I wish for all of you the happiest and most hopeful of new years. May you laugh often, cry only when you want to, and never be bored in MMXI! Happiness seems an unintended side effect, like hives or a dry cough, the occasional byproduct of right living ;-)
Selections of quotes and seasonal musings:
And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not…
Is happiness ever unmixed, a pure state like pain or terror? And doesn’t it tend to evaporate as we become conscious of its presence? It’s not synonymous with pleasure, though like some pleasures it seems dependent on self-forgetting. Aquinas says happiness is rooted in "goods of the soul." Davis’ idea that being in a Haydn symphony may constitute uncomplicated happiness is suggestive. Being in implies not passive hearing but engaged listening – but listening to what? Music that is elegant, ordered, intelligent and spirited, with an impression of unlikely inevitability. Davis’ friend Edgar Bowers put it like this in From J. Haydn to Constanze Mozart (1791):
I carry one small memory of his form
Aslant at his clavier, with careful ease,
To bring one last enigma to the norm,
Intelligence perfecting the mute keys.
Many ideas we once thought were true turned out to be hard to unlearn...
History should never be used to inculcate virtuous citizenship. Yet it offers the richest imaginable source of moral examples – The essence of great fiction, drama, and life itself
The old year passeth Earlier the roadside dust was sweet. The fermented fruit, the brandy, is sweeter still, carried into the world on the walker’s boot
This has been quite a year for Mrs. MD and me, in some ways challenging, in others gratifying.
We've seen a hundred movies, dozen of plays, read every Vanity Fair magazine (the Spectator or the Financial Times if time permitted,) taken a full-fledged vacation, driven up to Kings Canyon and Uluru, spent a wonderful month in the red center reading books and more books ....
What Mrs. MD and I won't do is take our good fortune for granted, starting with the astonishing fact of our being together. It is, I suspect, exceedingly rare for two people in the middle of life to make a marriage as close as this one has become. When you survive Iron Curtain, every day is a surprise and a blessing. Like Theodore Dalrymple we have never been a one-book reader, devoting attention to a single volume at a time:
Often I read more than one book at a time. When I tire of one I fly to another. This is because the world has always seemed to me so various and so interesting in all its aspects that I have not been able to confine my mind to a single subject or object for very long; therefore I am not, never have been, and never will be the scholar of anything. My mind is magpie-like, attracted by what shines for a moment; I try to persuade myself that this quality of superficiality has its compensations, in breadth of interest, for example
Like Dalrymple, we are no scholars of anything but enjoy learning something about almost everything. Shakespeare was the keenest of cullers, and in that we also recognize ourselves. To cull is to select with discernment, whether the sweetest blueberry or the tartest book.
No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist?
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (May John Hatton Movement rocks in 2011)
• ... Turn the clock to zero, honey [How AK-47, more than A-bomb, changed history: If somebody were to tell you that the long tragedy of human warfare entered a new and deadly phase in the fifth decade of the 20th century, the historically literate mind almost certainly would jump to the invention of the atomic bomb, which ushered in an age of anxiety and the long balance of terror between the United States and the Soviet Union. Avtomat Kalashnikova - How the rifle I used in Czech Army change the history of the world ; The man of science, like the man of letters, is too apt to view mankind only in the abstract, selecting in his consideration only a single side of our complex and many-sided being. Hopes for 2011]
• · Father Dionigi recognized in his charge’s spirit a state similar to that of St. Augustine in his youth. He gave Petrarch a pocket copy of the Confessions, which the poet had not read. The book was Petrarch’s cherished companion for forty years. It journeyed with him to a mountain top, and once, in its owner’s pocket, it was near drowning with him in the sea. The Nativity of Our Common Adam; As Much as Can Be Made of Life Here’s a profound hole, yet no deeper than a coffin
• · · “To light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of men when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, ‘Let there be light.’” Voltaire possessed an endless appetite for putting himself in harm’s way: duels, insults to nobility ; We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute -- the foundation of the human condition -- and should be better. What makes music sad
• · · · Art as Empathy,” David Foster Wallace noted in the margins of a Tolstoy essay. Wallace’s archive shows he was not such an abstruse postmodernist…While many children are capable of conjuring imaginative tales, the grade-school Wallace has an unusual empathy for the adult double-bind of finding purpose in a job that also brings misery Art as Empathy ; On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer? Cold River or computer?
• · · · · With Amazon, publishing is now beholden to one profit-obsessed company. What happens when you sell a book like it’s a can of soup?...Where once a publisher had to worry about competing for shelf space, now its entire list of books could be available to customers. Amazon; Depressing Russian Literature
• · · · · · Describing the paintings in words risks sentimentality or banality, which they never possess And thus abstract art is brought to shame, Even if we do not deserve any other; Ever dream of quitting your job and moving to a farm? This book will make you rethink that dream. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love