Beauty and the stockbroker

The rawness and ugliness of modern European life is the sign of biological inferiority, of an insufficient or false relation to environment, which produces strain, wasted effort, revolt or failure. Just as a mechanical, industrial civilization will week to eliminate all waste movements in work, so as to make the operative the perfect complement of his machine, so a vital civilization will cause every function and every act to partake of vital grace and beauty. To a great extent this is entirely instinctive, as in the grace of the old agricultural operations, ploughing, sowing, and reaping, but it is also the goal of conscious effort in the great Oriental cultures — as in the calligraphy of the Moslem scribe, and the elaboration of Oriental social etiquette. Why is a stockbroker less beautiful than a Homeric warrior or an Egyptian priest? Because he is less incorporated with life; he is not inevitable, but accidental, almost parasitic. When a culture has proved its real needs and organized its vital functions, every office becomes beautiful. So, too, with dress, the full Victorian panoply of top hat and frock coat undoubtedly expressed something essential in the 19th century culture, and hence it has spread with that culture all over the world as no fashion of clothing has ever done before. It is possible that our descendants will recognize in it a kind of grim and Assyrian beauty, fit emblem of the ruthless and great age that created it; but, however that may be, it misses the direct and inevitable beauty that all clothing should have, because, like its parent-culture, it was out of touch with the life of nature and of human nature as well.

Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion, pp. 61-62

Before a man studies Zen

“Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains, and waters are water; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters.” – D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Buddhism

The little things

‘That’s the trouble with your generation,’ said Grandpa. ‘Bill, I’m ashamed of you, you a newspaperman. All the things in life that were put here to savor, you eliminate. Save time, save work, you say. … Bill, when you’re my age, you’ll find out it’s the little savors and little things that count more than the big ones. A walk on a spring morning is better than an eighty-mile ride in a hopped-up car, you know why? Because it’s full of flavors, full of a lot of things growing. You’ve time to seek and find. I know — you’re after the broad effect now, and I suppose that’s fit and proper. But for a young man working on a newspaper, you got to look for grapes as well as watermelons. You greatly admire skeletons and I like fingerprints; well and good. Right now such things are bothersome to you, and I wonder if it isn’t because you’ve never learned to use them. If you had your way you’d pass a law to abolish all the little jobs, the little things. But then you’d leave yourselves nothing to do between the big jobs and you’d have a devil of a time thinking up things to do so you wouldn’t go crazy. Instead of that, why not let nature show you a few things? Cutting grass and pulling weeds can be a way of life, son.’ 

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, p. 64

Review: The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wonderful, succinct little book is merely the story of an old man who caught a big fish. Beyond the surface, though, lies a wealth of symbolism, a depth of meaning, and a plethora of items for contemplation. Santiago, the “old man” of the title, is viewed as especially unlucky due to his frequent and very long streaks without catching a fish. When he goes out alone one day, however, he able to catch a shockingly large marlin. He spend the next day and more struggling with the fish, coming to grips with himself through his struggle with the fish.

In the story, Hemingway gives clear indications that Santiago is a Christ-figure, a hero who suffers. What makes Hemingway’s telling unique, however, is that there is no resurrection and there is no gospel. Rather than a return from death or unluck, Santiago instead experiences his “crucifixion” only to prepare for yet another. In addition, because he was alone during his struggle, there is no one to accurately tell his story, to sing his epic or spread his gospel. There is only more silent suffering.

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Purpose and meaning in nature and history

Neither nature nor history can tell us what we ought to do. Facts, whether those of nature or those of history, cannot make the decision for us, they cannot determine the ends we are going to choose. It is we who introduce purpose and meaning into nature and into history. … 

This dualism of facts and decisions is, I believe, fundamental. Facts as such have no meaning; they can gain it only through our decisions. Historicism is only one of many attempts to get over this dualism; it is born of fear, for it shrinks from realizing that we bear the ultimate responsibility even for the standards we choose. But such an attempt seems to me to represent precisely what is usually described as superstition. For it assumes that we can reap where we have not sown; it tries to persuade us that if we merely fall into step with history everything will and must go right, that no fundamental decision on our part is required; it tries to shift our responsibility on to history, and thereby on the play of demoniac powers beyond ourselves; it tries to base our actions upon the hidden intentions of these powers, which can be revealed to us only in mystical inspirations and intuitions; and it thus puts our actions and ourselves on the moral level of a man who, inspired by horoscopes and dreams, chooses his lucky number in the lottery. Like gambling, historicism is born of our despair in the rationality and responsibility of our actions. It is a debased hope and a debased faith, an attempt to replace the hope and the faith that springs from our moral enthusiasm and the contempt for success by a certainty that springs from a pseudo-science; a pseudo-science of the stars, or of “human nature,” or of historical destiny. 

Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, pp. 278-279