Sunday, April 13, 2014

Double Decker red blend -- and Barzun's paragraph

I am no longer sure whether red blends really are all the rage, or whether salesmen tell me that because they know I got to liking red blends when they were all the rage.

This one is very nice, too. Brought to you by the Wente family, who make the Food Network's Entwine. Retail, about $12.

Now I must share with you a summation of a very interesting paragraph from a book I have owned for years, but that I have never read through because it's very deep and difficult. It has what the author himself, when he is talking about great books, calls "thickness," that is, not physical inches of paper but complexity of ideas and associations per page. "A physically thin volume can thus be 'thick,' " he says.

This particular book is Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present -- 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, published in 2000 when the author was no less than 93 years old. (Hear us Lord: we want to be like him.) Somewhere in the midst of it -- I brought it to work so I can dip into it on my lunch breaks -- he writes that profound self-consciousness is a characteristic of the modern age. No one can be self-conscious all the time, all during the conscious day; this is why antiquity advised "know thyself," precisely because it was a task, not a state of being. For its part the Church also demanded some self-consciousness, in the form of pondering one's sins, seeking absolution, and doing penance. But only the modern age came up with the practice of what Barzun labels "secular self-consciousness." This is the contemplating of one's thoughts and emotions, endlessly, with the same thoroughness that scientists at the dawn of the modern age were applying to plant life or gross anatomy, but without those disciplines' ability to find facts. All we can find in ourselves are endless plausibilities, because our thoughts and emotions will always bear some connections to some interpretations of some circumstances in our lives some of the time. In the margin of this one paragraph, which is shorter, better done, and "thicker" than the one I write here, I scribbled my distillation. "Endless navel-gazing leads to plausibility, not truth."    

I don't know if you will agree with me but I found Barzun's paragraph carries possibilities of liberation. Someone once said to me kindly, at a time when a life crisis of mine was becoming a bit threadbare, "at some point you have to stop contemplating." That was true, but Barzun's paragraph explains why, technically. It's not that you should leave real inner problems unprobed and unsolved. Self consciousness is a part of life, although women, especially, tend to brood. But, done endlessly so that it becomes a state of being, -- it won't get you to the truth. Perhaps we grasp this, weakly, when we yearn after the frustrations of "closure."

The great Jacques Barzun died in October, 2012, at the age of 104, about a month shy of his 105th birthday (hear us Lord). Of his many, many books, I have read only two or three. Which means that I should properly never lack for something to do, even if I live to be ... well, you understand.   

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