4 October 2018

Thanksgiving

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "Of Benefits," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), p. 58:
We can be thankful to a friend for a few acres, or a little money: and yet for the freedom and command of the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our being, as life, health, and reason, we look upon ourselves as under no obligation. If a man bestows upon us a house that is delicately beautified with paintings, statues, gildings, and marble, we make a mighty business of it, and yet it lies at the mercy of a puff of wind, the snuff of a candle, and a hundred other accidents, to lay it in the dust. And is it nothing now to sleep under the canopy of heaven, where we have the globe of the earth for our place of repose, and the glories of the heavens for our spectacle? How comes it that we should so much value what we have, and yet at the same time be so unthankful for it? Whence is it that we have our breath, the comforts of light and of heat, the very blood that runs in our veins? the cattle that feed us, and the fruits of the earth that feed them? Whence have we the growth of our bodies, the succession of our ages, and the faculties of our minds? so many veins of metals, quarries of marble, etc. The seed of everything is in itself, and it is the blessing of God that raises it out of the dark into act and motion. To say nothing of the charming varieties of music, beautiful objects, delicious provisions for the palate, exquisite perfumes, which are cast in, over and above, to the common necessities of our being.

30 September 2018

When Your Time's Up

Epictetus, Discourses, Book IV, Chapter X, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 359:
What then do you wish to be doing when you are found by death? I, for my part, would wish to be found doing something which belongs to a man, beneficent, suitable to the general interest, noble. But if I cannot be found doing things so great, I would be found doing at least that which I cannot be hindered from doing, that which is permitted me to do, correcting myself, cultivating the faculty which makes use of appearances, laboring at freedom from the affects (laboring at tranquility of mind); rendering to the relations of life their due.
Cf. Euripides and Camus on the subject.

Alfred Rethel, Der Tod als Würger (c. 1847)

25 September 2018

Venerating the Machine

Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1956), pp. 210-11:
What is the ultimate result of technical progress? Does it drive people more and more to the fear and despair brought on by a love-empty push-button world? Does it create a megalomaniac happiness won by remote control of other people? Does it deliver people to the unsatisfying emptiness of leisure hours filled with boredom? Is the ultimate result living by proxy, experiencing the world only from the movie or television screen, instead of living and laboring and creating one’s own?
Id., p. 212:
One of the fallacies of modern technique is its direction toward greater efficiency. With less energy, more has to be produced. This principle may be right for the machine, but is not true for the human organism. In order to become strong and to remain strong, man has to learn to overcome resistances, to face challenges, and to test himself again and again. Luxury causes mental and physical atrophy.
Id., p. 215:
The assembly line alienates man from his work, from the product of his own labor. No longer does man produce the things man needs; the machine produces for him. Engineers and scientists tell us that in the near future automation — running factories without human help — will become a reality, and human labor and the human being himself will become almost completely superfluous. How can man have self-esteem when he becomes the most expendable part of his world? The ethical and moral values which are the foundation of the democratic society are based on the view that human life and human welfare are the earth’s greatest good. But in a society in which the machine takes over completely, all our traditional values can be destroyed. In venerating the machine, we denigrate ourselves; we begin to believe that might makes right, that the human being has no intrinsic worth, and that life itself is only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process.


Related posts:

21 September 2018

Hockey Night in Canada

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, tr. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, Vol. I, Book IV (London: Trübner & Co., 1883), p. 404:
The striving after existence is what occupies all living things and maintains them in motion. But when existence is assured, then they know not what to do with it; thus the second thing that sets them in motion is the effort to get free from the burden of existence, to make it cease to be felt, “to kill time,” i.e., to escape from ennui. Accordingly we see that almost all men who are secure from want and care, now that at last they have thrown off all other burdens, become a burden to themselves, and regard as a gain every hour they succeed in getting through; and thus every diminution of the very life which, till then, they have employed all their powers to maintain as long as possible. Ennui is by no means an evil to be lightly esteemed; in the end it depicts on the countenance real despair. It makes beings who love each other so little as men do, seek each other eagerly, and thus becomes the source of social intercourse. Moreover, even from motives of policy, public precautions are everywhere taken against it, as against other universal calamities. For this evil may drive men to the greatest excesses, just as much as its opposite extreme, famine: the people require panem et circenses
Cf. Robert Edelman, "Historians, Authoritarian States and Spectator Sport, 1880-2020," The Palgrave Handbook of Mass Dictatorship, ed. Paul Corner and Jie-Hyun Lim (London: Macmillan, 2016), p. 195:
Over time, it became a cliché to claim spectator sport fostered such [social] cohesion by functioning as a “safety valve” — a harmless way of releasing dangerous pent-up aggression. The athlete was said to act out the anger, rage and frustration sports fans experienced as part of their own mundane daily existences. Watching sport provided a vicarious experience through which members of the public sought to compensate for the inadequacies and hurts of their own lives. A more sophisticated version of this approach was later offered by the German emigré sociologist, Norbert Elias. For him, sporting contests replicated the excitement of battles but did so in the context of rules that limited the violence of war: “spectators at a foot ball match may savor the mimetic excitement of the battle swaying to and fro on the playing field, knowing that no harm will come to the players and themselves.” Elias, who saw modern sport as part of the civilizing process that limited the violence of earlier eras, argued the excitement of watching such contests could be “liberating” and have a “cathartic effect” which could “counterbalance the stress tensions of  ...non-leisure life”. 
A related post: Football and Beer 

18 September 2018

Twilight Mania

Charles Baudelaire, "Evening Twilight," Baudelaire; His Prose and Poetry, tr. T. R. Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 50:
Twilight excites madmen. I remember I had two friends whom twilight made quite ill. One of them lost all sense of social and friendly amenities, and flew at the first-comer like a savage. I have seen him throw at the waiter's head an excellent chicken, in which he imagined he had discovered some insulting hieroglyph. Evening, harbinger of profound delights, spoilt for him the most succulent things.

The other, a prey to disappointed ambition, turned gradually, as the daylight dwindled, sourer, more gloomy, more nettlesome. Indulgent and sociable during the day, he was pitiless in the evening; and it was not only on others, but on himself, that he vented the rage of his twilight mania. 

Louis Anquetin, Avenue de Clichy (1887)


The original, from Le Spleen de Paris (Paris: Émile Paul, 1917), p. 71:
Le crépuscule excite les fous. — Je me souviens que j’ai eu deux amis que le crépuscule rendait tout malades. L’un méconnaissait alors tous les rapports d’amitié et de politesse, et maltraitait, comme un sauvage, le premier venu. Je l’ai vu jeter à la tête d’un maître d’hôtel un excellent poulet, dans lequel il croyait voir je ne sais quel insultant hiéroglyphe. Le soir, précurseur des voluptés profondes, lui gâtait les choses les plus succulentes.

L’autre, un ambitieux blessé, devenait, à mesure que le jour baissait, plus aigre, plus sombre, plus taquin. Indulgent et sociable encore pendant la journée, il était impitoyable le soir ; et ce n’était pas seulement sur autrui, mais aussi sur lui-même, que s’exerçait rageusement sa manie crépusculeuse.

12 September 2018

The Liberal Arts

Robert Maynard Hutchins, "The Great Conversation," a preface to the The Great Books of the Western World, Vol. I (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1923), pp. 13-14:
The aim of liberal education is human excellence, both private and public (for man is a political animal). Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is the education of free men. Other types of education or training treat men as means to some other end, or at best concerned with the means of life, with earning a living, and not with its ends.
Id., p. 15:
The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable. Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.
A related post: Once Upon a Time

7 September 2018

Not Necessarily a Cheerful Man

Arthur Compton Rickett, The Vagabond in Literature (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1906), pp. 31-32:
Taken on the whole, the English literary Vagabond is a man of joy, not necessarily a cheerful man. There is a deeper quality about joy than about cheerfulness. Cheerfulness indeed is almost entirely a physical idiosyncrasy. It lies on the surface. A man, serious and silent, may be a joyful man; he can scarcely be a cheerful man. Moody as he was at times, sour-tempered and whimsical as he could be, yet there was a fine quality of joy about Hazlitt. It is this quality of joy that gives the sparkle and relish to his essays. He took the same joy in his books as in his walks, and he communicates this joy to the reader. He appears misanthropic at times, and rages violently at the world; but ’tis merely a passing gust of feeling, and when over, it is easy to see how superficial it was, so little is his general attitude affected by it.

The joyfulness of the Vagabond is no mere light-hearted, graceful spirit. It is of a hardy and virile nature — a quality not to be crushed by misfortune or sickness. Outwardly, neither the lives of Hazlitt nor De Quincey were what we would call happy. Both had to fight hard against adverse fates for many years; both had delicate constitutions, which entailed weary and protracted periods of feeble health.

But there was a fundamental serenity about them. At the end of a hard and fruitless struggle with death, Hazlitt murmured, “Well, I’ve had a happy life.” De Quincey at the close of his long and varied life showed the same tranquil stoicism that had carried him through his many difficulties.

Gustave Courbet, Le Vagabond (1845)

5 September 2018

4 September 2018

Recipe for Success

Wormwood, "Advice to Young Artists," The Art Union, I (October 1884), 180:
A true, earnest, independent, manly pursuit of art, for the love of it, is in the nature of serving God, and has no place in your creed. You are to seek the favor of your fellow mortals, and of them expect your reward. Make little effort to win the approval of the true and noble of earth, for they are few and without influence; also, they may divine your real character, and so you needlessly augment their contempt for you. You are to systematically suppress all emotions men call generous, only simulate them when occasion requires. You shall flatter the coarse vanity of the rich, defer to the absurd opinions of the powerful, cringe to those in authority and never give unnecessary offence to any, for there are none devoid of influence which sooner or later may be felt.

31 August 2018

Labour Day

Jean-François Millet, quoted in Alfred Sensier, La vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet  (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881), p.  130 (my translation):
Sometimes in the fields, although the land is poorly suited to cultivation, you see figures hoeing and digging. Once in a while one of them stands up, "straightens his kidneys" as they say, and wipes his brow with the back of his hand. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."

Is this the jolly, frolicking work that certain people want us to believe in? Nevertheless it is here that, for me, true humanity and great poetry are found.

Jean-François Millet, L'homme à la houe (c. 1860)

30 August 2018

An Instrument of Retributive Justice

Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1898), p. 37:
The weeds ... have hateful moral qualities. To cut down a weed is, therefore, to do a moral action. I feel as if I were destroying sin. My hoe becomes an instrument of retributive justice. I am an apostle of Nature. This view of the matter lends a dignity to the art of hoeing which nothing else does, and lifts it into the region of ethics. Hoeing becomes, not a pastime, but a duty. And you get to regard it so, as the days and the weeds lengthen. 
Hat tip: The South Roane Agrarian

27 August 2018

Incurable Uneasiness

Eugène Fromentin, The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland, tr. Mary Robbins (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1882), p. 177:
We might say that for a long time the art of painting has been a lost secret, and that the last masters of great experience who practised it took the key away with them. We need it, we ask for it, no one has it any longer; we look for it and it cannot be found. The result is that the individualism in method is nothing more, really, than the effort of each to imagine what he has not learned; that in certain skillful practice we can see the laboured efforts and expediences of a mind in difficulty; and that nearly all the so-called originality of modern practices covers incurable uneasiness.
Hat tip: Louis Anquetin (1861-1932), who uses this quote from Fromentin in the conclusion of Rubens, sa technique: analyse des tableaux de la Galerie de Médicis au Louvre (Paris: Éditions Nilsson, 1924), at p. 129.

20 August 2018

18 August 2018

Monuments

Joseph Joubert, Some of the Thoughts of Joseph Joubert, tr. George H. Calvert (Boston: William V. Spencer, 1867), p. 102:
Monuments are the grappling-irons that bind one generation to another. Preserve what your fathers have seen.
The original, from Joubert's Pensées, Vol. II (Paris: Didier et Cie., 1862), p. 166:
Les monuments sont les crampons qui unissent une génération à une autre. Conservez ce qu'ont vu vos pères.

17 August 2018

May Your Mouths Be Frozen up Tight

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), pp. 272-273:
I had to listen to the uncouth, coarse chatter of some good Holland bourgeois [while on the train]. Their conversation, which was carried on in extremely boisterous tones, appeared to me horribly vulgar. Speaking a foreign language has the advantage of making one strive to find the right expression, instead of breaking out in all sorts of old commonplace phrases. Moreover, stupidities never sound so foolish in any language as in one’s own. During that half-hour I actually suffered. At last the train came to a halt. I was in Haarlem. “Good-bye, gentlemen, much pleasure!” exclaimed a passenger who got out of the train with me. “Yes, yes, much pleasure,” I murmured sarcastically, “it has been charming. The next time may your mouths be frozen up tight.”

15 August 2018

A Yellow, Talkative Serpent

Charles Baudelaire, "L'Avertisseur," The Flowers of Evil, tr. Edna St. Vincent Millay (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936):
No man that's worthy of the name
But in his helpless heart alive
Harbors a yellow, talkative
Serpent, he cannot hush nor tame.

Gaze if you like into the eyes
Of dryads... Just before you drown,
The Fang says, "You've a date in town."

Beget your children, plant your trees,
Chisel your marble, build your song...
The Fang says, "Well, — it's not for long."

Hope — if you're hopeful — or despair;
Nothing's to hinder you; but hark! —
Always the hissing head is there,
The insupportable remark.

Lord Leighton, An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877)

Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»

Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»

Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»

Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.

13 August 2018

Philip Surrey

Philip Surrey (1910-1990), quoted on the National Gallery of Canada web site:
Each individual is alone, cut off. Each wonders how others cope with life. A work of art is a particularly complex statement, valuable because it is packed with meaning... like icebergs, four-fifths of our personalities lie below the surface; of the fifth that shows, only part can be expressed in conversation. The only effective outlet for all deeper feelings and thoughts is art.
Philip Surrey, The French Novel  (1944)
(Art Gallery of Alberta)

9 August 2018

Why Be Ashamed?

Epictetus, Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXVI, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 288:
Is that shameful to you which is not your own act, that of which you are not the cause, that which has come to you by accident, as a headache, as a fever? If your parents were poor, and left their property to others, and if while they live, they do not help you at all, is this shameful to you? Is this what you learned with the philosophers? Did you never hear that the thing which is shameful ought to be blamed, and that which is blamable is worthy of blame? Whom do you blame for an act which is not his own, which he did not do himself? Did you then make your father such as he is, or is it in your power to improve him? Is this power given to you? Well then, ought you to wish the things which are not given to you, or to be ashamed if you do not obtain them? And have you also been accustomed while you were studying philosophy to look to others and to hope for nothing from yourself? Lament then and groan and eat with fear that you may not have food to-morrow. Tremble about your poor slaves lest they steal, lest they run away, lest they die. So live, and continue to live, you who in name only have approached philosophy, and have disgraced its theorems as far as you can by showing them to be useless and unprofitable to those who take them up; you, who have never sought constancy, freedom from perturbation, and from passions; you who have not sought any person for the sake of this object, but many for the sake of syllogisms; you who have never thoroughly examined any of these appearances by yourself, Am I able to bear, or am I not able to bear? What remains for me to do?

Paul Thumann, The Three Fates (late 1800s)
The frontispiece in Appleton's edition of the Discourses

1 August 2018

31 July 2018

Hapless Ages

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), pp. 12-13:
But what of those decadent ages in which no Ideal either grows or blossoms? When Belief and Loyalty have passed away, and only the cant and false echo of them remains; and all Solemnity has become Pageantry; and the Creed of persons in authority has become one of two things: an Imbecility or a Macchiavelism? Alas, of these ages World-History can take no notice; they have to become compressed more and more, and finally suppressed in the Annals of Mankind; blotted out as spurious,—which indeed they are. Hapless ages: wherein, if ever in any, it is an unhappiness to be born. To be born, and to learn only, by every tradition and example, that God's Universe is Belial's and a Lie; and 'the Supreme Quack' the hierarch of men! In which mournfulest faith, nevertheless, do we not see whole generations (two, and sometimes even three successively) live, what they call living; and vanish,—without chance of reappearance?