Oct 16 2022

Left Blinker, Right Turn: Tricked by My Imagination

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Left Blinker, Right Turn: Tricked by My Imagination

In the fourth book of the Confessions, Rousseau of Geneva says his imagination was too fertile to appreciate Paris:

How contrary to what I had expected was my first sight of Paris! The external ornament I had seen in Turin, the fine streets, the symmetry and disposition of the houses, all this made me look for something better still in Paris. I had imagined a city as broad as it was fair, whose every aspect was imposing, where all one would see were magnificent streets and palaces of marble and gold. Entering by the Faubourg Saint-Marceau, I saw nothing but dirty, stinking little streets, dark and ugly houses, an air of filth and poverty, beggars, carters, old crones mending, hawkers of herbal teas and old hats. I was so immediately and so forcibly struck by it all that none of the true splendour I later saw in Paris has erased this first impression, and I have been left ever since with a secret dislike of living in this capital.

It could even be said that such time as I have spent there since has been wholly devoted to acquiring the means to enable me to live somewhere else. Such is the fruit of too lively an imagination, which exaggerates still further the exaggerations of others, and always enhances what it is told. I had always heard Paris acclaimed in such terms that I had pictured it to myself as a second Babylon, although, had I seen this city, I might perhaps have found that it, too, fell no less short of the portrait I had painted of it in my mind’s eye.

The same thing happened at the Opéra, which I rushed to visit the next day; the same thing happened later at Versailles, later still when I saw the sea, and the same thing will always happen when I see sights that have been too warmly recommended: for it is impossible for men and difficult for nature herself to outdo my fertile imagination.

(Confessions (1779), trans. Angela Scholar, ed. Patrick Coleman, (New York: Oxford, 1994, 2008), IV, p. 155.)

And these thoughts on imagination from Rousseau came to me in the middle of traffic—when I saw the blinker to the car in front of me indicating it would soon turn left. Then, of course, the car slowed down and turned right.

The expectation I imagined (of the car turning left) turned out to be false. It turned out to be the exact opposite of what one should expect from such an indication.

Chaucer might’ve said of this an example that “Thou hast a veyn imaginacioun,” (The Knight’s Tale, Part I, ll. 1091–93).

Spenser might’ve said that I have a “gross imagination” from reading too many “rude Irish books,” (See Endnote).

Milton might add to this conversation that “man will hearken to his glozing lies,” (Paradise Lost, III, 93)––whether “his” means the lies of Satan or those of other men.

But then comes Lord Bacon, to remind me that:

Fascination is the power and act of imagination intensive upon other bodies than the body of the imaginant, for of that we spake in the proper place….

But for mine own judgemt it, if it be admitted that imagination hath power, and that ceremonies fortify imagination, and that they be used sincerely and intentionally for that purpose.

(The Advancement of Learning (1605), ed. William Aldis Wright (1858), (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957, fifth edition), (II, xi, 2), p. 146.)

For “superstition,” Bacon tells readers, “erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men.” Still:

There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best if they go furthest from the superstition formerly received; therefore care would be had that (as it fareth in ill purgings) the good be not taken away with the bad; which commonly is done when the people is the reformer.

(“Of Superstition,” Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral (1625) in Essays, ed. Brian Vickers, (New York: Oxford UP, 1999), pp. 39–40.)

I am but at the mercy of my imagination, whether it be vain, gross, rude, glozing with lies, or perhaps fascinating, or perhaps, as seems to be somewhat the case with the insincere blinker in Austin traffic, superstitious.

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An endnote from Spenser:

Eudox. Believe me, this observations of yours, Irenaeus, is very good and delightfull; far beyond the blinde conceipt of some, who (I remember) have upon the same word Ferragh, made a very blunt conjecture, as namely Mr. Stanihurst, who though he be the same country man borne, that should search more nearly into the secret of these things; yet hath strayed from the truth all the heavens wyde, (as they say,) for he thereupon groundeth a very groose imagination, that the Irish should descend from the Egyptians which came into that Island, Irish should descend from the Egyptians which came into that Island, first under the leading of one Scota the daughter of Pharoah, whereupon the use (saith he) in all their battailes to call upon the name of Pharaoh, crying Ferragh, Ferragh. Surely he shootes wyde on the bow hand, and very far from the marke. For I would first know of him what auncienet ground of authority he hath for such a senselesse fable, and if he have any of the rude Irish books, as it may be hee hath, yet (me seems) that a man of his learning should not so lightly have bin carried away with old wives tales, from approvance of his owne reason; for whether it be a smack of any learned iudgment, to say, that Scota is like an Egyptian word, let the learned iudge. But his Scota rather comes of the Greek [Greek], that is, darknes, which hath not let him see the light of the truth.

(A View of the State of Ireland (c. 1596, 1633), eds. Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley, (Oxford: Blackwell’s, 1997), p. 60.)


Jul 2 2022

On “Fellowship” (A Literary Meditation)

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

On “Fellowship” (A Literary Meditation)

I’ve been studying Chaucer lately, and soon stumbled on to some of his usages of the word fellowship.

For wher-so men had pleyd or waked,
Me thoghte the felawship as naked
Withouten hir, that saw I ones,
As a coroune withoute stones.
(The Book of the Duchesse, ll. 977–80)

And:

Wel nyne and twenty in a companye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle
In felawshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon,
That I was of hir felawshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.
(Tales of Canterbury, General Prologue, ll. 25–34).

And, in describing the Wife of Bath, Chaucer’s Narrator notes:

In felawschip wel coude she laughe and carpe.
(General Prologue, ll. 474)

In a time of frequent mass-shootings, controversial court decisions, and pandemic supply chains … a turn toward fellowship might not be so much an exercise in idleness, but one of escapism.

So fellowship is the root word fellow with the added suffix –ship.

For fellow, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says it’s Anglo-Saxon (Old English) but borrowed from Scandinavian:

The early Scandinavian etymon is a derivative formed on the compound reflected by Old Icelandic félag , Norwegian felag, Old Swedish fælagh, Old Danish fælagh (Danish fællig ).

Likewise, the suffix –ship is Anglo-Saxon:

Added to adjectives and past participles to denote the state or condition of being so-and-so. Such compounds were numerous in Old English, and many survived (or were re-coined) in Middle English, but few have a history extending beyond the 15th century; e.g. Old English árodscipe briskness, dolscipe folly, druncenscipe drunkenship n., drunkship n. (Middle English), glædscipe gladship n., gódscipe goodship n., láþscipe hardship, prútscipe pride, shendship n. (Middle English), snelscipe boldness, wildship n. (Middle English), wódscipe madness. The only survivals of this formation now in common use are hardship n. (first in Ancren Riwle), and worship n. (Old English weorþscipe).

But fellowship as an entire word, according to OED, doesn’t show up till the 1200s, that is, about a century before Chaucer.

In his book The Idea of the Holy (1917), German philosopher and theologian Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) lists fellowship as one of three types of spiritual silence:

Devotional Silence may have a threefold character. There is the numinous silence of Sacrament, the silence of Waiting, and the silence of Union or Fellowship.

(Das Heilige. Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen (The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational) (1917), trans. John W. Harvey, (Oxford UP, 1923), p. 216)

Otto here admits that he found these ideas in the works of George Fox (1621–1691), founder of the Quakers, who formally call themselves The Society of Friends—that is, literally an organization devoted to fellowship. And the silence in fellowship that Otto mentions is what Mrs. Mia Wallace was trying to explain to Vincent Vega oh-so-many years ago:

In the Prologue to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954), one finds a casual, cozy fellowship:

‘How Old Toby came by the plant is not recorded, for to his dying day he would not tell. He knew much about herbs, but he was no traveller. It is said that in his youth he went often to Bree, though he certainly never went further from the Shire than that. It is thus quite possible that he learned of this plant in Bree, where now, at any rate, it grows well on the south slopes of the hill. The Bree-hobbits claim to have been the first actual smokers of the pipe-weed. They claim, of course, to have done everything before the people of the Shire, whom they refer to as “colonists”; but in this case their claim is, I think, likely to be true. And certainly it was from Bree that the art of smoking the genuine weed spread in the recent centuries among Dwarves and such other folk, Rangers, Wizards, or wanderers, as still passed to and fro through tat ancient road-meeting. The home and centre of the art is thus to be found in the old inn of Bree, The Prancing Pony, that has been kept by the family of Butterbur from time beyond record.’

Though the word fellowship isn’t used in this particular passage, the idea of it bleeds over from writer to reader, for fellowship is a prominent theme in Tolkien’s very big book.

And I find a deeper, more formal fellowship than that above in both the Nine adventurers who constitute the Fellowship of the Ring, as well as between reader and writer, such as when Gandalf (but let us imagine author-professor Tolkien speaking in his stead), explains the fellowship-like task of the writer, (in this case, a historian):

And Gandalf said: ‘This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much must now pass away; and the power of the Three Rings also is ended.’

(“The Steward and the King,” The Return of the King, VI, v)

Gandalf-Tolkien goes on to explain that the task of the reader, with regard to fellowship with the writer, is to be a sapling (for the writer is a planter):

And Gandalf coming looked at it, and said: ‘Verily this is a sapling of the line of Nimloth the fair; and that was a seedling of Galathilion, and that a fruit of Telpherion of many names, Eldest of Trees. Who shall say how it comes here in the appointed hour? But this is an ancient hallow, and ere the kings failed or the Tree withered in the court, a fruit must have been set here. For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell the time in which it will awake.  Remember this. For if ever a fruit ripens, it should be planted, lest the line die out of the world. Here it has lain hidden on the mountain, even as the race of Elendil lay hidden in the wastes of the North. Yet the line of Nimloth is older far than your line, King Elessar.’

(“The Steward and the King,” The Return of the King, VI, v)

Nor is fellowship limited to the realm of readers and writers. Fellowship can extend to religion, as Walter Kaufman (1921–1980) once pointed out, for fellowship is meant to counter loneliness:

Religions do not so much offer truths as a common language in which to express truths as well as superstitions. Whitehead once said that “religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” This definition tells us more about the age in which it was written than about religion. Religion offers man a way out of his solitude. Even when it does not lure man into church or visible fellowship with others, religion offers man a language which makes real loneliness impossible. The language of religion may be ritual, prayer, or an idiom based on Scripture: the man who speaks this language breaks out of the solitary confinement of his mute emotions, transcends the isolation of his boredom or despair, and becomes part of a community. He belongs.

(Critique of Religion and Philosophy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1958), p. 350)

And fellowship may even extend to nationhood:

Justice Felix Frankfurter spoke of the need “to shed old loyalties and take on the loyalty of American citizenship,” which is a kind of “fellowship which binds people together by devotion to certain feelings and ideas and ideals summarized as a requirement that they be attached to the principles of the constitution.”

(Benjamin R. Barber, “Constitutional Faith,” For Love of Country? ed. Martha Nussbaum, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996; ed. Joshua Cohen, 2002), p. 32)


Aug 20 2010

New Zealand Lecturer identifies “new” Chaucer works (Sydney Morning Herald)

New Zealand lecturer identifies new Chaucer works.