NC Wieland

George Eliot on academics

reading diaryNC Wieland

"Hard students are commonly troubled with gowts, catarrhs, rheums, cachexia, bradypepsia, bad eyes, stone, and collick, crudities, oppilations, vertigo, winds, consumptions, and all such diseases as come by over-much sitting: they are most part lean, dry, ill-coloured...and all through immoderate pains and extraordinary studies. If you will not believe the truth of this, look upon great Tostatus and Thomas Aquinas' works; and tell me whether those men took pains." --Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, P.Is.2

Middlemarch, pg. 43


"Will Ladislaw was struck mute for a few moments. He had never been fond of Mr. Causabon, and if it had not been for the sense of obligation, would have laughed at him as a bat of erudition. But the idea of this dried-up pedant, this elaborator of small explanations about as important as the surplus stock of false antiquities kept in a vendor's back chamber, having first got this adorable young creature to marry him and then passing his honeymoon away from her, groping after his mouldy futilities..."

Middlmarch, pg. 202

Proust listens to music

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I am going to Immortal Beethoven today. In honor of that, Swann remembering a phrase in a musical piece he heard at a party:

"He knew that even the memory of the piano falsified still further the perspective in which he saw the elements of the music, that the field open to the musician is not a miserable scale of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard still almost entirely unknown on which, here and there only, separated by shadows thick and unexplored, a few of the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity which compose it, each different from the others as one universe from another universe, have been found by a few great artists who do us the service, by awakening in us something corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety, is hidden unbeknownst to us within that great unpenetrated and disheartening darkness of our soul which we take for emptiness and nothingness. ...

Even when he was not thinking of the little phrase, it existed latent in his mind in the same way as certain other notions without equivalents, like the notion of light, of sound, of perspective, of physical pleasure, which are the rich possessions that diversify and ornament the realms of our inner life. Perhaps we will lose them, perhaps they will fade away, if we return to nothingness. But as long as we are alive, we can no more eliminate our experience of them than we can our experience of some real object, than we can for example of our doubt the light of the lamp illuminating the metamorphosed objects in our room whence even the memory of darkness has vanished. In this way... [the music] had espoused our mortal condition, taken on a human quality that was rather touching. Its destiny was linked to the future, to the reality of our soul, of which it was one of the most distinctive, the best differentiated ornaments. Maybe it is the nothingness that is real and our entire dream is nonexistent, but in that case we feel that these phrases of music, and these notions that exist in relation to our dream, must also be nothing. We will perish, but we have for hostages these divine captives who will follow us and share our fate. And death in their company is less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps less probable."

Swann's Way, Lydia Davis translation, pp. 362-363.

Proust eats asparagus

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"...what delighted me were the asparagus, steeped in ultramarine and pink, whose tips, delicately painted with little strokes of mauve and azure, shade off imperceptibly down to their feet -- still soiled though they are from the dirt of their garden bed -- with an iridescence that is not of this earth. It seemed to me that these celestial hues revealed the delicious creatures who had merrily metamorphosed themselves into vegetables and who, through the disguise of their firm, edible flesh, disclosed in these early tints of dawn, in these beginnings of rainbows, in this extinction of blue evenings, the precious essence that I recognized again when, all night following a dinner at which I eaten them, they played, in farces as crude and poetic as a fairy play by Shakespeare, at changing my chamber pot into a jar of perfume."

Swann's Way, Lydia Davis translation, pp. 123-124.

"Irrelevance is in a sense a form of deceit..."

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"Sometimes people are very explicit about the fact that what they have to say is worth paying attention to. The 15th- and 16th-century philosopher Francis Bacon had his publisher print, on the front of one of his works, the following words: Francis of Verulam reasoned thus with himself, and judged it to be for the interest of the present and future generations that they should be made aware of his thoughts. To be so explicit about the fact that the audience should pay attention was perhaps somewhat immodest, but what Relevance Theory tells us is that we all do this, every time we speak."

From Thom Scott-Phillips' excellent Speaking Our Minds, pg. 61.

In which Epictetus writes a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education

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"If we all applied ourselves as heartily to our proper business, as the old politicians at Rome to their schemes, perhaps we too might make some proficiency. ...

What then do I say? that man is made for an inactive life? No, surely. But why is not ours a life of action? For my own part, I wake at dawn to recollect what things I am to read over again with my pupils, and then say to myself quickly, What is to me how such a one reads? My present business is to sleep.

Yet what likeness is there between their kind of activity and ours? If you consider what it is they do, you will see. For about what are they employed the whole day, but in calculating, contriving, consulting, about provisions, about an estate, or other interests like these? Is there any likeness, then, between reading such a petition from any one, as, 'I entreat you to give me permission to export corn'; and 'I entreat you to learn from Chrysippus, what the administration of the universe is; and what place a reasonable creature holds in it. Learn, too, what you yourself are; and wherein your good and evil consist.' Are these things at all alike? Do they require an equal degree of application? And is it as shameful to neglect the one as the other?

Well, then, are we older men the only idle dreamers? No: but you young men are so in a greater degree. And as we old folks, when we see young ones trifling, are tempted to trifle with them; so, much more, if I were to see you earnest and ardent, I should be excited to labor with you."

Discourses of Epictetus, Book I, Chapter XI, 'Concerning those who seek preferment at Rome'. Trans. Elizabeth Carter and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

these things ought philosophers to study

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"What then is to be done?     To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs... What resource have we then upon such occasions? Why, what else but to distinguish between what is ours, and what not ours; what is right, and what is wrong. I must die, and must I die groaning too? -- Be fettered. Must I be lamenting too? -- Exiled. And must what hinders me, then, but that I may go smiling, and cheerful, and serene? -- 'Betray a secret'. -- I will not betray it; for this is in my own power. -- 'Then I will fetter you'. -- What do you say, man? Fetter me? You will fetter my leg; but not Zeus himself can get the better of my free will. 'I will throw you into prison: I will behead that paltry body of yours'. Did I ever tell you, that I alone had a head not liable to be cut off? -- These things ought philosophers to study; these ought they daily to write; and in these to exercise themselves... This it is to have studied what ought to be studied; to have placed our desires and aversions above tyranny and above chance. I must die: if instantly, I will die instantly; if in a short time, I will dine first; and when the hour comes, then I will die. How? As becomes one who restores what is not his own."

Discourses of Epictetus, Book 1, Chapter 1, 'Of the things which are, and the things which are not in our own power. Trans. Elizabeth Carter and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

proust on the lived experience of the virtues and death

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"...for a long time I took no pleasure in contemplating, in our schoolroom, where the copies he had brought back to me had been hung, this Charity without charity, this Envy which looked like nothing more than a plate in a medical book illustrating the compression of the glottis or uvula by a tumor of the tongue or by the introduction of the operating surgeon's instrument, a Justice whose grayish and meanly regular face was the very same which, in Combray, characterized certain pretty, pious, and unfeeling bourgeois ladies I saw at Mass, some of whom had long been enrolled in the reserve militia of Injustice. But I later understood that the startling strangeness, the special beauty of these frescoes was due to the large place which the symbols occupied in them, and the fact that it was represented, not as a symbol, since the thought symbolized was not expressed, but as real, as actually experienced or physically handled, gave something more literal and more precise to the meaning of the work, something more concrete and more striking to the lesson it taught. In the case of the poor kitchen maid, too, wasn't one's attention constantly brought back to her belly by the weight that pulled on it; and in the same way, also, the thoughts of the dying are quite often turned toward the aspect of death that is real, painful, dark, visceral, toward the underside of death, which is in fact the side it presents to them and so harshly makes them feel, and which more closely resembles a crushing burden, a difficulty breathing, a need to drink, than what we call the idea of death."

Proust, Swann's Way, Lydia Davis translation, pp. 83-84