METAPHYSICS and EPISTEMOLOGY

"God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through."

[e.e. cummings: "Nothing can surpass the mystery of stillness."]

 

"The universe is built on a plan the profound symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of our intellect."

[Carl Jung: "Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche."]

 

"Man's great misfortune is that he has no organ, no kind of eyelid or brake, to mask or block a thought, or all thought, when he wants to."

 

"A man is infinitely more complicated than his thoughts."

 

“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” 

[Aldous Huxley, on his experience with mescaline: "Visual impressions are greatly intensified and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept...I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation - the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence."]

 

“Our most important thoughts are those that contradict our emotions.” 

[Cf. Pascal: "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."]

 

"Something that is destroyed by a little extra precision is a myth."

 

"The false implies the true."

[I first misread this sentence as "The false impales the true."]

HISTORY

"The history of thought may be summed up in these words: it is absurd by what it seeks and great by what it finds."

[Cf. R.G. Collingwood: "All history is the history of thought."]

 

“History is the science of what never happens twice.” 

"Burning desire, ardent and disinterested curiosity, a happy blend of imagination and logical precision, a skepticism that is not pessimistic and a mysticism that is not resigned, are the more specifically active qualities of the European psyche."

POLITICS

"Liberty is the hardest test that one can inflict on a people. To know how to be free is not given equally to all men and all nations."

[Lord Acton: "Liberty entails the freedom not to do as one pleases, but to do as one ought."]

 

"War: a massacre of people who don't know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don't massacre each other."

[Ambrose Bierce: "POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."]

 

"Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them."

[Kevin Williamson: "Politics is the art of obtaining and using the power of government. To put it another way, politics is the art of applied violence."]

 

"Power without abuse loses its charm."

"If the state is strong, it crushes us. If it is weak, we perish."

"The state of the living world can be defined by a system of inequalities between the inhabited regions of its surface."

DANCE

"Do you not realize that dance is the pure act of metamorphosis?"

["All dancing girls are nineteen years old." -- Japanese proverb]

 

From Dance and the Soul:

Socrates: "The more I watch this unfathomable dancer, the more wonders I contemplate. I marvel that Nature has been able to imbue in so fragile and slender a girl such a monster of strength and precision. Hercules transformed into a swallow? Can such a myth be? How can a head so small and tight as a young fir-cone, give birth so infallibly to those myriads of questions and answers that pass between her limbs, and those astonishing attempts which she makes and remakes and constantly repudiates, receiving them from the music and returning them instantaneously to the light?"

 

ARCHITECTURE

 

From Eupalinos the Architect

 

Socrates speaks:

The Demiurge

When the Demiurge set about making the world he grappled with the confusion of Chaos. All formlessness spread before him. Nor could he find a single handful of matter in all this waste that was not infinitely impure and composed of an infinity of substances.

He valiantly came to grips with this frightful mixture of dry and wet, of hard and soft, of light and gloom, that made up this chaos, whose disorder penetrated into his smallest parts. He disentangled that faintly luminous mud, of which not a single particle was pure, and where in all energies were diluted, so that the past and the future, accident and substance, the lasting and the fleeting, propinquity and remoteness, motion and rest, the light and heavy, were as completely mingled as wine and water poured into one cup. Our men of science are always trying to bring their minds to close the state... But the great Shaper acted in contrary wise. He was the enemy of similitudes and of those hidden identities that we delight to come upon. He organized inequality. Setting his hand to the rough matter of the world, he sorted out its atoms. He divided the hot from the cold, and the evening from the morning; he drove back almost all the fire into the subterranean hollows, and hung clusters of ice on the very trellises of dawn, beneath the vaulting of the eternal Ether. By him extension was distinguished from movement, night from day; and in his rage to disunite everything, he drove asunder the first animals, which he had just disassociated from the plants, into male and female. After he had finally disentangled even that which was most mixed up in the original confusion — matter and mind — he uplifted to the loftiest empyrean, to the inaccessible peak of history, those mysterious masses, whose silent irresistible descent into the uttermost depth of the abyss begets and measures time. He squeezed out from the mud the sparkling seas and pure waters, lifting the mountains of the waves, and in portioning out in fair islands what remained of stone. Thus he made all things from a remnant of mud, human kind.

The Architect 

But the Constructor whom I am now bringing to the fore finds before him, as his chaos and as primitive matter, precisely that world-order which the Demiurge wrung from the disorder of the beginning. Nature is formed, and the elements are separated; but something enjoins him to consider this work as unfinished, and as requiring to be rehandled and set in motion again for the more special satisfaction of man. He takes as the starting point of his act the very point where the god had left off. 

In the beginning, he says to himself, there was what is: mountains and forests; the deposits and veins; red clay, yellow sand and the white stone which will give us lime. There were also the muscular arms of men, and the massive strength of water buffaloes and oxen. But there were in addition coffers and store-rooms of intelligent tyrants and citizens room over-rich by trade. And lastly there were priests who wish to house their god; and kings so puissant that they had nothing more to desire but a matchless tomb; and republics that dreamed of inexpugnable walls; and refined archons, who had such partiality for actors and fair musicians, that they were all afire to build for them, out of the state treasuries, the most resonant theater. Now the gods must not remain without a roof, nor souls without drama. The masses of marble should not remain lifeless within the earth, constituting a solid night; nor the cedars and cypresses rest content to come to their end by flame or by rot, when they can be changed into fragrant beams and dazzling furniture. But still less should the gold of rich men lazily sleep its heavy sleep in the urns and glooms of treasuries. This so-weighty metal, when it becomes the associate of a fancy, assumes the most active virtues of the mind. It has her restless nature. Its essence is to vanish. It changes into all things, without being itself changed. It raises blocks of stone, pierces mountains, diverts rivers, opens the gate of fortresses and the most secret hearts; it enchains men; it dresses, it undresses women with an almost miraculous promptitude. It is truly the most abstract agent that exists next to thought. But indeed thought exchanges and envelopes images only, whereas gold incites and promotes the transmutations of all real things into one another; itself remaining incorruptible, and passing untainted through all hands.

(translated by William McC. Stewart)

Thomas Cole, The Architect's Dream

Thomas Cole, The Architect's Dream

THOUGHTS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS

“One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.” 

"Painters should not paint what they see, but what will be seen."

"Lyric poetry is the development of an exclamation."

"Since the advent of romanticism singularity has been sought instead of, as in the past, mastery."

[Tom Stoppard:"Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art."]

“It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other one chooses, recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of the things which the former has imparted to him. What we call genius is much less the work of the first one than the readiness of the second one to grasp the value of what has been laid before him and to choose it."

"The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up."

“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be. ” 

"The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us."

"Our judgments judge us, and nothing reveals us, exposes our weaknesses, more ingeniously than the attitude of pronouncing upon our fellows."

[ La Rochefoucauld: "We criticize the faults of others more out of pride than goodness; and we criticize them not so much to correct them as to persuade them that we are free from their faults."]

"Politeness is organized indifference."

[Jean de la Bruyère: "Politeness makes people appear outwardly as they should be within."]

"Science means simply the aggregate of all the recipes that are always successful. All the rest is literature."

“Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking.” 

"A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator."

"To live means to be like everyone."

FRAGAMENT OF A COMMENT ON VALÉRY

Sometimes Valéry sounds like La Rochefoucauld ("Our judgments judge us, and nothing reveals us, exposes our weaknesses, more ingeniously than the attitude of pronouncing upon our fellows.”), sometimes like Ambrose Bierce ("War: a massacre of people who don't know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don't massacre each other”).

But in his best moments, Valéry possesses the true poet’s gift of eloquence, such as his evocation of the dancer who takes ideas, “receiving them from the music and returning them instantaneously to the light.”

The architecture rhapsody appeals in part because of its mythic elevation of the human architect to the status of successor to the original Demiurge, and in part by the raising of gold — a.k.a. “filthy lucre” — to the same mythic realm of transcendence.

Another writer comes to mind as one who urged the same kind of transcendence for human beings who devote themselves to creative understanding — though for Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), it was pure intellection, no lime or gold required:

Man, when he entered life, the Father gave the seeds of every kind and every way of life possible. Whatever seeds each man sows and cultivates will grow and bear him their proper fruit. If these seeds are vegetative, he will be like a plant. If these seeds are sensitive, he will be like an animal. If these seeds are intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God. And if, satisfied with no created thing, he removes himself to the center of his own unity, his spiritual soul, united with God, alone in the darkness of God, who is above all things, he will surpass every created thing. Who could not help but admire this great shape-shifter? In fact, how could one admire anything else? -- Oration on the Dignity of Man

-- Arthur Chandler, 2015