‘In the old days,’ he said, ‘writers’ lives were more interesting than their writing. Now-a-days neither the lives nor the writing is interesting.’
The question of identity is a question involving the most profound panic—a terror as primary as the nightmare of the mortal fall. This question can scarcely be said to exist among the wretched, who know, merely, that they are wretched and who bear it day by day—it is a mistake to suppose that the wretched do not know that they are wretched; nor does this question exist among the splendid, who know, merely, that they are splendid, and who flaunt it, day by day: it is a mistake to suppose that the splendid have any intention of surrendering their splendor. An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger: the stranger’s presence making you the stranger, less to the stranger than to yourself. Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which robes one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.
Passage from The Devil Finds Work.
But there is nothing “mere” about symbols.
From the newest piece by America’s Essay Laureate in The Atlantic.
Let us remember that topology and the theory of numbers sprang up in part from that which used to be called “mathematical entertainments,” “recreactional mathematics.” I salute in passing the memory of Bachet de Meziriac, author of Problèms plaisants et delectable qui se font par les nobres (1612—not, as Larousse says, 1613), and one of the first members of the French Academy. Let us also remember that the calculation of probabilities was at first nothing other than an anthology of “diversions,” as Bourbaki states in the “Notice Historique” of the twenty-first fascicle on Integration. And likewise game theory until von Neumann.
Words that live are those which we hear, like “click” or “chuckle”, or which we see, like “freckled” or “veined”, or which we taste, like “vinegar” or “sugar”, or touch, like “prickle” or “oily”, or smell, like “tar” or “onion”. Words which belong directly to one of the five senses.
Every work of science great enough to be well remembered for a few generations affords some exemplification of the defective state of the art of reasoning of the time when it was written.
—words don’t just stand on their own, they exist within the context of a phrase; a word juxtaposed to another word isn’t an arbitrary word, it shifts the meaning into another dimension. It’s a labyrinth of linkages that that has a purpose.
We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries—we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?
Does music make plants grow, or are there among plants some that are musical?
‘If there’s no meaning in it,’ said the King, ‘that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.’