Guy Davenport (1927-2005), The Symbol of the Archaic in The Geography of the Imagination (David R. Godine, Publisher, 1997), p. 19-20:
[..] we are alienated from all that was most familiar. Basically he [Charles Olson] meant that we no longer milk the cow, or shoot the game for our dinner, or make our clothes or houses or anything at all. Secondly, he meant that we have drained our symbols of meaning. We have religious pictures in museums, honouring a residual meaning in them, at least. We have divorced poetry from music, language from concrete particulars. we have abandoned the rites de passage to casual neglect where once we marked them with trial and ceremony.
Thirdly, he meant that modernity is a kind of stupidity, as it has no critical tools for analysing reality such as the ancient cultures kept bright and sharp. We do not notice that we are ruled by the worst rather than the best of men: Olson took over a word coined by Pound, pejorocracy. Poetry and fiction have grieved for a century now over the loss of some vitality they think they see in a past from which we are by now irrevocably alienated.
People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void, of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
After reading Theodor Adorno’s work Thomas Mann corresponded with the philosopher, leading to their collaboration on the musicological aspects of Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Adorno wrote to Mann of his admiration for several of his books, especially The Confessions of Felix Krull, Mann in turn wrote to Adorno about his ‘fascinating reading’ of Minima Moralia, which he considered magnificent. Mann also wrote of Minima Moralia:
I have held on to your book magnetically for several days; it makes, day after day, for fascinating reading, though it can only be enjoyed in small gulps, as it is the most concentrated nourishment. It is said that the composition of the planet Sirius, which is of white colour, is made of such dense matter that a cubic inch of it would, with us, weigh a ton. This is why it has such an extraordinary strong field of gravity, similar to the one that surrounds your book. And all this in the face of the homey and inviting titles above your breathtaking figures of thought. No sooner has one said to oneself, “That’s quite enough for today!,” than along comes such a nice fairy-tale heading that one delves into a new adventure.
I hadn’t expected to find much common ground with Richard Rorty beyond (some of) his literary essays, but am in sympathy with his call for an end to the postmodern, and his argument for an ongoing engagement with modernity:
It’s one of these terms that has been used so much that nobody as the foggiest idea what it means. It means one thing in philosophy, another thing in architecture and nothing in literature. It would be nice to get rid of it. It isn’t exactly an idea; it’s a word that pretends to stand for an idea. Or maybe the idea that one ought to get rid of is that there is any need to get beyond modernity.
What is essential is not to know whether we are wrong or right-that is quite unimportant. What is important is to discourage the world from concerning itself with us. All the rest is vice.
Death on Credit
I cannot recall having believed, even as a child, that the purpose of reading fiction was to learn about the place commonly called the real world. I seem to have sensed from the first that to read fiction was to make available for myself a new kind of space. In that space, a version of myself was free to move among places and personages the distinguishing features of which were the feelings they caused to arise in me rather than their seeming appearance, much less their possible resemblance to places or persons in the world where I sat reading. I seemed to have sensed also from an early age that some experiences as a reader would change me more as a person than would many an event in the world where I sat and read.
From the introduction to Tamarisk Row
For reading alongside Pierre Hadot’s texts, I recommend Alexander Nehamas’ The Art of Living, which has similar concerns about how to practise a philosophical life, rather than casually reading philosophy for intellectual pleasure or posture. In a brilliant pair of chapters about Platonic and Socratic irony, he quotes Muecke (below), a couple of sentences that capture so concisely the hubris of many (contemporary) politicians and intellectuals (pseudo):
The typical victim of an ironic situation is essentially an innocent. Irony regards assumptions as presumption and therefore innocence as guilt. Simple ignorance is safe from irony, but ignorance compounded with the least degree of confidence counts as intellectual hubris and is a punishable offence.
The Compass of Irony
Three Worlds – MC Escher (1955)
This “authenticity,” also tackled by Derrida, inspired by Aristotle and Heidegger, is a central preoccupation. Is it possible to stay in this state always? If so, how?
[..] I have been strongly impressed by the radical opposition between everyday life-which is lived in semiconsciousness and in which we are guided by automatisms and habits without being aware of our existence in the world-and of the privileged states in which we live intensely and are aware of our being in the world. Bergson as well as Heidegger clearly distinguished these two levels of the self: the self that remains at the level of what Heidegger calls the “they,” and the one that rises to the level of what he calls the “authentic.”
The Present Alone is Our Happiness