Mar 30 2017

A Eulogy to Bookclubs (in the form of Confession & Resolution)

The few bookclubs I’ve been in have given me the opportunity to network and befriend (at a distance) a few people–but as goes the act of reading (whether for fiction or non) these overall experiences have left me with a bad taste in my mouth– they’ve helped me discover that I don’t read the way other people read, and I’m somehow now resentful to the idea of bookclubs (but not their members) because I feel like an outsider.

I’ve always admitted to being a dilettante, a Tolkien taster,[1] and not a professor, not an expert in anything I’ve ever read or reread.

I have a poor memory, so I take notes when I read, and I reread those notes, so that I can attempt to grasp some inking of the author’s intention upon the page. Then I reread my notes and try to connect them to things previously read (and those notes previously taken).

And I’ve found many good points from a few good people in previous bookclubs and have been exposed to many (not just several) life-changing works I never would’ve discovered on my own.

And yet I don’t miss going to bookclub, though I sometimes miss meeting and seeing some of the people–I now must come up with some way of reminding myself that whenever I take notes on something I’m reading (and I tend to take notes on the things in a book that make me excited) that I must additionally attempt to remember that I am an oddball when it comes to the act of reading–and I must remember that overbearing, out-of-place feeling so oft felt when attending bookclub–a feeling that on reflection later reveals all the things I overlooked in the books I thought I had already read.

NOTES

[1] As Tolkien puts it:

I have, in this peculiar sense, studied (‘tasted’ would be better) other languages since. Of all save one among them [Welsh?] the most overwhelming pleasure was provided by Finnish, and I have never quite got over it.

“English and Welsh – the O’Donnell Lecture – Oxford 21 October 1955” The Monsters and Critics: and other Essays. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. NY: Harper Collins. 1983. 2006. p. 192.

 

 


Mar 24 2017

Goethe at a Glance

Goethe on writing:

After my usual habit—whether a good or a bad one—I wrote down little or nothing of the piece; but worked in my mind the most of it, with all the minutest detail. And there, in my mind, pushed out of thought by many subsequent distractions, it has remained until this moment, when, however, I can recollect nothing but a very faint idea of it.

Italienische Reise, 1816–17. From Goethe’s Travels in Italy: Together with his Second Residence in Rome and Fragments on Italy. Translated by A. J. W. Morrison and Charles Nisbet. London, UK: G. Bell and Sons. 1892. “Below Taormina: on the Sea-shore, May 8, 1787” 288–89.

The complete works take up about 6 shelves:

Complete works of Goethe takes up 6 shelves #Goethe #books #library #deutschland

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Mar 16 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 7 of 7

Behold the words of St. Patrick of Wales and see how he conveys his humility:

But what is the point of excuses, however truthful, especially when linked with my audacity in aspiring now, in my old age, to what I did not acquire in my youth? For my sins prevented me from consolidating what I had previously read through. But who believes me even if I repeat what I have said before? As a youth, indeed almost a boy without any beard, I was taken captive, before I knew what to desire and what I ought to avoid. And so, then, today I am ashamed and terrified to expose my awkwardness, because, being inarticulate, I am unable to explain briefly what I mean, as my mind and spirit long and the inclination of my heart indicates.

Il Confessio. (Declaration of Patrick.) From St. PatrickHis Writings and Muirchus Life. Edited and Translated by A. B. E. Hood. Phillimore & Co. London. 1978. § 10, p. 43.

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 6 of 7.”


Mar 15 2017

7 Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 6 of 7

From Edmund Burke (1729-1797):

The worst of these politics of revolution is this: they temper and harden the breast, in order to prepare it for the desperate strokes which are sometimes used in extreme occasions. But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives a gratuitous taint; and the moral sentiments suffer not a little, when no political purpose is served by the depravation. This sort of people are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgot his nature.

Reflections on the Revolution in France (1791)

And since ’tis the Ides of March, let us render under Caesar (100BC-44BC):

Men are generally ready to believe what they want to believe.

Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Gallic Wars) III, xviii

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 5 of 7” and

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s Day – Part 7 of 7.”


Mar 14 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 5 of 7

From Laurence Sterne (1713-1768):

I HAVE a strong propensity in me to begin this chapter very nonsensically, and I will not balk my fancy.

––Accordingly I set off thus.

Tristram Shandy (1760) I, xxiii

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 4 0f 7” and

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 6 of 7.”


Mar 13 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 4 of 7

 

I had a book on top of my head. I had to get up the stairs without it falling off. If it fell off I would die. It was a hardback book, heavy, the best kind for carrying on your head. I couldn’t remember which one it was. I knew all the books in the house. I knew their shapes and smells. I knew what pages would open if I held them with the spine on the ground and let the sides drop. I knew all the books but I couldn’t remember the name of the one on my head.

Doyle, Roddy. (1958–) Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. London: Secker & Warburg. 1993. p. 75.

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 3 of 7” and

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 5 of 7.”


Mar 13 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 3 of 7

Today we have the Anglo-Irishman Jonathan Swift (1667-1745):

Books, like men their authors, have no more than one way of coming into the world, but there are then thousand to go out of it and return no more.

A Tale of a Tub (1704)

 See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 2 of 7” and

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 4 of 7.”


Mar 11 2017

Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 2 of 7

From (sometime) Irishman Oscar Wilde (1854-1900):

 Though the mission of the aesthetic movement is to lure people to contemplate, not to lead them to create, yet, as the creative instinct is strong in the Celt, and it is the Celt who leads in art, there is no reason why in future years this strange Renaissance should not become almost as mighty in its way as was that new birth of Art that woke many centuries ago in the cities of Italy.

The Critic As Artist – Part II” (1891)

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 1 0f 7” and

Seven Days Till St. “Patricks – Part 3 of 7


Mar 10 2017

Seven Days Till Saint Patrick’s – Part 1 of 7

As I’ve currently undertaken a crash-course in Irish Literature, I’ll provide a quotation from an Irish author every day from today through St Paddy’s next week. The first quotation:

There is a war between the living and the dead, and the Irish stories keep harping upon it. They will have it that when the potatoes or the wheat or any other of the fruits of the earth decay, they ripen in faery, and that our dreams lose their wisdom when the sap rises in the trees, and that our dreams can make the trees wither, and that one hears the bleating of the lambs of faery in November, and that blind eyes can see more than other eyes.

–William Butler Yeats, The Celtic Twilight. 1893. “The Queen and the Fool.”

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 2 0f 7


Mar 5 2017

You Don’t Have to be a Mathematician (to be British)

But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded. –Edmund Burke

Lewis Carroll, a.k.a. Charles Dodgson, (1832-1898) is perhaps England’s best known mathematician. But many British writers were not so inclined. Consider a passage about C. S. Lewis (1899-1963) in Philip and Carol Zaleski’s The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings (2015):

The Latin and Greek portions of Responsions presented no problem, but Lewis failed the section on mathematics. He had a terrible head for numbers and was unable to handle even the simplest arithmetical problems—counting change was a daily ordeal—much less algebra, a prominent part of the exam. Algebra is defined by the OED as “a calculus of symbols,” and Lewis’s failure to master it is worth bearing in mind, in light of his later controversial forays into the application of logic to metaphysics and theology. Nonetheless, he was accepted into University College and returned to Oxford on April 26, 1917, enrolling as an undergraduate on April 29.[1]

Compare philosopher and Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (1848-1930):

I wish I were a mathematician. There is in the history of the mathematical sciences, as in their substance, something that strangely stirs the imagination even of the most ignorant. Its younger sister, Logic, is as abstract, and its claims are yet wider. But it has never shaken itself free from a certain pretentious futility: it always seems to be telling us, in language quite unnecessarily technical, what we understood much better before it was explained. It never helps to discover, though it may guarantee discovery; it never persuades, though it may show that persuasion has been legitimate; it never aids the work of thought, it only acts as its auditor and accountant-general. I am not referring, of course, to what I see described in recent works as “modern scientific logic.” Of this I do not presume to speak. Still less am I refer ring to so-called Inductive Logic. Of this it is scarce worth while to speak.1 I refer to their more famous predecessor, the formal logic of the schools [i.e. of John Stuart Mill].[2]

Compare Balfour’s colleague Winston Churchill (1874-1965):

All my life from time to time I have had to get up disagreeable subjects at short notice, but I consider my triumph, moral and technical, was in learning Mathematics in six months. At the first of these three ordeals I got no more than 500 marks out of 2,500 for Mathematics. At the second I got nearly 2,000. I owe this achievement not only to my own back-to-the-wall resolution for which no credit is too great but to the very kindly interest taken in my case by a much respected Harrow master, Mr. C. H. P. Mayo. He convinced me that Mathematics was not a hopeless bog of nonsense, and that there were meanings and rhythms behind the comical hieroglyphics j and that I was not incapable of catching glimpses of some of these. Of course what I call Mathematics is only what the Civil Service Commissioners expected you to know to pass a very rudimentary examination.

I had a feeling once about Mathematics, that I saw it all Depth beyond depth was revealed to me the Byss and the Abyss. I saw, as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show, a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly how it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable: and how the one step involved all the others. It was like politics. But it was after dinner and. I let it go![3]

Finally, there’s G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936):

A great deal is said in these days about the value or valuelessness of logic. In the main, indeed, logic is not a productive tool so much as a weapon of defence. A man building up an intellectual system has to build like Nehemiah, with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other. The imagination, the constructive quality, is the trowel, and argument is the sword. A wide experience of actual intellectual affairs will lead most people to the conclusion that logic is mainly valuable as a weapon wherewith to exterminate logicians. [4]

NOTES

[1] Zaleski and Zaleski. The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings 75.

[2] Balfour, Theism and Humanism: Being the Gifford Lectures 176.

[3] Churchill, My Early Life: a Roving Commission. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1930. Ch. III.

[4] Chesterton, Twelve Types. 1906. “Thomas Carlyle” p. 125.