B

BABIES

Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child, and children are human (if one allows the term ‘human’ a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby; and babies of course are not human – they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates.
In short, babies have minds which work in terms and categories of their own, which cannot be translated into the terms and categories of the human mind.
It is true they look human – but not so human, to be fair, as many monkeys…

Hughes, Richard, A High Wind in Jamaica (Penguin), 110.

1/91

BABY see EMOTION IN INFANT, 1979

BACON’S IDOLS

The renewed assault in Part I of the New Organon on the ‘Idols’ or ‘false notions’ that hinder the progress of knowledge is Bacon’s most original contribution to the philosophy of the sciences.  First Bacon examines what he calls the Idols of the Tribe, the ineradicable limitations of human intelligence and perceptual capacity that lead us to misinterpret the world.  Next he turns to the Idols of the Cave, by which he means the individual defects of education and prejudice that further ‘refract and discolour the light of nature.’  He then considers the Idols of the Marketplace, his way of referring to the disorienting power of language to ‘overrule the understanding’ and give rise to ’empty controversies and idle fancies’.  He ends with the Idols of the Theatre, at which point he makes clear his radical scepticism about all existing systems of knowledge.  Taken together, he concludes, these systems provide us with nothing better than ‘so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion’. …
The solution… [is] a method of ‘true induction’ derived from ‘natural and experimental histories’…. The initial task of the Scientist, like that of the historian, should be to assemble as much evidence is possible about some given subject-matter with a minimum of ‘premature speculation’ about its significance.  … Then… exclude irrelevant information… and thereby build up a positive picture of the nature or ‘form’ of the phenomenon under investigation.  The eventual aim is to use this process of induction to arrive at a number of axioms or generalisations about the causes of the given phenomenon and its expected behaviour.

Bacon, Francis, summarised by Quentin Skinner, New York Review of Books, 4 November 1999, 53.

6/2000

BAFFLEMENT

‘Now, little Edward, say why so:
My little Edward, tell me why.’
‘I cannot tell, I do not know.’
‘Why, this is strange,’ said I.

Wordsworth, “Anecdote for Fathers”.

11/91

BANANA

[A] friend of [Orwell’s], while living in the Far East, smoked several pipes of opium every night, and every night a single phrase rang in his ear, which contained the whole secret of the universe; but in his euphoria he could not be bothered to write it down and by the morning it was gone. One night he managed to jot down the magic phrase after all, and in the morning he read: ‘The banana is big, but its skin is even bigger.” [Koestler is discussing his own false insights through Psilocybin.]

Koestler, Arthur, Drinkers of Infinity (Hutchinson, 1968), 210-11.

9/91

BAPTISM

Baptism: a spiritual sheep-dip.

Grigg, John, in The Wit’s Dictionary (Angus and Robertson, Australia, 1984).

1/97

BEACHCOMBING see SEARCHING, 5/11

BEARD see MARX, 2/98

BEAUTY

Never joy illumed my brow
Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
This world from its dark slavery…

Shelley, from ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’.

1985

BEAUTY

About Art I always tell myself: while they are watching the firework display yclept Beauty, you must smuggle the truth into their veins like a filter-passing virus!  [Pursewarden is writing.  See also p. 142 – Art as a Masseur.]

Durrell, Lawrence, Clea (Faber), 138.

12/87

BEAUTY

Though we travel the world over to find beauty we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Emerson, Essays, xii, “Art”.

7/87

BEAUTY

Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour.  Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.

de la Mare, Walter, from ‘Fare Well’, in Palgrave 1954.

7/98

BEAUTY

Beauty itself doth of itself persuade
The eyes of men without an orator.

Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, I. 29.

8/99

BEAUTY

[When we see a beautiful thing, our own importance is diminished:] It is not that we cease to stand at the centre of the world, for we never stood there.  It is that we cease to stand even at the centre of our own world.  We willingly cede the ground to the thing that stands before us.

Scarry, Elaine, On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton, 1999), quoted London Review of Books, 22 June 2000, 24,

7/2000

BEAUTY AND MYSTERY

Kant said that the judgement of taste is not ‘based on concepts’, by which he meant that no description, however detailed, can ever prove that something is beautiful (unless it has already smuggled in a reference to beauty): ‘There can be no rule according to which anyone is to be forced to recognise anything as beautiful.’  He was right, but not for the reasons he gave.  He was right because judgement does not come at the end of our interaction with beautiful things.  It is not a report on their features or the feelings they have provoked, it is a guess which might be wrong, an intimation that what stands before us is valuable in ways we don’t yet understand.  We find things beautiful – in nature, people or art – when we sense we haven’t exhausted them, and our eyes, as Nietzsche wrote about artists, ‘remain fixed on what remains veiled, even after the unveiling’.  The value of beauty is questionable because we never know in advance whether what still remains veiled is beautiful or ugly, worthy of our efforts to find it or not.  Beauty is the enemy of certainty.

Nehamas, Alexander, London Review of Books, 22 June 2000, 26.

7/2000

BEAUTY AND SYMMETRY

The beauty of a star-shaped figure – a hexagonal star, say – is impaired if we regard it as symmetrical relatively to a given axis.

Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 71e.

1979

BEAUTY AND USEFULNESS

When one encourages the beautiful alone, and another encourages the useful alone, its takes them both to form a man.  The useful encourages itself; for the multitude produce it, and no one can dispense with it: the beautiful must be encouraged; for few can set it forth, and many need it.

Goethe, Wilhelm Meister (Carlyle’s translation, Collier, New York, 1962), 494.

10/93

BEAUTY see CONTENTMENT, 4/86

BEGINNER’S MIND

You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.

Stevens, Wallace, from “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction”.

4/99

BEHAVIOUR, ‘HARVARD LAW’ OF ANIMAL

In carefully controlled laboratory conditions, animals do what they damned well please.

Stewart, Ian (cited by), New Scientist, 30 November 1996.

12/96

BEING AS ACT see ACT AND BEING, 3/88

BELIEFS

It is not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.

Robbins, Anthony, Awakening the Giant within (Simon and Schuster, 1992), 76.

1/93

BELIEVING

The empiricist… thinks he believes all he sees, but he is much better at believing that seeing.

Santayana, George, in Marcus Mendez’ quotes pamphlet, Out of the Blue, December 1992.  Ashvajit has.

7/94

BELONGING

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh & exciting —
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

Oliver, Mary, from ‘Wild Geese’.

12/03

BEST, THE, RESPONDING TO

When we take people merely as they are, we make them worse; when we treat them as if they were what they should be, we improve them as far as they can be improved.

Goethe, Wilhelm Meister (Carlyle’s translation, Collier, New York, 1962), 477.

10/93

BEULAH

Death is the veil which those who live call life;
They sleep, and it is lifted, and meanwhile
In mild variety the seasons mild
With rainbow-skirted showers, and odorous winds,
And long blue meteors cleansing the dull night,
And the life-kindling shafts of the keen sun’s
All-piercing bow, and the dew-mingled rain
Of the calm moon beams, a soft influence mild,
Shall clothe the forests and the fields, aye, even
The crag-built deserts of the barren deep,
With ever-living leaves, and fruits, and flowers.  [Earth speaking.]

Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, iii, 3, 108.

9/87

BIBLE

Why does this huge, sprawling, tactless book sit there inscrutably in the middle of our cultural heritage like the ‘great Boyg’ or sphinx in Peer Gynt, frustrating all our efforts to walk around it?

Frye, Northrop, The Great Code (1982, introduction).

10/2000

BIRDS

And small birds fly in and out
Of the world of man.

Auden, WH, ‘The Riddle’, quoted in Alec Guinness, A Commonplace Book (Hamish Hamilton, 2001), 113.

9/04

BIRTH, EXPERIENCE OF

[A description of what it feels like to be born.  A frantic ‘I must have’ answered with sedation. …  He knows he must be awake, but can’t manage it.  Like a drowning kitten.]

Lessing, Doris, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 126.

1981

BLAKE see OLD MAN’S INSPIRATION, 7/98

BLANKNESS

No one can perceive blankness… the eye is forced to create shapes as the mouth to form words.

Ackroyd, Peter, Chatterton (Penguin, 1987), 154.

7/94

BLINDNESS

[See]

Milton, Paradise Lost, (iii) 26.

1984

BLINDNESS AND TELEVISION see TELEVISION, 2/98

BLINDNESS see VISION, INWARD, 7/87

BODY

… You climb through the physical body, softly parting the muscle-schemes to admit you – muscle striped and unstriped; you examine the coil ignition of the guts in the abdomen, the sweetbreads, the liver choked with refuse like a sink-filter, the bag of urine, the red unbuckled belt of the intestines, the soft horny corridor of the oesophagus, the glottis with its mucilage softer than the pouch of a kangaroo.  What do I mean?  You are searching for a co-ordinating scheme, the syntax of a Will which might stabilise everything and take the tragedy out of it. … [etc., etc..  Then excrement, then the lovers’ internal organs. …  The novelist Pursewarden, drunk, is speaking.]

Durrell, Lawrence, Justine (Faber), 140-41.

5/87

BODY

You say ‘I’ and you are proud of this word.  But greater than this – although you will not believe in it – is your body and its great intelligence, which does not say ‘I’ but performs ‘I’.
What the sense feels, what the spirit perceives, is never an end in itself.  But sense and spirit would like to persuade you that they are the end of all things: they are as vain as that.
… behind them still lies the self…
I do not go your way, you despisers of the body.  You are not bridges to the Superman.

Nietzsche, Zarathustra, “Of the Despisers of the Body”.

4/98

BODY see ACT AND BEING, 3/88

BODY, THE

… that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. [Body]

Shakespeare, Richard II, Richard speaking.

5/03

BOEHME

His [Boehme’s] books are like a picnic to which the author brings the words and the reader the meaning. [Quoted, unattributed, by Frye.]

Frye, Northrop, Fearful Symmetry (Princeton University Press, 1947, 1969 edition), 427.

10/2000

BOOK

An empty book is like an infant’s soul, in which anything may be written. It is capable of all things, but containeth nothing. I have a mind to fill this with profitable wonders.

Traherne, Thomas, In Geoffrey Grigson, O Rare Mankind (Phoenix House Ltd, London, 1963).

10/98

BOOK see READING, 5/87

BOOK, WORLD AS see WORLD’S MARGINALIA, 11/01

BOOKS

A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit embalmed and treasured up on purpose to life beyond life.

Milton, in Great Quotations (Readers Digest, 1978) 8.

8/99

BOOKS

I love to lose myself in other men’s minds.  When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think.  Books think for me.

Lamb, Charles, in Great Quotations (Readers Digest, 1978) 9.

9/99

BOREDOM

[In the preface to ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ (a poem), Baudelaire describes Man’s basic evil, which would be worse except the soul isn’t strong (hardie) enough.  He ends:]
In our heinous zoo of sins …
There’s one more hideous, evil, obscene!
Though it makes no great gesture, no great cry,
It would lay waste the earth quite willingly
And in a yawn engulf creation.
Boredom!  its eyes with tears unwilling shine,
It dreams of scaffolds, smoking a cheroot [actually hookah]
Reader, you know this monster delicate,
– Double-faced reader, – kinsman, – brother mine!’
[Later (in the poem ‘Spleen’):
…  Nothing is so long as the halting hours,
When burdened by the snowfall of the years,
Boredom, the fruit of dismal apathy,
Takes the proportions of eternity…

Baudelaire, Richardson translation (Penguin).

1985

BOREDOM

In each man’s foul menagerie of sin –//
There’s one more damned than all.  He never gambols,
Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn,
Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles
And swallow up existence with a yawn…//
Boredom!  He smokes his hookah while he dreams
Of Gibbets, weeping tears he cannot smother.
You know this dainty monster, too, it seems –
Hypocrite reader!  – You!  – My twin!  – My brother!

Baudelaire, Charles, from ‘To the Reader’, Roy Campbell’s translation, in The Penguin Book of Unrespectable Verse, 176.

4/97

BOREDOM

Now the great and fatal fruit of our civilisation, which is civilisation based on knowledge, and hostile to experience, is boredom. All our wonderful education and learning is producing a grand sum-total of boredom. Modern people are inwardly thoroughly bored. Do as they may, they are bored.
They are bored because they experience nothing. And they experience nothing because the wonder has gone out of them. And when the wonder has gone out of a man he is dead. He is henceforth only an insect.

Lawrence, D H, ‘Hymns in a Man’s Life’, in Assorted Articles.

2/02

BOREDOM see INEFFECTIVENESS, 5/98

BORES

[Edith Sitwell describes intellectual soirees in a house in 1840s London.  One of Mr George Combe’s monologues (writes his host)] made his presence a wholesome sedative to our spirits.  It did not surprise us, sometimes, when his devoted wife dropped asleep in the middle of his discourses, her head in a reverent attitude of attention.

Sitwell, Edith, English Eccentrics (Penguin, 1971, first edition 1933), 310.

10/86

BOURGEOISIE see TRAGEDY, 8/01

BRANCHES see AGEING, 7/92  BREVITY see  WRITING, BREVITY IN, 2/08

BREAM, DUTIFUL see FADING, 4/94

BROWNING

[Chesterton likened Browning’s utterance to] a strange animal walking backwards who flourishes his tail with such energy that everyone takes it for his head.  He was… more or less incapable of telling a story without telling the least important thing first.

Chesterton, G K, quoted A. N. Wilson, Daily Telegraph, 23 July 2001, 21.

7/01

BUDDHA NATURE

…  All living beings are from the very beginning Buddhas. Instead of regarding ourselves as descendants of monkeys or as servants of God (though in one’s sense it may be true), the great thing is to spur ourselves on by deepening our awakening of self, faith in self, respect for self.

Sessan (c.1930), in Leggett, Trevor, A First Zen Reader (Tuttle), 78.

10/84

BULLFIGHTER see DEATH, 7/92

BYRON

When Byron’s eyes were shut in death,
We bowed our head and held our breath.
He taught us little: but our soul
Had felt him like the thunder’s roll.

Arnold, Matthew, quoted in the introduction to A S B Glover’s selection of Byron (Penguin, 1954).

11/89

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