The Experience of Montaigne

Montaigne was the greatest essayist. Here’s the best bit from his best (and possibly last) essay, ‘On experience’. This is as good as it gets.

We are great fools. “He has passed his life in idleness,” say we: “I have done nothing to-day.” What? have you not lived? that is not only the fundamental, but the most illustrious, of your occupations. “Had I been put to the management of great affairs, I should have made it seen what I could do.” “Have you known how to meditate and manage your life? you have performed the greatest work of all.” In order to show and develop herself, nature needs only fortune; she equally manifests herself in all stages, and behind a curtain as well as without one. Have you known how to regulate your conduct, you have done a great deal more than he who has composed books. Have you known how to take repose, you have done more than he who has taken empires and cities.

Carmen Lawrence on living in a (small) city

Carmen Lawrence’s piece on being among the heritage buildings of Fremantle will be of interest to anyone who has ever for a moment thought about their experience of being in a city – of any size.

People do not simply look out over a landscape and say, “this belongs to me” they say, “I belong to this”. Concern for familiar topography for the places one knows is not about the loss of a commodity but about the loss of identity. People belong in the world; it gives them a home.

Dr Lawrence was Premier of Western Australia, and later also Chair of the Australian Heritage Council.

I put this paper on my Fremantle Stuff site, but was asked by the copyright holder (the Fremantle History Society) to take it down, because they wanted to sell the hard copies.

Douglas Hofstadter on machine translation

One sometimes comes across some piece of writing that perfectly encapsulates something, and there should be a way to keep such things where they can readily be found.

A ‘pillow book’ used to be such a thing.  Now I suppose it’s a blog.

I can’t remember how I arrived at this piece by the legendary (to me, anyway) Douglas Hofstadter on machine translation, but I want to record the source here.

From my point of view, there is no fundamental reason that machines could not, in principle, someday think, be creative, funny, nostalgic, excited, frightened, ecstatic, resigned, hopeful, and, as a corollary, able to translate admirably between languages. There’s no fundamental reason that machines might not someday succeed smashingly in translating jokes, puns, screenplays, novels, poems, and, of course, essays like this one. But all that will come about only when machines are as filled with ideas, emotions, and experiences as human beings are. And that’s not around the corner. Indeed, I believe it is still extremely far away.

ABC bad taste

I’ve been remonstrating about this for years without anyone even expressing likemindedness, let alone doing something about it.  But here I go again.

It’s about ABCTV.  I only watch one or two programs on broadcast a week, so I don’t know if this crassness is present everywhere. What I can tell you is that when the show I’ve been watching has barely finished – the last words of dialogue have only just been said, and the end music and credits have only just started to roll – when this otherwise-unemployable actor’s voice comes on – quite a lot louder than program, and therefore in-your-face/ear – and not only makes a comment in a few very loud and clear words about what you have just watched, but also tells you what you will watch next time, and also what the next show is.

What this tells us is that the ABC thinks that we are completely insensitive, we have no need to process what we have just seen (which in some cases is actually art), and that we desperately need to be told not to switch off, and to keep watching the next show, and to stay around for the following program. And that’s all that matters: that we keep ingesting whatever is broadcast, whenever.

The result – for anyone with any sensitivity whatsoever – is that we simply don’t watch the ABC at all.  If we want to view the programs being broadcast, we obtain them by some other means.

Not only that, but we no longer support the ABC politically. Because if it’s that vulgar, it’s not worth supporting.

I am told that the otherwise-unemployable actor’s name is Adrian Mulraney. I am trying not to hold it against him personally, but I hope I never meet him and have to try to be polite to him.

Amanda Redman’s left arm

Just before starting to watch the last episode of The Good Karma Hospital, I was starting to develop the idea of using Amanda Redman’s left arm as a metaphor for … just about everything about The Meaning of Life. Only to find that the scriptwriters had the same idea. And they used it.

Good afternoon

‘Good afternoon’, ‘good morning’, and ‘good evening’ are ways the middle class have of identifying themselves to each other. They also keep hoi polloi at a distance when so addressed.

The Lion King

I’m one of the last people in the world to see The Lion King – or at least the first ten minutes of it. Plus – trust me – apart from it being a Disney film, I did not know what kind of thing it was.

I happened to visit Disneyland in 1997 when they were still promoting the film in street parades, so I knew it was some kind of big deal – I just didn’t know what kind.

It started off looking like a nature doco, with real animals (that’s how good the animation is) until I quickly realised that not even David Attenborough can get that cosy with wild animals.

And then someone started singing something repetitious, and I found I was a watching … an animated musical.

I was still quite impressed with the production values … until quite a bit of the dialog got going – and the enterprise bogged down into treacly Disney values – wholesome, sentimental stuff … at least on the surface.

Having discovered what TLK was about, I could gratefully switch it off and write this instead. …

I’m still impressed with the animation, but 🙂

The King

Night before last I watched (most of) The King, which is based on Henry IV Parts 1 and 2,  and Henry V, but without Shakespeare’s dialogue, and wanted to ask “Why was this film made? We didn’t need it. It’s pointless.”
To which you could reply, “You didn’t have to watch it.”

Treat or Trick

1800, 31 October 2019

Treat or Trick—that’s American foreign policy: give us what we want (world domination) or we’ll fuck you over.

I’m an Australian. We do not have a cultural tradition of observing Halloween. It is being imposed on us (mainly by commercial organisations taking yet another opportunity to try to sell us stuff we don’t need).

Treat or trick, in our streets, is a local version of global American imperialism.

Resist!

See less Salinger

Having posted recently in Facebook so as to leave little doubt that J.D. Salinger was my ‘favourite’ author, I am now having to revise my opinion. I actually read Seymour: An Introduction all the way through (it’s a ‘novella’). It took three sessions.

I discovered (again, by the way) that the more I read about ‘Seymour’, the less I knew (or, more to the point, cared). His name is like a Zen koan. ‘Seymour Glass’. The more you try to see into him, the less you see, because you see right through him: ‘he’ is a glass window.

The case of his creator is not so different. Oh, you do learn a little about Salinger: his interest in oriental thought and art, and Zen Buddhism in particular, but he uses language partly as a barrier behind which to conceal himself.

Language – writing – is finally all you do get from this ‘Introduction’. It’s actually about the New Yorker (which even gets a mention along the way, no not by name). The piece is not much more than ‘something written for publication in the magazine’. It is the New Yorker style. Not much more than that.