One of the nice things about growing older is that you lose some of the inhibitions about admitting you haven’t read a particular writer. One of the less nice things is that your tastes can become a bit ossified and (internally) predictable.

All of which is prelude to saying that I haven’t read the works of Henry Miller, and up to now he he has been a writer I wasn’t terribly interested in reading. Why did I have this prejudice (a literal pre-judging)? I guess what I had read about did not incline me to read more, and in my mind he was conflated with  a certain rather self-conscious American-in-Paris literary pose which grates. Not very edifying on my part, although I do suspect that all our literary tastes have such not very reasonable lacunae.

However recently I have been reading the wonderful blog of Lee Watkins and his discussions / summaries of some of Miller’s work.  The highest praise one can surely give to a literary blog is that it makes you want to read the works featured, and in Watkins’ case it is even better – he makes me want to read a writer that not only I have not read, but one I would not have thought I would ever want to read.

This post by Watkins encapsulates what is it about Miller (or, more properly, what Watkins captures about Miller) that attracts: a commitment to truth and an awareness of his own flaws:

Occasionally people will ask about Henry Miller: was he even a real writer? Wasn’t he a fraud who fooled the world into believing he was the real thing?

Miller’s books are, on the one hand, like nothing else that had ever come before: sprawling and spiralling things without beginning middle or end, so that nothing he wrote could ever be called a “novel” or even really an “autobiography”. Miller found himself unable to write a story and so he played to his strengths and created his own way of expressing himself in writing.

On the other hand, Miller’s books can seem derivative of the avant-garde that had arrived long before him – Dada and Surrealism, for example – so that you could ask yourself: What did Henry Miller really contribute as an artist?

Miller’s books speak to me directly as almost no other writing does. And so I know that Miller was the real thing. But it’s interesting to see that Miller doubted himself as much as his critics did.

He knew that he was capable of lies and fraud, and he spent a lot of time bluffing his way through life before he succeeded as a writer, as we see in his “Rosy Crucifixion” trilogy (SexusPlexus, and Nexus).

The elevator attendant in Chapter 7 of Nexus is bizarrely rude to Henry. We wonder what exactly his problem is. Still, it’s strange to see Henry march back up to him and confront him with “Why do you hate me?” It seems like a sure way to start a fight.

But the encounter is quite revealing. The elevator attendant, a war veteran, has seen through him, he says. He knows a fake when he sees one, and literally has the scars to prove it. Henry is terrified and feels that the man has seen right into his soul

For all that Miller may have used tricks to get by – both in his writing and in his daily life, borrowing and stealing – we see throughout Nexus what it is that he really wants: to find the truth in himself and express it to the world. He is miserable for as long as he is forced to lie and pretend and play a part, and he has to become a writer not because of the expectations of others – since almost no-one expects him to succeed anyway – but because he must do it for himself, to raise himself up to a higher spiritual level. He needs to be able to tell the truth, and to live truthfully.

Miller’s books are an answer to a serious question he posed for himself, and answered truthfully as he could: Who am I? And because he struggled honestly, earnestly, and for so long with this question, a question we all ask ourselves from time to time, he was able, finally, to write books that are really worth reading.

Anyway, here is a Christmas with Henry Miller. I found this story moving for its very ordinariness, and also subverting my (and Watkins’) expectations about what a Christmas with Henry Miller might be like!

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Only love can break your heart. Only love can save you. Only love can damn you. Neil Young, Dante, Purgatorio, the power of love.

Only love can break your heart. Only love can save you. Only love can damn you. Neil Young, Dante, Purgatorio, the power of love.

I first discovered Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” via St Etienne’s version. If a “standard” can be defined as a song whose essence and meaning transcend the original recording (and whatever arrangement), very few rock songs do. By and large, there is a “definitive” version, usually the original. And since The Beatles, there has been a bias towards singers singing their own compositions as somehow more authentic than singing a song written by another.

Anyway, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is an exception to this rule. As the St Etienne version, there are a hosts of others from I Blame Coco to Rickie Lee Jones to Joe Dolan, most of which follow the Neil Young arrangement closely but many of which follow their own path. Here’s a Spotify playlist.

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” always struck me as a lyrically slightly undercooked song. , with a killer chorus but rather pedestrian verses.

But perhaps I am over intellectualising. Which is the appropriate segue to Canto 17 of Purgatorio from The Divine Comedy of Dante.

This Canto is the 51st of the 100 cantos of the Divine Comedy. The central cantos of each of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso expound the key themes of the whole poem, and as this is in the central section of the entire Comedy it is particularly rich.

Here, Virgil expounds to DAnte that all we do is motivated by love. All we do, good or bad. Virgil makes distinctions; between “natural love”, instilled in us and which cannot err, and “elective love”, which can. Here are lines 85-105

Ed elli a me: «L’amor del bene, scemo
del suo dover, quiritta si ristora;
qui si ribatte il mal tardato remo.

Ma perché più aperto intendi ancora,
volgi la mente a me, e prenderai
alcun buon frutto di nostra dimora».

«Né creator né creatura mai»,
cominciò el, «figliuol, fu sanza amore,
o naturale o d’animo; e tu ’l sai.

Lo naturale è sempre sanza errore,
ma l’altro puote errar per malo obietto
o per troppo o per poco di vigore.

Mentre ch’elli è nel primo ben diretto,
e ne’ secondi sé stesso misura,
esser non può cagion di mal diletto;

ma quando al mal si torce, o con più cura
o con men che non dee corre nel bene,
contra ’l fattore adovra sua fattura.

Quinci comprender puoi ch’esser convene
amor sementa in voi d’ogne virtute
e d’ogne operazion che merta pene.

Here is Longfellow’s translation, from Genius.Com:

And he to me: “The love of good, remiss
In what it should have done, is here restored;
Here plied again the ill-belated oar;

But still more openly to understand,
Turn unto me thy mind, and thou shalt gather
Some profitable fruit from our delay.

Neither Creator nor a creature ever,
Son,” he began, “was destitute of love
Natural or spiritual; and thou knowest it.

The natural was ever without error;
But err the other may by evil object,
Or by too much, or by too little vigour.

While in the first it well directed is,
And in the second moderates itself,
It cannot be the cause of sinful pleasure;

But when to ill it turns, and, with more care
Or lesser than it ought, runs after good,
‘Gainst the Creator works his own creation.

Hence thou mayst comprehend that love must be
The seed within yourselves of every virtue,
And every act that merits punishment.

Now, according to Genius.Com, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” was written by Young to console Graham Nash after he split with Joni Mitchell, although this is “something that Young himself hasn’t fully verified and have been tentative in admitting in interviews.”

It might be a stretch to read a direct reference to the Purgatorio here… well, a massive stretch. But listening to the song gave me a sudden insight into the truth of this canto. Dante’s thought is grounded in references to the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, but at its heart is the relatively (deceptively) simple assertion that love, sometimes misdirected love, is at the root of our actions (this love is not necessarily directed to a person, but can be to a cause, an idea, a material thing, one’s own selfish desires)

Another link between the song and this canto is the theme of sloth. Tardy, misguided love is what is being purified in Cantos 17 (and 18) of Purgatorio (perhaps appropriately, both cantos are dominated not by this purgation but by Virgil’s exposition on Love) And in the first verse, Young sings:

I was always thinking
Of games that I was playing
Trying to make
The best of my time

Before this, we have lines that remind one of the dark wood reached at the midpoint of life where the straight way was confused:

When you were young
And on your own
How did it feel
To be alone?

The second verse could be read as a plea against accidie:

I have a friend
I’ve never seen
He hides his head
Inside a dream
Someone should call him
And see if he can come out
Try to lose
The down that he’s found

The refrain:

only love
Can break your heart
Try to be sure
Right from the start
Yes only love
Can break your heart
What if your world
Should fall apart?

clearly states the power of love (negative and distressing as well as positive) There is the injunction, in vain like many of the pleas to the Florentines made by various characters throughout the Comedy, to “try to be sure/Right from the start” And the stakes are high : “What if your world/Should fall apart?”

I wonder how many other blog posts have referenced both Joe Dolan and Dante?

Gordon Hempton, One Square Inch of Silence, and the Philosophy of Silence

 

It is good to see Gordon Hempton and the One Square Inch of Silence project  getting some coverage. Hempton’s book is much the best of the series of search-for-silence books which have appeared in recent years, and which tend to find that silence is impossible to find, and more specifically that a respite from human generated industrial noise is impossible to find.

Many of these take refuge in a certain clever nihilism – a how-I-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-noise approach. Hempton’s book articulated an approach to silence rooted in what can best be called love. The author of the Crosscut article linked to above makes a point of registering her slight discomfort at the religious language Hempton uses at times to discuss his work.

 

This slight touchiness about anything smacking of the spiritual could be unfortunate (although in fairness the author is won over by Hempton’s enthusiasm) if it blinds to the power of Hempton’s vision. Perhaps the contrast with the other, relatively bland, search-for-silence books indicates that something akin to an evangelical approach is needed to jolt readers out of a certain complacency.

One Square Inch of Silence (the book rather than the square inch) is a discursive read. Normally I am somewhat resistant to over inclusive narrations including the kind of accomodation the author stayed in and their various personal issues. However in Hempton’s book, the apparent digressions actually serve to ground the book in a hyper-particularity which is consonant with his sonic mission. He also brings, initially, his teenage daughter Abbie for what is intended to be a reconnecting experience; this does not quite pan out and Abbie leaves her portion of the trip early. In a polished narrative, there would be some kind of overly pat resolution to this, with Abbie re-appearing towards the end for a shared father-daughter moment of silence. This doesn’t happen; Hempton does not overuse the incident either to illustrate something about intergenerational attitudes to silence or to engineer some kind of fake twist.

It is important to note that Hempton is not a foe of sound and noise per se. Some of the most lyrical passages are on the various sounds of railroads, and he recalls his own attendance at loud rock concerts with affection. There are also some unexpected revelations such as his love of bird song but lack of interest in knowing precisely which birds are singing (although he evidently has a deep ornithological knowledge) His book does function, however, as a startling insight into how much -and how loud – noises intrudes in our lives, and on the lives of nature. Hempton cites numerous studies on the impact of noise on animal breeding and on a natural world that did not evolve in concert with mechanical (or reproduced) noise

one-square-inch-of-silence-9781416559108_hr

Flight noise is one of Hempton’s bete noires – in fact his main bete noire – and an appendix to the book contains an email exchange with the writer James Fallows who had written an article on seeing America from the air. Hempton is persistent in trying to engage with governmental agencies – state, local and federal – to try and have the importance of sound and silence recognised.

The One Square Inch of Silence concept itself (which is an independent initiative of Hempton, unsupported by Olympic National Park where the One Square Inch is located) is a resonant one with a hidden expansion of meaning. To maintain a square inch of silence in fact requires many many square miles of silence, free of mechanical noise but most especially flight noise. Therefore a single square inch of silence presupposes a much greater range of relative silence.

Hempton’s own reflections on silence – on various forms of silence, and on the contexts of silence – are more satisfying to me than the various academic philosophy approaches I have come across. I read One Square Inch of Silence via Scribd and cannot at this moment find the quotes I particularly would highlight, although some are online:

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything . . . It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners not only to nature but to each other. Silence can be carried like embers from a fire. Silence can be found, and silence can find you. Silence can be lost and also recovered. But silence cannot be imagined, although most people think so. To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it.

Of course, some will object to the value-laden language here – “human nature”, “more receptive mind”, “more attuned ear” – and the unapologetic embodied nature of the argument – “felt within the chest” etc. This is perhaps the point, and perhaps why Hempton has more impact than more academic approaches with a certain timidity about anything that might smack of the value-laden (maybe this is analogous to the fear of seeming anthropromorphic) We experience sound and silence as embodied beings, and any consideration of them must face that fact.

Some of my own posts on the general theme of silence:

Silence – A Fragment. Nthposition, March 2013

A Question of Silence: review of “Berberian Sound Studio” and “The Numbers Station”, Nthposition, early 2014

A note on whales and silence from The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin

Another note on whales and silence from Tim Severin

An eerie silence in the garden.

Hesuchia – “we strive in order to be at rest”

 

Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks” and the literature of nature

I should love Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks”, but it is proving strangely difficult to get through. Normally I reserve any kind of reviewing judgment on books until I have completely finished them; but in this case, it is proving something of a chapter by chapter slog. I enjoyed “Mountains of the Mind” and the other bits and pieces of MacFarlane I have read over the years (particularly this ) I also had found one of the other supposed classics of New Nature Writing, Helen McDonald’s H for Hawk, almost unreadable.

“Landmarks” isn’t unreadable, but strangely plodding. Chapters on nature writers – Nan Shepherd, Roger Deakin, J.A. Baker – alternate with a catalogue of terms for landscape from around Britain (broadly defined!) in English, Scots Gaelic, Irish and various dialects. I admire MacFarlane’s work in cataloguing these vanishing terms, and I for one do not need to be persuaded of their value. Of course, a catalogue is a catalogue, and these sections are admirable rather than engaging.

Macfarlane does tend towards a certain armchair psychologising of his literary subjects; we read that Baker’s physical infirmities drove him to identify with the soaring, blade-sharp elegance of the peregrine. This may be so, but serves to somewhat undermine Baker’s achievement.

I had read Dominic Green’s piece on the “New Nature Writing” which crystallised some of my thoughts on the genre, partly by distilling much in a handy package, and also acting as a foil to some of my more Romantic inclinations. Green finds much of the New Nature Writing is Writing About Writing:

 

Since my family shed their rags, I am now mostly white, very middle-class, and usually English enough, in a Jewish kind of way. Last summer, I stayed with friends in a decommissioned vicarage outside Oxford. At tea, we talked about Henry James against a timeless backdrop of sheep and rusting agricultural equipment. At home in my Hebraic urban fastness, I enjoy nothing more than a good book about books. But when it comes to the country, I am with Karl Marx. Urbanization liberated us from “the idiocy of rural life.”

 

There is an (inevitable?) elegaic aspect to the entire Nature Writing enterprise, as Green writes:

The only way to have rural life without the idiocy is to take your library with you, as Waugh did when he set up at Stinchcombe. This, metaphorically speaking, is what Robert Macfarlane has done—and what the New Nature cohort are doing. They are doing it as well as it can be done, under the circumstances. But there is no way back to the old ways, for good or bad. It is a hundred years since Yeats, having pared back his style after wintering with Pound in the Hundred-Acre Wood, wrote that “Old England is dying.” Today, Ashdown is a stop on the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link. As the nature writers say, the English are up a creek without a paddle.

 

Green also has a put-down for one of Macfarlane’s more fanciful sorties:

 

“It is kind of Macfarlane to write that loanwords from “Chinese, Urdu, Korean, Portuguese, and Yiddish are right now being used to describe the landscapes of Britain and Ireland.” But I don’t believe him. I wonder whether he really believes it, either.”

Perhaps there is too much reverence in MacFarlane’s account of his great predecessors. Perhaps, too, the concern with Englishness and Britishness that pervades these works, the placing of nature writing within the various traditions that MacFarlane identifies, is somewhat alienating.
For something is missing from both Dominic Green’s picture and the New Nature Writing. As I previously wrote in a comment on the Dabbler blog:

While I enjoyed Green’s essay (and particularly his observations that so much of contemporary “nature writing” is actually writing about nature writing, I do find that there is something missing in this oft-held view that nature and wildness are things we only learnt to recognise, let alone appreciate in late modernity, and in Green (and others) relentless harping on the class and power elements of nature writing (I’m not denying that they are there) to the exclusion of something more mysterious, more elemental. There is so much said and written about “the Other”, when one of the greatest Others of human existence is the Other of the natural world, and particular the conciousness of the other living things around us. Finding this mysterious and worthy of exploration is not necessarily the same thing as blindly celebrating it in some human-hating way.

The context of this comment is Brit’s Dabbler diary in which he comments:

 

Everyone should have one saintly nemesis. Christopher Hitchens had Mother Theresa, I’ve got Sir David Attenborough. The Hunt (Sunday, 9pm BBC One): what a load of rubbish. One Star. Its a Time-Wasting Place etc.

Well of course the camerawork is amazing, yada yada yada. But I can’t get with Attenborough’s bassackwards, borderline evil view of existence. St David, remember, is patron of an organisation dedicated to reducing the numbers of humans on the planet and who has described our species as ‘a plague on earth’. Other historical figures have been criticised for that kind of attitude.

His documentaries are polite works of fiction, ascribing dubious anthropological virtues to nature (beauty, harmony, purity) while ignoring the obvious overriding one: meaningless cruelty. His editors tease us with several fruitless chases, and then when the arctic fox finally gets the bunny, we pull away from the beautiful, pure, harmonious shots of munched guts and get a bit of David apologetically explaining that the wee arctic fox cubs would otherwise starve in the long winter.

Beautiful? Harmonious? Circle of effing life? Doesn’t Attenborough even watch his own programmes? Nature, as I have argued before, is irredeemably horrible and man is the only creature worth a damn. Nature can go to… No, hang on, I’ve got it… of course!

Nature is Hell.

Brit is referring to Attenborough’s links to Population Matters as discussed in another Dabbler piece:

The ultimate failure of Malthus and Ehrlich is a lack of faith in humans. Of course we’re capable of horror but if you want to find kindness anywhere on the planet you’ll need to turn to your own species. And your natural wonders are all very well but don’t forget the Sistine Chapel, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, St Paul’s Cathedral (when you can get the anti-capitalists out of the way of it), rock ‘n’ roll and The Dabbler. And Frozen Planet, a fine piece of human romanticism. Glaciers do have great beauty, especially in artificial, computer-enhanced high definition, but only people can see it. Don’t wish us away too soon, David.

This essay by Mark Cocker in the New Statesman perhaps captures why I am resistant to both Macfarlane and Helen McDonald’s H for Hawk. There’s a tameness, a sense of not just nature writing but nature itself being a branch of literature.

On top of this, there is a thread of concern with Britishness and more specifically Englishness running through this literature. I am generally suspicious of attempts to overly identify Irish conditions as unique and separate from those elsewhere. Our media and cultural life tends to a certain literal insularity, which is understandable and I suppose literally trueI don’t believe in Irish exceptionalism, and clearly the nations on these islands have a deeply interweaved natural  as well as cultural and political history. Just as Ireland’s industrial heritage is oft-ignored for post colonial reasons (already the 1916 centenary seems to be taking an awful lot of the historical oxygen out of the room) , our natural history heritage is somewhat ignored in a wider cultural context. I posted here about Knockroe Passage Tomb which I am confident would be widely celebrated in the UK; here it is simply down a muddy lane, without benefit of signpost. I am not necessarily condemning this, and indeed there is something positive about how one often sees megaliths and towerhouses and other structures as part of working fields, or cheek by jowl with farm buildings, rather than being hived off as “heritage.”

.

One of the most formidable challenges to any writer (or any artist) is writing about nature in a way that balances the inevitable, inescapable human subjectivity of the experience with the raw, alien otherness of other species. I am impressed with the authors Macfarlane cites, especially Baker, and their keen, intense attempts to bridge this gap.

LINES COMPOSED A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY, ON REVISITING THE BANKS OF THE WYE DURING A TOUR. JULY 13, 1798

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
      Of five long winters! and again I hear
      These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
      With a soft inland murmur.--Once again
      Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
      That on a wild secluded scene impress
      Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
      The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
      The day is come when I again repose
      Here, under this dark sycamore, and view                       
      These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
      Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
      Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
      'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
      These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
      Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
      Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
      Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
      With some uncertain notice, as might seem
      Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,                    
      Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
      The Hermit sits alone.
                              These beauteous forms,
      Through a long absence, have not been to me
      As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
      But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
      Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
      In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
      Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
      And passing even into my purer mind,
      With tranquil restoration:--feelings too                     
      Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
      As have no slight or trivial influence
      On that best portion of a good man's life,
      His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
      Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
      To them I may have owed another gift,
      Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
      In which the burthen of the mystery,
      In which the heavy and the weary weight
      Of all this unintelligible world,                            
      Is lightened:--that serene and blessed mood,
      In which the affections gently lead us on,--
      Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
      And even the motion of our human blood
      Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
      In body, and become a living soul:
      While with an eye made quiet by the power
      Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
      We see into the life of things.
                                       If this
      Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft--                     
      In darkness and amid the many shapes
      Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
      Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
      Have hung upon the beatings of my heart--
      How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
      O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,
      How often has my spirit turned to thee!
        And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
      With many recognitions dim and faint,
      And somewhat of a sad perplexity,                            
      The picture of the mind revives again:
      While here I stand, not only with the sense
      Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
      That in this moment there is life and food
      For future years. And so I dare to hope,
      Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
      I came among these hills; when like a roe
      I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
      Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
      Wherever nature led: more like a man                         
      Flying from something that he dreads, than one
      Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
      (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
      And their glad animal movements all gone by)
      To me was all in all.--I cannot paint
      What then I was. The sounding cataract
      Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
      The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
      Their colours and their forms, were then to me
      An appetite; a feeling and a love,                           
      That had no need of a remoter charm,
      By thought supplied, nor any interest
      Unborrowed from the eye.--That time is past,
      And all its aching joys are now no more,
      And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
      Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
      Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
      Abundant recompence. For I have learned
      To look on nature, not as in the hour
      Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes                 
      The still, sad music of humanity,
      Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
      To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
      A presence that disturbs me with the joy
      Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
      Of something far more deeply interfused,
      Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
      And the round ocean and the living air,
      And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
      A motion and a spirit, that impels                           
      All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
      And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
      A lover of the meadows and the woods,
      And mountains; and of all that we behold
      From this green earth; of all the mighty world
      Of eye, and ear,--both what they half create,
      And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
      In nature and the language of the sense,
      The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
      The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul                
      Of all my moral being.
                              Nor perchance,
      If I were not thus taught, should I the more
      Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
      For thou art with me here upon the banks
      Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
      My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
      The language of my former heart, and read
      My former pleasures in the shooting lights
      Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
      May I behold in thee what I was once,                       
      My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
      Knowing that Nature never did betray
      The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
      Through all the years of this our life, to lead
      From joy to joy: for she can so inform
      The mind that is within us, so impress
      With quietness and beauty, and so feed
      With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
      Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
      Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all                    130
      The dreary intercourse of daily life,
      Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
      Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
      Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
      Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
      And let the misty mountain-winds be free
      To blow against thee: and, in after years,
      When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
      Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
      Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,                       140
      Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
      For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
      If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
      Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
      Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
      And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance--
      If I should be where I no more can hear
      Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
      Of past existence--wilt thou then forget
      That on the banks of this delightful stream                    150
      We stood together; and that I, so long
      A worshipper of Nature, hither came
      Unwearied in that service: rather say
      With warmer love--oh! with far deeper zeal
      Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
      That after many wanderings, many years
      Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
      And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
      More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
                                                              1798

10% Of Our Potential and The Search for Something More

Corleck-Head.jpgI have been working through the previously discussed The Search for Something More by Peter Hannan and the various exercises therein (this image which rather I posted rather cryptically is part of another exercise)

While I am still finding the exercises interesting, I came across the following in the book which shook my confidence in its credibility:

We become part of the tragic situation which prevails today in which we realise only a small part of our human potential. An authoritative estimate is that we realise only 10% of our human potential and that 90% of it is unrealised.

There is no citation for this “authoritative estimate”, which sounds an awful like the equally meaningless 10% of the brain myth .

This notion cropped up in the film Lucy, which made me laugh out loud at the trailer, but the filmmakers were pretty upfront that they knew this was ridiculous and it was simply a premise for a thriller. In a book on unlocking one’s human potential, it is more of an issue.

I don’t think it unbalances the book, which is stimulating –  but interestingly my engagement in the exercises is increasingly leading to the conclusion that the “outer” and “inner” worlds are not nearly so much in conflict as the book suggests. This seems on the one hand to be Hannan’s point, ultimately it is about finding balance between the two. But on the other hand the tone so far is very much about how social expectations and other aspects of the “outer” world deform our inner lives and relationship building capacities.

My caveats about the “10%” thing aside, it is an interesting process.