Commonplace Book

From the Commonplace Book: Dickens on Whimsy and National Security

Well, not quite national security, but national strength anway.

It is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales be respected. A nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun.

-Charles Dickens, from Frauds on the Fairies

The wage premium for liberal arts grads, the continuing technological edge that the U.S. still enjoys over China (despite our comparative lack of investment in research), the inventiveness of our defense programs, and the appeal of our pop culture abroad are all built on our imagination, not our efficiency.

Hat tip to The Week, November 16, 2018 for pointing out the quote.

From the Commonplace Book: Why Our Phones Make Us Sad

Permit me a bit of philosophy on a gray Sunday morning.

From Guy DeBord’s The Society of the Spectacle, a passage I keep returning to, because I think it sums up what is new about the world of screens:

Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its generality is a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.

And what is non-life? How is it autonomous? It is the world of algorithms, of thought moving without spirit.

The Byzantines and the Orthodox Church today believe that consecrated icons are alive. An image of St. Michael *is* St. Michael and deserves all the reverence due to the archangel. I witnessed in a remote Greek monastery the monks setting vast hanging light fixtures swinging at the height of their liturgy, to symbolize the world dancing with spirit. These are images which move only with spirit to move them, either human or divine. There is no deceit.

In the form of our screens we are surrounded by unconsecrated images which move only with alien intelligence. Like the demiurge or St. Paul’s dark mirror, they only reflect us. They do not bring life together, but fragment it.

From the Commonplace Book: Aristotle on the Purpose of a Paycheck

I plucked this from the endnotes of Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Societyan analysis of life in an age of continuous connection and unchecked positivity. I’ll be reviewing it later this month, but want to share this gem that Han pulls from Aristotle’s Politics:

“So some people believe that this is the task of household management, and go on thinking that they should maintain their store of money or increase it without limit. The reason they are so disposed, however, is that they are preoccupied with living, not with living well. And since their appetite for life is unlimited, they also want an unlimited amount of what sustains it.”

It’s Aristotle, but it could be one of the Sutras, and it is as relevant today as it was in the 4th Century B.C.

The choice is the same as it has always been. We can either spend our lives in the pursuit of perfect security, which is an illusion, or we can seek out the daily moments of spontaneous connection with the good and bad of life, which force us to spend  some of our time and vitality, and to know in our hearts that both will give out some day.

Even on those days when I wake with a clear mind and a sound body, feeling my best, I feel a moment’s unease, because I am confronted with the question of what’s really worth the use of my energy.

Pleasure? Service to others? Drudgery? Solitary reading? The pursuit of love? And that’s on days when I am fortunate enough to have the choice.

What’s worth it to you today?

From the Commonplace Book: Begin It Now

C. S. Lewis says this many times in many different ways throughout his writing, and I cannot hear it enough. Life’s most remarkable journeys begin as interruptions. Our most cherished creations start as distractions or rush jobs. Our most important relationships begin even when we feel like we cannot trust, or are too tired to welcome new people into our lives.

Have a great weekend, everybody. Get out there and do something worthy.

From the Commonplace Book: C. S. Lewis on His Idea of Fun

As I get more comfortable in my early middle age–I will be 40 in 2019–I am more honest about the pleasures that suit me. I feel less obligation to conform to what other people think of as fun, like loud music, loud movies, television, dancing, heavy foods, or artificially altered states of mind. If my deepest pleasures resemble those of an old lady or a frumpy British writer of the last century, I don’t care. Like a long soak in a hot bath, another activity which I no longer blush to devote whole afternoons to, giving into the sensation is a deep relief.

This quote pretty much sums up my ideal Saturday and Sunday. And I fully intend to follow through on it, as much as my work and social obligations will allow.

Have a great weekend everybody. I hope you do what pleases you.

From the Commonplace Book: Annie Dillard

Before private libraries and long before the invention of the search function, people used to copy important passages into notebooks called “commonplace books.” I’m not so old fashioned that I keep a written one, but I do have a tag in my files called commonplace book. I click on it for inspiration, so I thought I’d share some of the quotes with you, in the hopes you’ll be similarly inspired.

I read this quote years ago in The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and it has echoed in my mind ever since. It’s less of an inspiration and more of a challenge. We all carry a vision of our future selves with us, usually one that’s better off than we are today, one with more purpose from day to day, more money, more fulfillment, etc. And somehow the days we live, or are forced to live, never quite seem to add up to that future self, do they?

To me, this quote is about the small heralding of big things. Relationships are nourished and great ambitions are shaped one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

What will you do with the next one?