Archive for May, 2020

Charles Ives & Life Insurance

May 31, 2020

My assumption tends to be that the arts and Yankee capitalism work somewhat at cross-purposes (if they are not out and out hostile to each other along the lines of what you find in Gaddis’s J R); so it is utterly remarkable to me, and something I need to ponder seriously on, that Charles Ives not only succeeded in becoming rich selling Life Insurance, but was a true believer that Life Insurance was something essentially good for humanity. Here is something Charles Ives really thought, according to Jan Swafford (pp.217):

There was not a service I could render to my fellow man that was more important than the business of life insurance.

The paragraph preceding the one in which that sentence is found gives a bit more detail:

Time and again Ives preaches his essential points. Life insurance is a natural step in social evolution, a humanistic and scientific response to fundamental needs. Buying insurance has become a basic responsibility of the head of a family. Teaching men, most of them innately good and reasonable, to fulfill that responsibility is a matter of presenting them with a few easily comprehensible facts. Spreading that responsibility in society is an indispensable part of progress toward a better and more prosperous community. Insurance “is an integral part of social evolution, an organism that has not been thrown on society, but which society has evolved.” In another paper:”Without going far in the field of metaphysics, an insurance idealist might hold that life insurance is altruism scientifically organized, or perhaps commercialized, accepting the term as more of a paradox than a contradiction. A practical insurance man will say that life insurance has a certain influence on the moral and economic development of a country.” If life insurance were abolished “Mankind in general would be thrown backward into a state of mind that would not be far from … the middle ages. Civilization … would have to adjust itself to many medieval standards, for Life Insurances has become not only a vital part of civilization but a civilizer itself.

I suppose what I find interesting here is that the artist himself seems so well-aligned with American commerce, while his art remains so counter to it — that his insurance products should be directed toward the ‘average man’ while his music was seemingly not. Certainly, Ives’s music does not present the listener with “a few easily comprehnsible facts.”

(Occurs to me Kafka also worked in Insurance, and at around the same time, though in that case he was working for a state-run program, which, if I recall, insured workers against workplace accidents.)

Hymn to Virtue

May 26, 2020

I thought that, the better to kick off my new life of virtue, I’d better write a hymn to virtue itself. Why, you might ask, to virtue itself? Why not simply write a hymn to virtue? The answer is essentially (I can’t go into all the ins and outs just now) that it just sounds tougher. Virtue, sure — but why not virtue itself — The whole deal!

“Virtue is being wise,” I begin, “virtue is loving being wise. Like some people love a particular person, like another person will fall into raptures when they hear a certain song, that’s how the virtuous person feels as he’s treading the paths of pure wisdom! You can imagine how dejected this lover feels when he’s being false and foolish!”

You will tell me that is not a bad start for a hymn, with which I concur completely, with one caveate: that this hymn, I don’t imagine, is the sort you’ll find on your popular music stations of today, howsoever wonderful it may be in all other imaginable respects. For one thing, it doesn’t have a rocking beat (except for the rocking beat of pure goodness!); for another thing it doesn’t come with a flashy video (unless you consider Reality a good enough video for you!); nor is there a faddish dance associated with this song (saving those dance steps required for the performance of good and noble deeds!). But enough of this. Now we want to hear more of the hymn.

“Virtue is moderation! Virtue is courage! Virtue is gazing at a point you can’t fully make out and yet must!!” (I admit that with this last remark I embarked on some original research, giving vent to an idea I’ve had recently that is actually pretty weird: that when I try and gaze upward to a point actually located behind my eyes and within my head I’m striving to attain to virtue, albeit in a curious way.) “Virtue is a sense of urgency! Virtue is a sense of stillness! An urgency to do and not to do! Why should any time be wasted? Why should any of life be spared from being bent upon life’s purpose? Always always always virtue!”

It may pain the reader-enthusiast of my work to know I was half-tempted not to commit to paper this song. This from the fear, the nagging fear I have had, that I might render ridiculous, through my Hymn, the very thing I mean so earnestly to exalt by it. But the stakes, in this case, were too exceedingly high; for just as a lullaby may bring many a child to sleep, I had hopes –and I think quite reasonably– that with this, my own hymn, I would bring many a person, and myself too, to virtue. But enough of this nonsense. Let us hear more of the song we love:

“Virtue: not being a phony. Virtue: remaining oneself under pressure, under scrutiny (for what have we to fear?) Virtue: which begins with self-respect. Always always self-respect! always always virtue!”

May 25, 2020

Hippocrates 2.43 / english

τῶν ἀπαγχομένων καὶ καταλυομένων, μηδέπω δὲ τεθνηκότων, οὐκ ἀναφέρουσιν, οἷσιν ἂν ἀφρὸς περὶ τὸ στόμα.

The real survivor — dead in his own lifetime

May 22, 2020

Kafka, Diaries, 1921. “Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate — he has little success in this — but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different (and more) things than do the others; after all, dead as he is in his own lifetime, he is the real survivor. This assumes that he does not need both hands, or more hands than he has, in his struggle against despair.”

Moses as portrait of the essential incompleteness to human life

May 21, 2020

Kafka, Diaries, 1921. ” [Moses] is on the track of Canaan all his life; it is incredible that he should see the land only when on the verge of death. They dying vision of it can only be intended to illustrate how incomplete a moment is human life, incomplete because a life like this could last forever and still be nothing but a moment. Moses failed to enter Canaan not because his life is too short but because it is a human life.”

Kafka: you’re love for being in love does not reciprocate your love.

May 20, 2020

Diaries, 1922: “The gesture of rejection with which I was forever met did not mean: ‘I do not love you,’ but: ‘You cannot love me, much as you would like; you are unhappily in love with your love for me, but your love for me is not in love with you.’ It is consequently incorrect to say that I have known the words, ‘I love you’; I have known only the expectant stillness that should have been broken by my ‘I love you’, that is all that I have known, nothing more.”

“Your love for me is not in love with you” is so much nicer than my silly paraphrase in the title….Also: “the expectant stillness that should have been broken by my ‘I love you’.”

Une vie plus inanimée que celle de la méduse

May 19, 2020

Proust: “On a trop dormi, on n’est plus. Le réveil est à peine senti mécaniquement, et sans conscience, comme peut l’être dans un tuyau la fermeture d’un robinet. Une vie plus inanimée que celle de la méduse succède, où l’on croirait aussi bien qu’on est tiré du fond des mers ou revenu du bagne, si seulement l’on pouvait penser quelque chose.”

Scott Moncrieff: “We have slept too long, we no longer exist. Our waking is barely felt, mechanically and without consciousness, as a water pipe might feel the turning off of a tap. A life more inanimate than that of the jellyfish follows, in which we could equally well believe that we had been drawn up from the depths of the sea or released from prison, were we but capable of thinking anything at all.”

May 18, 2020


desk lamp!


May 15, 2020

….Africa’s third longest. ;-_) World’s fifth largest island..
Eμὲν οὖν οὕτως ἔχειν.–.-`.–.\καὶ δεῖ πιστεύειν: ἃ δὲ lard
stδύνειν τὸν ἥλιον ἐν.–.-` ;-_- –\νίτιδι καὶμετὰ ψόφουilla
oy σίζοντος discharg.–.-` ;-_.–._.( λάγους κατὰ σβέσιν se
barr– .τοῖς πολλο .–.-` ;-_.–.- -. \ μοίως εἴρηκεν, está
iendo las migaja .–.-` ;-_.–.- -_.. -‘) a cruzar la acera.
ταῦτα μὲν οὖ.–.-` ;-_.–.- -_.. -‘-|C i rιν ἐξ ἀκος
ῖς καὶ χυδαίz – ————————-bsairν δεσμὸν ε
….ὶ τὰ σύμπg…………………………………G rτοῦ πελάγους
ν ὑπάρχονG…………………………………..G iαλαττίῳο
Ποσειδ e……………………………………..zv aσίζοντος

χολὴ μέλαινα

May 14, 2020

Hippocrates, Aphorisms 22 / English:

νοσημάτων ὁκόσων ἀρχομένων, ἢν χολὴ μέλαινα ἢ ἄνω ἢ κάτω ὑπέλθῃ, θανάσιμον.

What is bile again? According to wikipedia, it is composed of:

(97–98)% water, 0.7% bile salts, 0.2% bilirubin, 0.51% fats (cholesterol, fatty acids, and lecithin), and 200 meq/l inorganic salts. The two main pigments of bile are bilirubin, which is orange–yellow, and its oxidised form biliverdin, which is green. When mixed, they are responsible for the brown color of feces.

(No kidding orange and green do make brown.) Word is from Latin but beyond that obscure.

Dévergondage d’esprit

May 13, 2020

dévergondage d’esprit:

Dimier pensait que les grandes passions étaient la source du génie ! Je pense que c’est l’imagination seule, ou bien, ce qui revient au même, cette délicatesse d’organes qui fait voir là où les autres ne voient pas, et qui fait voir d’une façon différente. Je disais même que les grandes passions jointes à l’imagination conduisent le plus souvent au dévergondage d’esprit, et Dufresne dit une chose fort juste : que ce qui faisait l’homme extraordinaire était radicalement une manière tout à fait propre à lui de voir les choses. [*]

Genius is a way of seeing, not of passionate feeling, which latter more often leads to “devrondage.” Very interesting, from the same entry: “Je remarque maintenant que mon esprit n’est jamais plus excité à produire que quand il voit une médiocre production sur un sujet qui me convient.”

It’s easier to fix something that’s wrong that to envision, from scratch, something good — or the mediocre as an aid to imagination and seeing.