Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Two From The Maverick Philosopher

Tuesday's schedule has been changed from science to books. I know little of the former and way too much about the latter, which allows me to be insufferable -- a condition painless for me, but not necessarily for thou...

Today's book changed before I could get this post finished so I shall have to save what I'd planned for next Tuesday instead. Which is just as well since I'll be in surgery and The Baron will have to plug the post into the blogger wall for me anyway.

So today's book comes from a brief post by The Maverick Philosopher, who lives in the desert -- having wisely escaped academia -- and whose motto, "Omnia mea mecum porto," is spare and very monkish. Which I think he was in a former life...a monk, I mean. Perhaps Saint Anthony of the Desert? In this incarnation, he is William Vallicella. Or perhaps one ought to say "in this intarnation"?

Here is the entire post, with a picture of Mr Lewis in addition:

How to Avoid God
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis, "The Seeing Eye" in Christian Reflections (Eeerdmans, 1967), pp. 168-167:

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you'd be safer to stick to the papers. You'll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.
There may be some similarities between Mr. Lewis and Mr. Vallicella, though I cannot picture the former being willing to immerse himself in some of the analytic philosophers for too very long, and the latter will never write any Narnia sequels.

Nonetheless, they both have a sense of the proper. To show you what I mean, here is the Maverick Philosopher's following post, which could probably have been echoed by Mr. Lewis:

Idiotic Marginalia From Marginal Idiots

Have you noticed that the same people who are morally obtuse enough to underline and annotate library books tend to be the same people who are too intellectually obtuse to make good comments? If they are going to deface public property, they should at least have the decency to stun us with the brilliance of their commentary, the magnificence of their marginalia, the glory of their glosses. I don't believe I have ever read a good marginalium in a library book.
That is certainly The Baron's opinion also. Sometimes, though, they amuse me, though not always. For instance, there is a woman (it must be a woman. A pruny one) in Li'l Kumquat who borrows Robert Parker detective stories and proceeds to correct the grammar and style rules to her liking. All through the new books are these small, lightly penciled-in corrections. Every single page. If I ever find her -- and I assure you I will know her immediately -- I am going to stick a pencil in her eye. Lightly.

However, in defense of the marginalia offenders, I present this compassionate poem by Billy Collins:


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have manage to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

-- Billy Collins
A marvelous poet. If you like Wallace Stevens, find Collins' "Monday Morning." You will never be the same.

Which, of course, is the point of philosophy, poetry, humor and sex.

In case you didn't know.


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