebens nur das Eine: ihr eigenes, in ihnen wohnendes Gesetz zu erfüllen, ihre eigene Gestalt auszubauen, sich selbst darzustellen. Nichts ist heiliger, nichts ist vorbildlicher als ein schöner, starker Baum.
 Insel published a collection of Hesse's tree texts in 1984.

18 October 2012

Simple Pleasures

R. C. Trevelyan, "Simple Pleasures," in Horizon (November 1941), pp. 304-313:
To lie on a sofa looking at the varied decorations of one's bookshelves. But this may easily become a complex emotion of pleasure or regret; the pleasure and pride of a collector and possessor, or regret at having read so few of the books, or the thought that so many are not worth the trouble of reading.
Félix Vallotton, Le Bibliophile (1911)

17 October 2012

Gambler's Luck

Reinhold Niebuhr, from an entry for 1927 in Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1957), p. 159:
I fell in with a gentleman on the Pullman smoker today (Pullman smokers are perfect institutes for plumbing the depths and shallows of the American mind) who had made a killing on the stock exchange. His luck appeared like success from his perspective, and he was full of the confidence with which success endows mortals. He spoke oracularly on any and all subjects. He knew why the farmers were not making any money and why the Europeans were not as prosperous as we. Isn't it strange how gambler's luck gives men the assurance of wisdom for which philosophers search in vain? I pity this man's wife. But she probably regards a new fur coat as adequate compensation for the task of appearing convinced by his obiter dicta.

15 October 2012

Some Misty Autumn Morning

John Cowper Powys, Suspended Judgments (New York: G. Arnold Shaw, 1916), pp. 37-39:
I sometimes think that the wisdom of Montaigne, with its essential roots in physiological well-being, is best realised and understood when on some misty autumn morning, full of the smell of leaves, one lies, just newly awakened out of pleasant dreams, and watches the sunshine on wall and window and floor, and listens to the traffic of the town or the noises of the village. It is then, with the sweet languor of awakening, that one seems conscious of some ineffable spiritual secret to be drawn from the material sensations of the nerves of one's body.
Montaigne, with all his gravity, is quite shameless in the assumption that the details of his bodily habits form an important part, not by any means to be neglected, of the picture he sets out to give of himself.
And those who read Montaigne with sympathetic affinity will find themselves growing into the habit of making much of the sensations of their bodies. They will not rush foolishly and stupidly, like dull economic machines, from bedroom to "lunch counter" and from "lunch counter" to office. They will savour every moment which can be called their own and they will endeavour to enlarge such moments by any sort of economic or domestic change.
They will make much of the sensations of waking and bathing and eating and drinking and going to sleep; just as they make much of the sensations of reading admirable books. They will cross the road to the sunny side of the street; they will pause by the toy-shops and the flower-shops. They will go out into the fields, before breakfast, to look for mushrooms.

12 October 2012

Philosophical Melancholy

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, Section VII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), p. 269:
Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty. 
Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

11 October 2012

The Elimination of Concrete Evils

Karl Popper, "Utopia and Violence," in The Hibbert Journal 46 (January 1948), pp. 109-116:
If I were to give a simple formula or recipe for distinguishing between what I consider to be admissible plans for social reform and inadmissible Utopian blueprints, I might say:
Work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the realization of abstract goods. Do not aim at establishing happiness by political means. Rather aim at the elimination of concrete miseries. Or, in more practical terms: fight for the elimination of poverty by direct means ‐‐ for example, by making sure that everybody has a minimum income. Or fight against epidemics and disease by erecting hospitals and schools of medicine. Fight illiteracy as you fight criminality. But do all this by direct means. Choose what you consider the most urgent evil of the society in which you live, and try patiently to convince people that we can get rid of it.
But do not try to realize these aims indirectly by designing and working for a distant ideal of a society which is wholly good. However deeply you may feel indebted to its inspiring vision, do not think that you are obliged to work for its realization, or that it is your mission to open the eyes of others to its beauty. Do not allow your dreams of a beautiful world to lure you away from the claims of men who suffer here and now. Our fellow men have a claim to our help; no generation must be sacrificed for the sake of future generations, for the sake of an ideal of happiness that may never be realized. In brief, it is my thesis that human misery is the most urgent problem of a rational public policy and that happiness is not such a problem. The attainment of happiness should be left to our private endeavours.

10 October 2012

A Torrent of Waste-Matter

Denis de Rougemont, quoted by Laurence Durrell in a letter to Henry Miller on October 24th, 1958, from The Durrell-Miller Letters; 1935-1980 (New York: New Directions, 1988), p. 330:
When under the pretence of destroying whatever is artificial -- idealizing rhetoric, the mystical ethics of 'perfection' -- people seek to swamp themselves in the primitive flood of instinct, in whatever is primeval, formless and foul, they may imagine they are recapturing real life but actually they are being swept away by a torrent of waste-matter pouring from the disintegration of the ancient culture and its myths.

9 October 2012

Art as Raiser of the Dead

Friedrich Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human, trans. Helen Zimmern, from The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. VI (New York: Macmillan, 1915), pp. 154-5:
Art also fulfils the task of preservation and even of brightening up extinguished and faded memories; when it accomplishes this task it weaves a rope round the ages and causes their spirits to return. It is, certainly, only a phantom-life that results therefrom, as out of graves, or like the return in dreams of our beloved dead, but for some moments, at least, the old sensation lives again and the heart beats to an almost forgotten time. Hence, for the sake of the general usefulness of art, the artist himself must be excused if he does not stand in the front rank of the enlightenment and progressive civilisation of humanity; all his life long he has remained a child or a youth, and has stood still at the point where he was overcome by his artistic impulse; the feelings of the first years of life, however, are acknowledged to be nearer to those of earlier times than to those of the present century.

8 October 2012

Not More Stuffed Chairs

William Morris, "The Beauty of Life," Hopes and Fears for Art (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908), pp. 106-7:
When you hear of the luxuries of the ancients, you must remember that they were not like our luxuries, they were rather indulgence in pieces of extravagant folly than what we to-day call luxury; which perhaps you would rather call comfort: well, I accept the word, and say that a Greek or Roman of the luxurious time would stare astonished could he be brought back again, and shown the comforts of a well-to-do middle-class house. 
But some, I know, think that the attainment of these very comforts is what makes the difference between civilization and uncivilization, that they are the essence of civilization. Is it so indeed? Farewell my hope then! -- I had thought that civilization meant the attainment of peace and order and freedom, of goodwill between man and man, of the love of truth, and the hatred of injustice, and by consequence the attainment of the good life which these things breed, a life free from craven fear, but full of incident: that was what I thought it meant, not more stuffed chairs and more cushions, and more carpets and gas, and more dainty meat and drink -- and therewithal more and sharper differences between class and class. 
If that be what it is, I for my part wish I were well out of it, and living in a tent in the Persian desert, or a turf hut on the Iceland hill-side.

4 October 2012

Something Very Repugnant

A. C. Benson, Where No Fear Was (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914), pp. 96-7:
There is something very repugnant in an elderly person who is bent on proving his importance and dignity, in laying claim to force and influence, in affecting to play a large part in the world. But there is something even more afflicting in the people who drop all decent pretence of dignity, and pour the product of an acrid and disappointed spirit into all conversations.

3 October 2012

You Must Have Rules

George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1904), p. 128:
You must have rules in poetry, if it is only for the pleasure of breaking them, just as you must have women dressed, if it is only for the pleasure of undressing them. 

2 October 2012

More or Less Ennuyé

From Byron's diary entry for January 6, 1821 in Life of Lord Byron, ed. Thomas Moore, Vol. V (London: John Murray, 1854), pp. 60-1:
What is the reason that I have been, all my lifetime, more or less ennuyé? and that, if any thing, I am rather less so now than I was at twenty, as far as my recollection serves? I do not know how to answer this, but presume that it is constitutional, -- as well as the waking in low spirits, which I have invariably done for many years. Temperance and exercise, which I have practised at times, and for a long time together vigorously and violently, made little or no difference. Violent passions did; -- when under their immediate influence -- it is odd, but -- I was in agitated, but not in depressed, spirits.
A dose of salts has the effect of a temporary inebriation, like light champagne, upon me. But wine and spirits make me sullen and savage to ferocity -- silent, however, and retiring, and not quarrelsome, if not spoken to. Swimming also raises my spirits, -- but in general they are low, and get daily lower. That is hopeless; for I do not think I am so much ennuyé as I was at nineteen. The proof is, that then I must game, or drink, or be in motion of some kind, or I was miserable. At present, I can mope in quietness; and like being alone better than any company -- except the lady's whom I serve. But I feel a something, which makes me think that, if I ever reach near to old age, like Swift, 'I shall die at top' first. Only I do not dread idiotism or madness so much as he did. On the contrary, I think some quieter stages of both must be preferable to much of what men think the possession of their senses.

1 October 2012

One of the Essential Endowments

Mary Watts, George Frederick Watts; The Annals of an Artist's Life, Vol. I (New York: George H. Doran, 1913), pp. 14-5:
Endowed by nature with a fine ear, and answering as he must to everything that was great in any art, [George Frederick Watts] would sometimes speak so enthusiastically of music as to express regret that he had not in early life turned his whole attention to it, rather than to the sister art [of painting]. Lord Holland liked to tell a story of some one much the senior of Watts, a man of the world, and one who very much believed in himself, who, standing among a group of listeners one day at Casa Feroni, and rather boasting of his contempt for music, turned to those about him -- Lord Holland being of their number -- and said, "It has not the slightest effect upon me, pleasurable or otherwise -- what does that mean, I ask you ?" "It means a defective organisation," answered the young painter hotly, obliged, in defence of the divine art, to drop his habit of never putting himself forward. Lord Holland was as much delighted as the boaster was furious.
Though half a lifetime lies between the two utterances, the conviction that brought the quick rebuke to his lips was clearly explained when he wrote the following passage: "'All beauty,' said the devout mystic, 'is the face of God'; therefore to make acquaintance with beauty, in and through every form, is the cultivation of religious feeling. This while it is the noblest aspect of art, it is also the most primitive. Nothing can be more important to remember than that in the cultivation of the artistic perceptions we are developing one of the essential endowments of the human creature -- one in which that difference between him and the lower creation is most distinctly marked. It seems to me to be the duty of every one to answer to every such call."

G. F. Watts, Petraia