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Monday, August 30, 2010

Pessoa the Epicurean

the sun's reflection in a puddle of water
Each day you didn't enjoy wasn't yours:
You just got through it. Whatever you live
Without enjoying, you don't live.
You don't have to love or drink or smile.
The sun's reflection in a puddle of water
Is enough, if it pleases you.
Happy those who, placing their delight
In slight things, are never deprived
Of each day's natural fortune!

14 March 1933

Since we do nothing in this confused world
That lasts or that, lasting, is of any worth,
And even what's useful for us we lose
So soon, with our own lives,
Let us prefer the pleasure of the moment
To an absurd concern with the future,
Whose only certainty is the harm we suffer now
To pay for its prosperity.
Tomorrow doesn't exist. This moment
Alone is mine, and I am only who
Exists in this instant, which might be the last
Of the self I pretend to be.

16 March 1933

Pessoa (Ricardo Reis)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

the child

As the laborer into refreshing sleep, so my beleaguered being often sinks into the arms of the innocent past.

Peace of childhood! heavenly peace! how often do I pause before thee in loving contemplation, and fain would conceive thee! But our concepts are only of what has degenerated and been repaired; of childhood, of innocence we have no concept.

When I was still a child and in quietude, knowing nothing of all that is about us, was I not then more than now I am, after all my trouble of heart and all my thinking and struggling?

Yes, divine is the being of the child, so long as it has not been dipped in the chameleon colors of men.

The child is wholly what it is, and that is why it is so beautiful.

The pressure of Law and Fate touches it not; only in the child is freedom.

In the child is peace; it has not yet come to be at odds with itself. Wealth is in the child; it knows not its heart nor the inadequacy of life. It is immortal, for it has not heard of death.

But this men cannot bear. The divine must become like one of them, must learn that they, too, are there; and before Nature drives it out of its paradise, men entice and draw it out into the field of the curse, so that, like them, it shall drudge its life away in the sweat of its brow.

from Hyperion by Hölderlin

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Myth is the nothing that is everything.


Myth is the nothing that is everything.
The very sun that breaks through the skies
Is a bright and speechless myth--
God's dead body,
Naked and alive.

This hero who cast anchor here,
Because he never was, slowly came to exist.
Without ever being, he sufficed us.
Having never come here,
He came to be our founder.

Thus the legend, little by little,
Seeps into reality,
Spreading and enriching it.
Life down below, half
Of nothing, perishes.

Fernando Pessoa

Monday, August 16, 2010

Raymond Carver - The Cobweb

A few minutes ago, I stepped onto the deck
of the house. From there I could see and hear the water,
and everything that's happened to me all these years.
It was hot and still. The tide was out.
No birds sang. As I leaned against the railing
a cobweb touched my forehead.
It caught in my hair. No one can blame me that I turned
and went inside. There was no wind. The sea
was dead calm. I hung the cobweb from the lampshade.
Where I watch it shudder now and then when my breath
touches it. A fine thread. Intricate.
Before long, before anyone realizes,
I'll be gone from here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

our own unique culture is also being lost

With our headlong plunge into globalization and "progress", we sometimes forget that here too is a culture that faces challenges (and losses). Carl Johnson does a good job highlighting this utilizing some recent prop 8 chatter.
[T]he idea of mourning cultural change is something we should try to understand not just when the cultural change is happening to funkily clothed (or unclothed) indigenous peoples but also when it happens in our own society. A shift has occurred. We are watching the ramifications of the shift play out. Maybe in the end, it’s all for the greater good, but it’s still sad to see the old world burn to the ground.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

truth and some aspirin

from the beach today, feeling well
I have a bad cold,
And everyone knows how bad colds
Throw the whole universe out of kilter.
They turn us against life
And make us sneeze even metaphysically.
I've wasted the whole day blowing my nose.
My head hurts all over.
A sorry state for a minor poet!
Today I'm truly a minor poet.
What I used to be was a wish: it snapped.

Good-bye forever, Fairy Queen!
You had wings of sunlight, and here I am plodding along.
I won't get well unless I lie down in bed.
I've never been well except when lying down in the universe.
Excusez du peu... What a terrible physical cold!
I need truth and some aspirin.

Fernando Pessoa (Campos), 14 March 1931

Thursday, August 5, 2010

George Packer reporting on the senate

George Packer's recent article and follow-up are worth noting. A glimpse:
It was, on the whole, an interesting and, surprise to say, enjoyable few months—a kind of adventure through a looking glass in which rooms are misnamed and the “Ohio clock” was made in Philadelphia. Of course, the institution is in a deep decline, but when you’re reporting a story like this, you don’t depress yourself, because the inquiry is bracing. It’s the poor reader who ends up depressed.

The main criticisms of the piece have come from Republicans, and their argument (for example, David Frum’s—still doing the hard work of keeping both sides honest) is that what looks to the left like obstruction is really only the minority party reflecting the public’s reservations about Obama’s agenda, and, beyond that, fulfilling the Senate’s constitutional mandate. I would answer that, on health care, for example, where the public was truly divided and, by some polls, increasingly skeptical, the Senate Republicans should have tried to negotiate a less sweeping bill. Instead (as Frum himself famously pointed out), they shut down negotiations altogether, leaving Olympia Snowe as the lone party holdout, and not for long. They weren’t trying to legislate better; they were trying to prevent any legislation at all. The same with the stimulus bill and financial reform. As Michael Bennet told me, the Senate isn’t on the level: the amount of bad faith is staggering (and yes, there’s plenty on the Democratic side as well). And the daily toll of legislative blockage is also staggering. The filibuster has become the everyday norm in this Senate—which has nothing to do with the constitution, moderation, the saucer that cools the coffee, or anything else written and said two hundred twenty years ago.

against narrativity

I argue against two popular claims. The first is a descriptive, empirical thesis about the nature of ordinary human experience: ‘each of us constructs and lives a “narrative” . . . this narrative is us, our identities’ (Oliver Sacks); ‘self is a perpetually rewritten story . . . in the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we “tell about” our lives’ (Jerry Bruner); ‘we are all virtuoso novelists. . . . We try to make all of our material cohere into a single good story. And that story is our autobiography. The chief fictional character . . . of that autobiography is one’s self’ (Dan Dennett). The second is a normative, ethical claim: we ought to live our lives narratively, or as a story; a ‘basic condition of making sense of ourselves is that we grasp our lives in a narrative’ and have an understanding of our lives ‘as an unfolding story’ (Charles Taylor). A person ‘creates his identity [only] by forming an autobiographical narrative – a story of his life’, and must be in possession of a full and ‘explicit narrative [of his life] to develop fully as a person’ (Marya Schechtman).

Galen Strawson, Against Narrativity (pdf)
h/t Rob Sica

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

more complications

the sun
A follow-up to my previous post.

So "the world" plays to our selfish default settings. But religions also often promote values that keep us surrounding ourselves with others who are self-same. The shared alternate values provide a balance of powers that may be a step forward for the individual who is hoping to escape a desire fulfillment prison but to be truly other centered or just to be able to understand and relate to diverse people, you have to spend time with them, and focus your energies on it. And know thyself.

To an extent this is what Jesus did, headed out and spent time with tax collectors, sinners, Samaritan women, loved his enemies, etc. But then we get phrases like “do not be yoked with unbelievers” coupled with (species preserving?) protective thinking which makes Christianity resemble just another in-group. To my mind, a properly Christian view of the world does seek to understand and relate to others but it has its limits. For instance, it lacks the resources to advocate a thorough existential exploration of opposing viewpoints.

Along with spending time with communities with divergent values there’s practicing regress-- assuming the truth of a perspective or belief in order to understand it. For all of us I assume the exercise is a pretense but there’s nothing in the perspective I operate from that would keep me from participating in explorations as thoroughly as possible. The kooky consilience is that these attempts to love and understand one another can coincide with a pursuit of objectivity akin to Nz’s perspectivism.

This synthesis makes sense to me, well, coupled with a willingness to play outside the lines. And a willingness just to be. And Listen. And Epochè. And Silence.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I simply JOURNEY

What I am essentially--behind the involuntary masks of poet, logical reasoner and so forth--is a dramatist. My spontaneous tendency to depersonalization, which I mentioned in my last letter to explain the existence of my heteronyms, naturally leads to this definition. And so I do not evolve, I simply JOURNEY. (...) I continuously change personality, I keep enlarging (and here there is a kind of evolution) my capacity to create new characters, new forms of pretending that I understand the world or, more accurately, that the world can be understood.

from a letter of Pessoa dated 20 January 1935 (A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe)

the doubly difficult startup life

Alexis Ohanian shares his reflections on the personal tragedies he faced during the first few years of Reddit. Running your own company can be overwhelming by itself, when it's coupled with family problems ... oy vey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

a gray but not cold day

that's a bridge, yep
A gray but not cold day ...
A day with
Seemingly no patience for being day
And which only on an impulse,
Out of an empty fit
Of duty, tempered with irony,
Finally gives light to a day
Just like me
Or else
Like my heart,
A heart that's empty
Not of emotion
But of pursuing a goal--
A gray but not cold heart.

Fernando Pessoa (18 March 1935)