Wordsworth’s ‘Old Man Travelling’

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Old Man Travelling
Animal Tranquillity and Decay, A Sketch

The little hedge-row birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
‘Sir! I am going many miles to take
A last leave of my son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital.’

Profanation of culture

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Today, the arts are increasingly rendered profane and disenchanted. Magic and enchantment – the true sources of art – disappear from culture, to be replaced by discourse. The enchanting exterior is replaced with the true interior, the magic signifier with the profane signified. The place of compelling, captivating forms is taken by discursive content, Magic gives way to transparency. The imperative of transparency fosters an animosity to form. Art becomes transparent with regard to its meaning. It no longer seduces. The magic veil is cast off. The forms do not themselves talk. The language of forms, of signifiers, is characterised by compression, complexity, equivocation, exaggeration, a high degree of ambiguity that even reaches the level of contradiction. These suggest meaningfulness without immediately being reducible to meaning. All these now disappear, and instead we are confronted with simplified claims and messages that are artificially imposed on the work of art.

Byung-Chul Han, The disappearance of rituals, translated by Daniel Steuer

A Solitude for Two

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I am really amazed, really delighted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: what brought me to him now was the guidance of instinct. Not only is his whole tendency like my own—to make knowledge the most powerful passion—but also in five main points of his doctrine I find myself; this most abnormal and lonely thinker is closest to me in these five points precisely: he denies free will, purposes, the moral world order, the nonegoisitical, evil; of course the differences are enormous, but they are differences more of period, culture, field of knowledge. In summa: my solitariness which, as on very high mountains, has often, often made me gasp for breath and lose blood, is now at least a solitude for two. Strange!

Friedrich Nietzsche, letter to Franz Overbeck, 1881. Translated by Christopher Middleton

A Protective Escort from the Sidelines

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It had seemed to him that such a writing process was appropriate not merely to the particular subject matter but also to the times themselves. Didn’t the narrative forms of previous eras—their consistency, their gestures of conjuring up and mastering (strangers’ destinies), their claim to totality, as amateurish as it was naive—when employed in modern books strike him nowadays as mere bluster? Varied approximations, some minor, some major, and in permeable forms, instead of the standard imprisoning forms, were what he felt books should be now, precisely because of his most complete, intense, unifying experiences with objects: preserving distance, circumscribing; sketching in; flirting around—giving your subject a protective escort from the sidelines.

Peter Handke, The Jukebox, translated by Krishna Winston

The Degrading Temptation of Tasks

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The idle apprehend more things, are deeper than the industrious: no task limits their horizon; born into an eternal Sunday, they watch—and watch themselves watching. Sloth is a somatic skepticism, the way the flesh doubts. In a world of inaction, the idle would be the only ones not to be murderers. But they do not belong to humanity, and, sweat not being their strong point, they live without suffering the consequences of Life and of Sin. Doing neither good nor evil, they disdain—spectators of the human convulsion—the weeks of time, the efforts which asphyxiate consciousness. What would they fear from a limitless extension of certain afternoons except the regret of having supported a crudely elemental obviousness? Then, exasperation in the truth might induce them to imitate the others and to indulge in the degrading temptation of tasks. This is the danger which threatens sloth, that miraculous residue of paradise.

E. M. Cioran, The Sundays of Life, (translated by Richard Howard)