Stupid Amazon. A while back I said you could see the exact page I was talking about in David Brin’s book Earth, which turns out to be totally wrong, since Amazon’s scheme causes its Search-Inside-The-Book links to expire. Crap. If you want to see the exact page you have to pick page 285 from this link.
Something made me want to read about Thomas Carlyle, maybe the Victorian Prophets intro I read last week? Whatever, both Wikipedia and Britannica have pretty good articles on him (Wikipedia: 1500 words; Britannica: 1900 words).
A thought about archives. I searched a digital archive at work today and noticed its oldest documents went back to 1998 and 1999. Noticing that, I meta-noticed how old those documents seemed. Five or six years feels at once like nothing—my life has changed little in that time; my sense of the ambient culture, likewise—and somehow epochal. For example, Google did not exist at all six years ago, and “Bushies” meant “Australian outback types” or didn’t mean anything, but Massive Attack was still cool.
A well-maintained future archive may hold fifty years of documents, as well as a whole lot of other digitized stuff. The thought I had was, How old will stuff from 1999 seem in a fifty-year archive?
One quick distinction between “pop” culture and “high” culture—note scare quotes and some smirking—concerns necessary effort. To appreciate that theme song from Friends in whatever way—it’s cheerful fun; it’s trite babbling; it’s not much; it’s another little piece of my heart—requires no sustained effort. Any response to it happens instantly, modified only by repetition.
I want to write «“The Time of Your Life”». The 3000-word idea is good; the introductory paragraph (“193 words into this essay, now 200”) is good.
The first time I figured the 60-second minutes in a 60-minute hour added up to 3,600 seconds, it was too abstract to register; as was the calculation that a 24-hour day of 3,600-second hours totaled 86,400 seconds. It was correct but unconnected to anything else and so forgotten.
The next time I considered the matter, I wanted to know how many seconds were in a year. Straightforward multiplication immediately told me the answer was 31,536,000, or thirty-odd million seconds, but the number meant almost nothing to me, which set me to wondering how I could say, “Okay, now I understand,” when plainly I did not, and then I wondered whether I understood it at all. What did a figure like thirty million really mean?
Simple counting in games such as hide-and-seek made me comfortable with 60-second minutes. Of a 60-second minute, I could say confidently, “I understand this.” Even five minutes, 300 seconds, was graspable almost immediately, but a tenfold jump to 3,000 seconds?—what was that? Fifty minutes? It was correct but made no sense. Fifty, yes. Three thousand, no. And so here was a distinct mark to consider: the jump to thousands stopped making sense. I never counted into the thousands—nobody did. It would take far too long to do. The number was too far from my direct experience to really feel in the same way I could feel the seconds in a minute, each ticking individually toward the time I could seek or somebody could seek me.
Essay title: «“Big Pictures, Long Runs, and Weltanshauungs”».
Wondered about the attribution of the “necessary to invent it if it didn’t already exist” trope; thought it was Voltaire; turned out to be Voltaire. Good one, François-Marie!
Today is Mother’s Day, and I’ve done nothing; no call, no card, no email, nada. I am the big suck. Still, at least I didn’t die on Mother’s Day, as Alan King did. ’Course, he died at 76, so his mother’s probably not around.
Yesterday while talking with Andrew I made a synecdoche between all the conventional social behavior I dislike and “prom”; that is, “prom” stands for everything in contemporary “normal” activity that I, well, hate’s probably not too strong a word for it. As a plus, “prom” actively sounds bad to me; it’s ugly just as a word, with some of the same ring as “pompous” or “dumb” or “lame.”
Usage: Balancing a checkbook is so prom. Yuck.
The thing to write is still «”The Time of Your Life.”»
In the time of your life live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior to no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
And a nonsexist rewrite:
In the time of your life live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior to no one, nor of any one be the superior. Remember that every one is a variation of yourself. No one’s guilt is not yours, nor is any one’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not folk of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
William Saroyan wrote this paragraph as a preface to his 1939 play The Time of Your Life, which Seattle Repertory Theatre put on 020040212-0307. Saroyan also wrote the short story “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” which sounded too catchy to have been his own title, and is not; it’s from an 1867 British music-hall song.
In the late 1980s David Brin wrote a book called Earth, published in 1990, which I eventually read last fall. It’s a pretty good book, and today I remembered a scene in it where a main character, a biologist-cum-mother-figure, instructs a filter program to randomize part of her news to prevent herself from imposing too much order on her awareness. Amazon, bless ’em, along with Brin’s publisher I guess, had the text available and searchable, so I found the exact passage I’d remembered in pretty short order. The remarkable thing, though, is that I found it while the book itself is some thousands of meters away in my room, while I'm here busily at work . . . well . . . you know.
Finished John Seely Brown’s Storytelling interview with Seth Kahan. In it, he talks about mutually contradictory assumptions as underliers (he doesn’t say that, exactly). Does Brown know the work of Isaiah Berlin? And as far as the question “What is the pond the ripple is on?” . . . my goodness.
Speaking of Berlin, here’s a facsimile of a typed letter to Edmund Wilson 019591130 with a note about Pasternak’s Zhivago. I wonder whether Wilson replied; I can check at home later.
Usage note: replace the damnably wrong phrase “is comprised of” with the slim, smart-sounding word “comprises” and not only will you look smart—anybody who says “is comprised of” instead of “is composed of” must hope to look smart, is my reading—you will be right, which is nice, too.