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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tolkien on Escapism

I will now conclude by considering Escape and Consolation, which are naturally closely connected. Though fairy-stories are of course by no means the only medium of Escape, they are today one of the most obvious and (to some) outrageous forms of “escapist” literature; and it is thus reasonable to attach to a consideration of them some considerations of this term “escape” in criticism generally. I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. J.R.R. Tolkien On Fairy Stories
via /r/tolkienfans

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tolstoy's (negative) epicureanism

The second way out is epicureanism. It consists, while knowing the hopelessness of life, in making use meanwhile of the advantages one has, disregarding the dragon and the mice, and licking the honey in the best way, especially if there is much of it within reach… That is the way in which the majority of people of our circle make life possible for themselves. Their circumstances furnish them with more of welfare than of hardship, and their moral dullness makes it possible for them to forget that the advantage of their position is accidental … and that the accident that has today made me a Solomon may tomorrow make me a Solomon’s slave. The dullness of these people’s imagination enables them to forget the things that gave Buddha no peace — the inevitability of sickness, old age, and death, which today or tomorrow will destroy all these pleasures.

Tolstoy
This article describes Tolstoy thinking through his broken question related to the meaninglessness of life. I really like the flow of his thinking and how he works through his question/problem. I don't share his perceptions on where the limits of things are (reason/the infinite) but I like thinking with him. The quote above may as well be speaking about us (Americans).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

recovering from 2013


I want to create.
I want to influence the next generation and guide.
I don't have hope. It doesn't matter. I don't need hope,
  I just need goals.
I need to forget outcomes at some level.
To just plod through, and be aware.
Life is a mystery and that is enough.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Clouds (Pessoa)



On this sad day my heart sadder than the day ...
Moral and civic obligations?
The intricate web of duties, of consequences?
No, nothing ...
A sad day, an apathy toward everything ...
Nothing ...

Others travel (I've also traveled), others are in the sun
(I've also been in the sun, or imagined I was),
Others have purpose, or life, or symmetrical ignorance,
Vanity, happiness, and sociability,
And they emigrate to return one day, or not to return,
On ships that simply transport them.
They don't feel the death that lurks in every departure,
The mystery behind every arrival,
The horror within everything new ...
They don't feel: that's why they're commissioners and
    financiers,
Go dancing and work as office employees,
Go to shows and meet people ...
They don't feel--why should they?

Let these clothed cattle from the stables of the Gods
Go cheerfully by, decked with garlands for the sacrifice,
Warmed by the sun, cheerful, lively, and content to feel what
    they feel ...
Let them go, but alas, I'm going with them without a garland
To the same destination!

I'm going with them without the sun I feel, without the life
    I have,
I'm going with them without ignorance ...

On this sad day my heart sadder than the day ...
On this sad day every day ...
On this very sad day ...


(Alvaro De Campos) 13 May 1928

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

cancer

We learned about a month ago that my wife has breast cancer.  Before it happened to us, I didn't really understand the implications.  Cancer means:
  1. No good choices
  2. Navigating a maze of percentages to decide what sort of treatment to follow.  The percentages vary highly depending upon the specific characteristics of the cancer itself.  Personal genetic profile has an impact as well.
That's all I have to say for now.  We caught it early but this particular cancer is fairly aggressive so treatment has to include chemo. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

why is there something rather than nothing?

I’ve been thinking on and off about the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” before falling asleep for the past few months. Not much has come from thinking about it. I’m considering actually reading a philosophy book on it, I heard there’s a recent good one about the question but you know, that’s cheating.

Anyway, all I really have gotten to is that in some ways I do think the question is confused but even there I don’t think I really escape it by examining it. So then I started thinking about why I find the question so fascinating and I think it’s because I ask “why” and then look for intent. I mean I don’t feel like when I ask it i’m looking for a causal story. And that’s about it, I don’t think I can get to a place from which to see an explanation and I can’t think of a satisfying one and answers seem to beg the same question again in alternate form.

The biggest way I think it’s confused is that, you know, we don’t experience ‘nothing’ so it seems like a false comparison. Or if you rephrase it to ‘why does the universe exist at all’ or whatever then well, maybe if we could see some non-existing universes then we could compare and understand the difference.

But like I said, I take the “intent” turn when I think of it more and I guess the best answer I come up with is derived from a dream I had some time ago. In the dream I’m talking with God and we’re present in space together observing the universe more clearly than the clearest starry night you’ve ever seen and we’re conversing (non-audibly, why would that be necessary?) with each other. He knows I have these questions and want to know the secrets of the universe. But what he tells me is this — the universe is essentially information and if I knew the answer the universe would implode upon itself. So this particular not-knowing is a necessary condition. If I’d persist he’d communicate something like, “there’s no cause for concern” and then he passed along some sort of infinite peace.

I assume the God I ran into in my dream was the God of the Skeptics because who else returns unending inquiry with peace?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Vonnegut's requiem

Written shortly after he heard his first wife was dying from cancer.

My prayers are unheard,
But Thy sublime indifference
    will ensure
that I not burn in some
    everlasting fire.
Give me a place among the
    sheep
and the goats, separating
    none from none,
leaving our mingled ashes
    where they fall.
... O Time, O Elements
Grant them rest. Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

morning commute on DC Metro


Since I started working in VA, I cross the river on my way into the office.  A short respite from the depths.









Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Moonwalking with Einstein

I finished reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer a few weeks ago and learned a lot about memory from it. I was hoping to get some insight into how to improve my ordinary memory but all I learned were tricks to improve deliberate memory techniques. Not that the two are entirely unrelated but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I do highly recommend as it's a well written narrative and educational (at least for me). It also pointed me to the Rhetorica ad Herennium among other assorted ancient and more modern books on memorization.