Going nowhere on shanks’ mare

My Stroll Thru Western Civilization course, beginning Wednesday, now has a syllabus. Meeting once a week for (up to) three hours, We’ll cover the ground in brisk strides of two or three chapters per session. We’ll mimic the peripatetic style when we can. Those of us who are able and eager will occasionally “walk up and down” while discussing our subjects.

Our focus will be on interpreting the western philosophical tradition as an ongoing response to Plato (to whom British philosopher A.N. Whitehead famously said all of western philosophy is a series of footnotes) and Aristotle (whose students were known as Peripatetics, from the Greek word meaning “to walk up and down” while learning). We’ll follow their tracks to our own doorstep, noting as we go the growing rosters of “players” on Teams Plato and Aristotle. We’ll take note, as well, of those whose thought was substantially conducted “on shanks’ mare.”

That’s a strange expression, Bruce, “shanks’ mare.”

Page xv
That was Ron Strickland’s invitation in his “Compendium of Remarkable Walks,” and it’s mine in MALA 6030 – a course I wouldn’t have been able to offer this summer if my Study Abroad course in Britain had drawn just a bit more interest. Counting on better luck (aka “the residue of design” by #42 and his patron) with that next year.But it is a sweet irony that, as things turn out, I’ll stay put in middle Tennessee this summer to undertake a larger stroll than originally envisioned. Globetrotting travel author Pico Iyer appreciates such irony.

I’m a lifelong traveler. Even as a little kid, I was actually working out that it would be cheaper to go to boarding school in England than just to the best school down the road from my parents’ house in California… almost inevitably, I became a travel writer so my job and my joy could become one…. [But] one of the first things you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes to it. You take an angry man to the Himalayas, he just starts complaining about the food. And I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still.

He doesn’t necessarily mean literal seated meditation, zazen. He does mean stepping back from the immersive business of constantly going, and increasingly of staring at screens and projecting contrived personae through them. This came up in discussion in our Happiness class Monday, it’ll probably come up again as we focus on Buddhist happiness next. We all need to find time for a happy stillness. I find mine, most often, on shanks’ mare. The nectar for me (and John McDermott) is still in the journey, most often a journey to no place in particular.

Happy birthday to the melancholy Dane, Kierkegaard. He got around plenty on shanks’ mare, and probably only ever achieved a quiet mind while hoofing it around Copenhagen, before dying at 42 (not his lucky number). Wonder how he’d feel about being on screen?

The crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

6 am/5:51, 45/64

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