Saturday, September 04, 2004



...for the place Whitman references in this piece:

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

I'm feeling destroyed by this week's news, really and truly scooped out. Went to bed last night with only Nietzsche's hope to get me through til morning, wondering how I make this world seem liveable to the gorgeous creature I'm raising, wondering how I will ever be able to explain the hell I feel when I watch large numbers of humans engaged in collective action, talking steep nausea here. Talking about how one justifies the continued hell of other humans to a 7 year old who is filled with wonder and still convinced of the essential goodness of others.

It swings like this. Days when the miracle of awareness is enough, and asking for anything more seems nothing short of greedy--then days when the woeful gap between what we are capable of and what we accomplish seems so great and so reprehensible that simply surviving from one day to the next seems supreme virtue.

You know, as an undergraduate, I read Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University, in particular a passage in the section titled Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Professional Skill, in which he discusses the relative merits of breadth and depth based approaches to education. He does defend breadth, to an extent, couching the discussion in these terms:

"In saying that Law or Medicine is not the end of a University course, I do not mean to imply that the University does not teach Law or Medicine. What indeed can it teach at all, if it does not teach something particular? It teaches all knowledge by teaching all branches of knowledge, and in no other way. I do but say that there will be this distinction as regards a Professor of Law, or of Medicine, or of Geology, or of Political Economy, in a University and out of it, that out of a University he is in danger of being absorbed and narrowed by his pursuit, and of giving Lectures which are the Lectures of nothing more than a lawyer, physician, geologist, or political economist; whereas in a University he will just know where he and his science stand, he has come to it, as it were, from a height, he has taken a survey of all knowledge, he is kept from extravagance by the very rivalry of other studies, he has gained from them a special illumination and largeness of mind and freedom and self-possession, and he treats his own in consequence with a philosophy and a resource, which belongs not to the study itself, but to his liberal education."

--specifically, 'he is kept from extravagance by the very rivalry of other studies'. This is my education, I think, in a being that period of my life when I was moved from a stubborn insistence on certain 'truths' to a belief in--I might even say an understanding of, but even that would presume too much--the essentially transient nature of all human endeavor. Not least my little venture into poetics...indeed all human culture and knowledge rendered so much noise in the vastness of the universe's sense of time. The odd thing is that this understanding does not lead to despair, but offers an odd sort of hope, knowing that all cruelty will be crushed in that vastness as surely as is all beauty.

Ach. I feel hopeless in the face of this. What can I say?

People, no matter where you come from in politics, please, swing any developing story by Fact Check. On a universal scale, the bullshit going on at present means nothing. On a human scale--from where we stand--it is an incredibly defining moment.

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