A Quote. Of Liberal Education.

St. John’s College knows, along with many others:

In a half-dozen classrooms they gather then,—here to follow the love-song of Dido, here to listen to the tale of Troy divine; there to wander among the stars, there to wander among men and nations,—and elsewhere other well-worn ways of knowing this queer world. Nothing new, no time-saving devices,—simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is today laid before the freedmen’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal,—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.

—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of the Wings of Atalanta” (1903)


A Quote. Of Beauty. Of Loss.

[. . . O]f bliss and glad life there is little to be said, before it ends; as works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, “Of the Sindar”

Four Maxims. Of Worth and Excellence.

  1. Where is something sacred? There, too, is something for sale.
  2. There are no counterfeits of worthless things.
  3. There so many fraudulent lawyers, quack doctors, sophistical professors, hypocritical clergymen, and all-around impostor humans because excellence exists only with great difficulty and because so many of us believe that seeming is easier than being.
  4. “Χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά.”

A Passage. Of Representation. Of Esoterica.

From O’Flaherty’s introduction to the Socratic Memorabilia of Hamann:*

[W]ithin a short time after [the death of Socrates,] this physically repellent Greek was almost universally acknowledged to have possessed the most beautiful soul of all his countrymen. As if to underscore this discrepancy between appearance and reality, Socrates was inclined to cast his teachings in a homely or grotesque form—a form which contrasted strongly with their ultimate meaning. If an appeal to Alcibiades’  testimony [in the Symposium] may again be made, the sayings of Socrates were like the satyr images which might be bought in the statuary shops of Athens, for, although outwardly grotesque, inwardly the satyrs were filled with likenesses of the gods. . . . The advent of a Socrates did not, however, shake the belief of his compatriots that spiritual beauty was of necessity accompanied by physical beauty. They continued to believe, as Hamann says, that beauty and strength of body and mind were “symbols of divine qualities and footprints of divine presence.” Yet the fact of Socrates’ existence and teaching remained as the massive unresolvable flaw in the idea, and no Greek could escape the disturbing paradox which he represented.

When Plato set about to write his account of the life and work of Socrates, he remained true in practice to the Greek ideal of the harmony between internal and external beauty, between reality and appearance, and presented the spiritual beauty of Socrates in a form famous for its consummate artistry. Thus, we are confronted with the paradox that a disciple who would only do honor to his master has in effect endorsed a theory of which his master was a living contradiction. . . .

What if there were a literary form, however, which more closely corresponded to the true nature of Socrates, but which ran counter to the conventional Greek notion of beauty? Such a form need not be the opposite of beautiful, that is, ugly, but its beauty should be of such a nature that it would appear imperfect, fragmentary, even obscure, pointing to that which is necessary for its understanding and completion. Such a form would thus witness to the truth that any reality which is significant for the human spirit always transcends its representations. Its very obscurity would be the emblem of our limited understanding of the deeper realities of life. It would transcend or beckon beyond itself, and would not, like the more rationalistic classical art, with its striving for perfection, balance, and clarity, imply that the subject had been exhausted and that it constituted an appearance which perfectly represented the reality for which it stood. Its beauty would be hidden to a great extent, and would therefore be invisible to the superficial eye, but would nevertheless be real and organically related to its visible aspects, and hence accessible to those who would take the trouble to discover it.

* Hamann, J. G., & O’Flaherty, J. C. (1967). Introduction. Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia: a translation and commentary (pp. 10-13). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

A Sketch. Opula.

Opula was unlike any other city. It had a population of millions, yet one could walk through its garden streets and never brush another’s arm or coat, and one could speak with a neighbor in whispers with no trouble hearing and being heard, and one could say a greeting in a wide-open space and hear the nearest five or six passersby reply in a soft, friendly tone, “How beautiful to see you!” Everyone seen in the city was beautiful: their elaborate hair, their delicate posture and gestures, their make-up, their deep-colored clothes—everything about the denizens was crafted for the finest presentation. They went to work, not at a rush, but at a stroll, so that everyone they met might have a chance to see how fine they looked and then say, “How beautiful to see you!” And when they worked inside, they worked in front of clear windows where the light could expose their fineness for all to see and savor just the same.

One would think they took hours to make up their hair and faces. “How could they find the time?” foreigners would ask.

A denizen, a high-thinker whose job it was to think beautiful thoughts, might answer: “Beauty and time are incommensurable. I mean that one cannot measure the other, and there is no trade between them. Beauty is indifferent to time, and what has time got to do with beauty?”

The foreigners might think that such an odd response missed the question. And it did. What the high-thinker did not say is that, in Opula, the time it would take to make things beautiful was not time spent by the beautiful. For there were millions of people in Opula, but only thousands were seen. The beautiful walked out on the streets and whispered politely in the public spaces and stood in the windows for all to see. The rest, however, were never seen, and it was they who paid the price of time for beauty.

When a beautiful man went home at the end of his day at work, he went to a place underground. There others washed him, fed him his vitamins and minerals for lovely skin and smooth hair, arrayed him in fine robes. The next day these countless others roused him from bed. They washed him, fed him, arrayed him. They fixed his hair and face to be as splendid as it had been the day before. And then they sent him off to go above ground, a representative of them all, their beautiful creation for all the world to see and praise. But they themselves remained to work all day in the darkness where no windows let the light expose their unfinished looks.

The Opula that the foreigner saw was a city of masked men and women, of men and women who are themselves living masks for the masses below. The city itself wore a mask, so to speak, made of thousands of masks.

This world is all symbol.

One Judgment in Two Sentences. Of Dance. Of Revelation and Interpretation.

In dance, an isolated movement that appears awkward is not necessarily a mistake, especially not if it advances into a more beautiful one.

In dance, the glory of the final flourish does not render all previous movements worthless, nor even worth less.

A Meditation. Of Youth.

What is more beautiful than the young man who is vulnerable,
more lovely than the young woman who closes her eyes in the crowd!

A youth humbled in contrariety may begin on the holy way,
And contradiction makes the flippant take pause.