Pithyism #60

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF a kind word — or a cruel one.

First Graf: Moby-Dick

SO FAR, IT HAS TAKEN me two years to read Herman Melville’s classic of monomania and cetology, mostly because I don’t want to finish. And so I haven’t, yet.

It’s the language. Melville rolls so many word-clad notions around his tongue, and flips them into and between your ears with such easy fluidity, that it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s digressing (which he does, for most of the book). We fancy moderns with our choice of storytellers and interpretations know how the story goes, or at least how it ends, before we read it. That’s an advantage of sorts over the initial 1851 audience, one which lets us concentrate instead on the journey — since, despite its encyclopedic treatment of whales, the men who hunt them, and the global economy resulting therefrom, we might miss the fact that Moby-Dick isn’t really about whaling at all, at all.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

Of Monkey Brains and Infinity

ALTHOUGH WE’RE NOT GENERALLY A “quotes ‘n’ links” blog, today The Metaphorager feels compelled to pass along two related items:

1) From Robert Anton Wilson‘s Prometheus Rising, p. 201:

“[…] Simply accept that the universe is so structured that it can see itself, and that this self-reflexive arc is built into our frontal lobes, so that consciousness contains an infinite regress, and all we can do is make models of ourselves making models …
“Well, at that point, the only thing to do is relax and enjoy the ride.”

2) Charles & Ray Eames’ 1968 film Powers of 10. (I have assigned this completely scientific piece as homework for my religious-school students to flex their awe-muscles. It’s a brief magnification journey within and without the hand of a man sleeping next to Lake Michigan. See it. See it now.)

1+1=1, For Sufficiently Small Values of One

IF IT MAKES IT ANY easier for those who struggle with accepting their age, one could always aver that one is experiencing one’s “average age.”

For example, I am 48 (at this writing). There is one of me, so 1 x 48 = 48. Forty-eight divided by the number of those in this sentence whose ages are relevant to it, or 1, equals 48.

So although 48 is my actual age, it is also — by this calculation, and by verbal extension a crutch against the ever-approaching footsteps of decay and oblivion — my average age.

This may be a simple wordplay. But you’d be surprised how often we apply same. It’s what powers our propensity for self-delusion — and why it sometimes takes awhile for us to stumble over the obvious.

Wreaths of Smiles and Leaves

IS THERE ANY GREATER HONOR than to be beloved by children?

A random thought on realizing this is a teaching day. Mind you, I’m no Dr. Seuss or Mother Goose — that’s beloved — but I can definitely see why they did what they did. There’s something about watching the light come on, in each child’s particular way, that makes the Hebrew/religious teaching experience so rewarding: seeing this happen in connection with Deep Things. I have a friend who teaches science in a public school and who relates similar wonders. They’re not that far apart, science and religion … at least, when they start with or enhance awe and curiosity

Get Your Seats Now

SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY METEORS an hour are predicted for next year’s Draconid shower, when the earth passes through a knot of Comet Giacobini-Zinner debris. (Note: it’s best observed from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.) Mark your calendars and and reserve a tramp-steamer today!

– Alert courtesy of http://spaceweather.com/ (10/7/10 edition)
– Starmap: http://www.imo.net/calendar/2010#dra

I’m Not Going To Say “God” Anymore

AT LEAST, THAT’S MY AIM, and has been for some time, only I didn’t know it then.

Hear: I don’t know how any/everyone else works It, but I think It is universal, appearing to some as “God,” others as The Muse, yet others Science, still others as some unnamed (nor needing to be named) unifying perspective.

But all these other views still seem, in these eyes, to concern what I call “God.” (That’s either a great oversimplification on my part or something shrewd and cogent. For practical reasons, let’s say the latter.) It’s hard talking about It for a couple of reasons — not least because It is impossible to describe — and the language with which we attempt to do so only makes some people touchy (i.e., “Don’t shove that anthropocentric patriarchal authoritarianism at me, you sexist. I worship only the Goddess”). As one more interested in colloquy than controversy, however, I want to touch the essence of the matter without a lot of side-explanations and other verborrheic runnings-about. (I’m a busy man, after all, and so are you.)

Thus, with a throw of hands in the air, we at Metaphorager.Net suggest “The Mystery.” That seems accurate, since a Mystery (philosophically speaking) is something which can only be understood through experience, and one thing we can say about It is that each one of us has a different (if overlapping) experience. An example: No one quite knows what I mean when I say “God,” or “love,” or “chocolate,” since I specifically associate these words with what I have invested in them through lifelong acquaintance. But enough of It overlaps to where I can order “chocolate” and expect the waiter not serve me meatballs. Which is good enough — I seem to be less concerned with Truth than with Usefulness, anyway — but there are certain particulars which do not overlap, and these are the points which either spice the conversation or begin wars.

To avoid those exchanges, we must speak generally. And “The Mystery” is about as general as I can get and still sound like I’m talking about something of interest to those interested in Such Things, whereas “God” just sounds reactionary to those who pride themselves on their modernity. (And we can’t have that.)

So there it is. Of course, as a Hebrew-school teacher, I’ll still have to say “God,” but my students will at least have the ambiguity “built in.” They won’t have to relearn its essentiality like I did, and can better perhaps listen to what people are actually saying — instead of confirming their own prejudices.