MINIMAL CONTEXT

A collection of things...presented with minimal context.

SOMETHING ALIVE

Well known, but still worth remembering…

Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet: 

It is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive.

A VERY PROLONGED DREAM

More Bertrand Russell: 

Is there a table which has a certain intrinsic nature, and continues to exist when I am not looking, or is the table merely a product of my imagination, a dream-table in a very prolonged dream? 

THE INTEREST OF THE WORLD

Bertrand Russell, from Problems of Philosophy: 

Among all these surprising possibilities, doubt suggests that perhaps there is no [object] at all. Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life. 

Virtual Auto-Icon

A 360 degree rotating view of Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon. Naturally. 

"FIVE FRAGRANCES; FIVE PERSONALITIES"

The Awl has this spot-on analysis of what teen girls in the nineties wanted to smell like, and how the Gap exploited those desires. I’m ashamed and delighted to say that not only are the descriptions of my teen self fairly accurate, but the prophesies for my adult life aren’t far off either. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

I was a devoted Grass wearer.

IT IS IMAGINATION ALONE

So now it all makes sense!

But seriously…it kinda does.  Feuerbach on what bridges the gap between the real and our perceptions:

The opposition of the noumenal or invisible divine nature and the phenomenal or visible nature of the world, is however nothing else than the opposition between the nature of abstraction and the nature of perception; but that which connects abstraction with perception is the imagination…It is the imagination alone by which man neutralizes the opposition between God and the world.

A SHORT CUT TO THE COMMON DOOM

More from James:

It was he who was old—it was he who was older—it was he who was oldest. That was so disconcertingly what he had become. It was in short what he would have been had he been as old as he looked. He looked almost anything—he looked quite sixty. It made it out again at dinner, where, from a distance, but opposite, I had him in sight. Nothing could have been stranger than the way that, fatigued, fixed, settled, he seemed to have piled up the years. They were there without having had time to arrive. It was as if he had discovered some miraculous short cut to the common doom.  he had grown old, in fine, as people you see after an interval sometimes strike you as having grown rich—too quickly for the honest, or at least for the straight way.  He had cheated or inherited or speculated.

LIKE A HAT

Who doesn’t aspire to be at once mistress of culture and slang?! Amazing. Henry James, from The Sacred Fount:

These things—the way other people could feel about each other—were of course at best the mystery of mysteries; still there were cases in which fancy, sounding the depth or the shallows, could at least drop the lead. Lady John, perceptibly, was no such case; imagination, in her presence, was but the weak wing of the insect that bumps against the glass. She was pretty, prompt, hard, and, in a way that was special to her, a mistress at once of “culture” and of slang.  She was like a hat—with one of Mrs. Briss’s hat-pins—askew on the bust of Virgil.  Her ornamental information—as strong as a coat of furniture polish—almost knocked you down. What I felt in her now more than ever was that, having a reputation for “point” to keep up, she was always under arms, with absences and anxieties like those of a celebrity at a public dinner. She thought too much of her “speech”—of how soon it would have to come.  It was none the less wonderful, however, that, as Grace Brissenden had said, she should still find herself with intellect to spare—have lavished herself by precept and example on Long and yet have remained for each other interlocutor as fresh as the clown bounding into the ring. She cracked, for my benefit, as many jokes and turned as many somersaults as might have been expected; after which I thought it fair to let her off.  We all faced again to the house, for dressing and dinner were in sight.

IN THE CANDYLAND OF OUR IMAGINING

From Joan Acocella’s review of Adam Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life

The first chapter of “Missing Out” is “On Frustration,” in praise of that emotion.  Frustration makes people real to us, he says, because, in our lives, they are usually the sources of it.  Indeed, frustration makes reality itself real to us. Consider love: 

"There is a world of difference between erotic and romantic daydream and actually getting together with someone; getting together is a lot more work, and is never exactly what one was hoping for.  So there are three consecutive frustrations: the frustration of need, the frustration of fantasized satisfaction not working, and the frustration of satisfaction in the real world being at odds with the wished-for, fantasized satisfaction…And this is when it works." 

….In Phillips’s view, the quest for understanding is not just an insult to emotional health; it is an intellectual error.  ”We think we know more about the experiences we don’t have”—the unlived life—“than about the experiences we do have.” In the candyland of our imagining, there is no check on the “authority of inexperience, the conviction we gain from not having done things…Behind such ignorance, however, are facts we are foolish to ignore: 

"There is nothing we could know about ourselves or another that can solve the problem that other people actually exist, and we are utterly dependent on them…There is nothing to know apart from this, and everything else we know, or claim to know, or are supposed to know, or not know, follows from this." 

IN REVERSE ORDER

Widely shared already, but this is still great. I thought that Rupert Brooke was my dead boyfriend from another era, but this guy sounds like so much more fun. Choicest moments from the obituary of Harry Weathersby Stamps: 

He taught [his daughters] to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President. 

He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread…

He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart.  In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.