One of the main problems with being sick is that time inflates & at the same time the number of things one can do to fill the time is reduced. And as time thins out, fantasies & obsessive thoughts emerge from the void. Small things are magnified. Generally, I can slide away from such thoughts, but some days it can be difficult. When I can focus, I work on poems, but I’m looking for projects that will absorb my attention even when I’m feeling scattered. Suggestions? Note: I don’t watch movies.
The metaphor is not original with me, but moods have the quality of the weather. I’ve been experiencing changeable weather the last couple of weeks. Like the weather, moods are notoriously difficult to describe. In my case, I go from a kind of nervous distraction in which I cannot work but cannot rest, either, to a kind of generalized sense of well-being during which I can focus & even write. But it’s difficult to sense why I shift or when a shift is coming. The best I can do is be mindful of the state of mind I’m in at a particular moment & let go of it if it is not productive or at least comfortable.
- Menand makes the point that for the generation that came of age in the middle of the 19th century, the Civil War was the same sort of traumatic experience as WWI & Vietnam were for later generations.
- Those experiences shook up the settled conventions that James, Peirce, & the other post-transcendentalists might have been expected to adopt had the war not come along to “tear a hole” in their lives. Menand says they were not so much alternative thinkers as men of their time who confronted a crisis of history.
- Philosophy emerges from the lives these people lived; it was not adopted as an abstract system. So much is obvious & well-known, but building a philosophy from the experience of one’s life is not a simple matter. “Visions and revisions.”
- For this group of thinkers, ideas are always contextual & are to be valued not for their immutability but for their adaptability to different situations, and for their impermanence.
With my friend CR, I’m going to be rereading Louis Menand’s book, The Metaphysical Club and posting comments here. I’ll start a post with a quotation & range of pages or chapter headings, then the discussion will move to the comment section of the blog. Everyone who has read the book is welcome to comment along with Chris & myself.
The air is cool but sunlight fills the yard. I haven’t been posting much here because my days have all been pretty much the same within a narrow range of sameness. The quality of the light I see when I look out over the river changes over the course of a day: early, it is tinged with yellow, shifting as the morning progresses toward something more neutral, until by midday things present themselves in their own colors. By evening the yellow quality returns. This is all just the physics of light waves. So far so good. But despite the plain science of light, there is some residue of meaning or perhaps only a feeling that inheres in the light. Is it just one of those things that’s “in our heads,” or is there something more? What’s the extra thing that we feel when we allow ourselves to enter the light? Mere illusion? I don’t think so, and can only conclude we human beings–and animals even more so–have the ability to sense the invisible aspects of reality. That light inside the light. The overwhelming greenness of the day is now in full effect & the ordinary light pours down, its invisibles withdrawn into a noon silence. The old Romans thought of noon as a kind of witching hour, a moment of stasis when shadows stand & shiver as noon clicks over into afternoon.
In Zen we say that everything is empty, by which we mean that nothing exists except in relation to everything else–nothing has intrinsic existence. We also say that the path is itself the goal, but since the path has no intrinsic existence, we have nothing to stand or walk upon, or so the Diamond Sutra says. The challenge is to put one foot out after the other knowing that the path is empty. Or full.