If we treated every day as everybody’s birthday, I’m not sure when I’d have discovered poet Richard Wilbur’s resolve to “jell things into an experience that will be a poem.” What a smart way to think of writing, jelling... a good reminder that experience isn’t plug-and-play, isn’t self-revealing, but must be opened and sorted and interpreted by the writer. That’s the point of doing it, or a point.
Concision might be another. I have to be terse in class today, since it’s a reporting day and we have many reports to hear. I hope they’ll be terse too.
In CoPhi the spotlight’s on Montaigne and Descartes. I never mention one without the other, the doubtful essayist and the indubitable rationalist. They’re two ends of the see-saw. A rounded view of life requires both attitudes, but if sides must be taken I’ll take Montaigne’s. He just had a birthday on Sunday, he’s widely credited (or by students cursed) as “creator of the personal essay, in which he used self-portrayal as a mirror of humanity in general. Writers up to the present time have imitated his informal, conversational style. He said, ‘The highest of wisdom is continual cheerfulness: such a state, like the region above the moon, is always clear and serene.'” If Descartes is the seated meditating thinker, Montaigne is the perambulating puncturer of pretension. On the highest throne, he said, or in the loftiest philosopher’s armchair, you’re still on your ass.
In Atheism we’re up to Alain de Botton’s “Pessimism” and “Perspective” chapters. The former annoys me, especially when it takes comfort in the trials of Job. The latter eventually inspires, when it encourages our gaze to the heavens as a source of secular spirit. But it would have been good of him to acknowledge, after claiming that most astrophysicists have a tin ear when it comes to questions of the spirit, to mention Sagan’s and Tyson’s “Cosmos.”
In Bioethics, Michael Sandel’s “Mastery and Gift” chapter wonders if it’s better to change our nature to fit the world or vice versa. Actually he doesn’t wonder about that, his position is conservative. But we can wonder.
Also, I’m happy to report my selection of texts for next Fall’s returning Environmental Ethics course: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, and Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis by Tim Flannery. In a word, they – like me – are
optimistic melioristic. Pessimism is an unaffordable luxury, these days.
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