How to make Achilles furious
1:56 pm | This morning, I’ve been “skimming” over Lawrence’s essay, Human Excellence in Character and Intellect. I have to skim through most of it, because it’s largely a summary, and frankly, I can tell just by glimpsing some of the phrases here and there that if I paid too much attention to it that it would start to make me stupid. In any case, this will be the last of my readings by Lawrence on my “to read” list.
There’s a couple points worth taking note of, however.
◊ Note 1: Aristotle’s DOM, Doctrine of the Mean, is just basically what “sophrosune” is — despite its fancy label. In other words, it’s just very plainly “sensitivity,” and it’s actually nothing new. It’s as old as the notion of sophrosune is old. And it really is as old as the Spartan maxim, “Nothing in excess” is old. I don’t know why Aristotle gets so much attention for it by his commentators, as if he had invented something new. It makes me wonder what could possibly be behind the enthusiasm of his commentators — are they racist, just as Obama’s supporters were racist? I just don’t get it. In any case, I think that Aristotle explains it very badly, and that this influence is why his commentators have blindly led nations of people into the Dark Ages of Europe.
◊ Note 2: Aristotle says that emotions are “objects of choice and practical deliberation.” (p.435) Lawrence finds this problematic. He worries that “it can seem implausible to suppose we work out what to feel so as to choose, or decide, to feel it.” (p.435) He attempts an explanation to make this easier to swallow. Lawrence writes: “So emotions, like actions, come, in a proper adult, to exist in this space — as expressions of full, or strict, character, imbued with value. In that sense a relationship of adult love is something worked at, and the work of much nice judgment.” (p.436) And then he writes a bit of this and that, working up a mess for himself. In the end, finding himself unable to make a conclusive defense on behalf of Aristotle, he weakly offers this (with clearly unedited grammar): “All this but a taste of our perplexity here, yet again suggesting that we need more understanding of Aristotle’s view, and the topic itself, before it can be ruled out of court.” (p.436)
I find that both he and Aristotle puzzle over nothing, and I find Lawrence’s attempt at an explanation to be boorish. No doubt, it’s not Lawrence’s own fault, but rather it’s due to one of the effects of over-consumption of the Aristotelian logos. (It’s not Aristotle’s principles that are mainly the problem — for some of these are shared with Socrates and Plato. Aristotle’s unique problem are his accounts. They’re just bad reasoning. If I have to spend my entire lifetime proving and showing how ridiculous Aristotle’s rationale is, then I shall do it. My life, and the life of other Kendi’s, shall be greatly enhanced in quality when Aristotle’s authority is forever broken and destroyed.)
It’s quite simple. One need only look to Homer’s Iliad, to the scene at lines 552-570 in Book 24, where Achilles warns Priam not to anger him by attempting to make bargains with him or to otherwise attempt to bribe him into doing what is just. (And if you make him mad, he’ll just rip up your money into shreds and cast it to the four winds, you know.)
Homer speaks (in Robert Fagles eloquent translation):
A dark glance–and the headstrong runner answered,
“No more, old man, don’t tempt by wrath, not now!
My own mind’s made up to give you back your son.”
The simplest account to explain Aristotle’s totally unoriginal advice is simply this: know yourself, so that you can avoid being placed into situations that you know will clearly rile up your rage. And that’s all it means. It doesn’t mean to choose or control your emotions. That obviously doesn’t make any sense. It just means to navigate well (or perhaps give warnings to others, as Achilles has done) so that you can help yourself by trying to avoid situations where you are highly likely to become wronged, offended, furious, etc. Granted, it’s not always possible to avoid all such situations. But you can do what you can, and you can at least avoid some of the unnecessary ones.
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8:27 pm | It’s funny. I’ve obviously read all of these articles as an undergrad. But as I’m going back and reading some of them, I don’t feel as though I’ve read them at all.
The problem, I think, is that normally I take a long time to read things. But as an undergrad (trying to complete the course requirements for two majors) I had to read everything more quickly than I would have liked because assignments were due. At my own preferred pace, I can spend an entire week reading a 30-page essay (if it’s a particularly good or interesting one). I take so long because I don’t just read it; I eat eat. I pick it apart, and analyze it as I go. I argue with it, I play with it, I get angry at it, I laugh at it, and I even dream about it — as if the essay were alive somehow, as if the essay were a living person who was a guest in my life for a week. I read a paragraph or a sentence, and then spend a whole day writing about it. I have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with it.
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9:57 pm | Revisiting these essays, I’ve come to the realization that I know absolutely nothing about Europe and of the people who have populated it for thousands and thousands, and thousands, of years.
Despite my ignorance in such matters, sentences like these are so interesting to me for some reason: “Here we may be tempted to discern the shape of Gallus staring at us in negative outline from the shape created by the surrounding jigsaw pieces on the board. First, we can guess that the possibilities of the poetry book were explored by Gallus more fully than in the work of any previous poet of love. Secondly, we may conjecture that his poetry was both poetologically ambitious and allotted a key and unifying role to his mistress Lycoris.” (Gallus: The First Roman Love Elegist, p.181)
I try, but I cannot even fathom what I don’t know.
It’s so easily talked about by those who already possess it. It’s what the cultural elite have, that the poor peasants lack. Those who lack it the most, hunger for it the most. It is this intense yet mysterious craving that draws us out into the world in search of the knowledge that would constitute ourselves. This behavior is blind, instinctive, and masterful — like the rooting reflex that drives us to search for the nourishing tit.