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 Hell. Of Self.

For the one principle of hell is—“I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return.”

—George MacDonald, “Kingship”

A Quote. Of Contrariety. Of Conversion.

. . . insaniebam salubriter et moriebar vitaliter, gnarus quid mali essem, et ignarus quid boni post paululum futurus essem.

I was insane for the sake of health and was dying for the sake of life, knowing what evil I was and not knowing what good I might become after a little while.

—Augustine, Confessiones VIII.viii

A Passage. Of Skepticism. Of Sleep and Wakefulness.

This summary of a major position of the skeptics, from the seventeenth century, was also pre-production brainstorming for The Matrix and Inception:

. . . [Q]ui sait si cette autre moitié de la vie où nous pensons veiller n’est pas un autre sommeil un peu différent du premier dont nous nous éveillons quand nous pensons dormir?

Et qui doute que, si on rêvait en compagnie, et que par hasard les songes s’accordassent, ce qui est assez ordinaire, et qu’on veillât en solitude, on ne crût les choses renversées? Enfin, comme on rêve souvent qu’on rêve, entassant un songe sur l’autre, la vie n’est elle-même qu’un songe, sur lequel les autres sont entés, dont nous nous éveillons à la mort, pendant laquelle nous avons aussi peu les principes du vrai et du bien que pendant le sommeil naturel; ces différentes pensées qui nous y agitent n’étant peut-être que des illusions, pareilles à l’écoulement du temps et aux vains fantaisies [Var. ed.: fantômes] de nos songes.

Who knows if this other half of life, in which we think to be awake, is not another sleep a little different from the first and from which we wake when we think we sleep?

And who doubts that, if one dreamed in company and by chance the dreams agreed (which is ordinary enough) and if one then woke in solitude, then one would not believe things to be reversed? Moreover, as one dreams often that one dreams, pouring dream upon dream, life itself is only a dream on which others are grafted and from which we wake at death and during which we have fewer principles of the true and the good than during natural sleep—these different thoughts that bother us here being, perhaps, merely illusions, rather like the flow of time and the vain fantasies of our dreams.

—Pascal, Pensées §434

A Quote. Of Jesus Christ. Of Paradox.

unus ille in mortuis liber, potestatem habens ponendi animam suam et potestatem habens iterum sumendi eam, pro nobis tibi victor et victima, et ideo victor, quia victima, pro nobis tibi sacerdos et sacrificium, et ideo sacerdos, quia sacrificium, faciens tibi nos de servis filios de te nascendo, tibi serviendo.

Among the dead he [Jesus] alone is free, having the power of laying down his life and having the power of taking it up again. For you [God], on our behalf, he is victor and victim, and therefore the victor because the victim; for you, on our behalf, he is priest and sacrifice, and therefore the priest because the sacrifice; for you, he makes us from slaves into children by being begotten of you yet becoming your slave.

—Augustine, Confessions X.XLIII

A Quote. A Poem. Of Regret. Of Self.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

Four Related Thoughts. Of Comedy and Tragedy.

  1. The comic’s fruit has its season and nourishes for a time. It also ferments and spoils. The possibilities played out by the tragedian, however, are perennial and do not fade with age or circumstance.
  2. These two together, the comic and the tragedian, offer a celebration of life in each season and for all seasons, up to the threshold of death. But only a tragedian has the opportunity to suggest something beyond.
  3. True comedy teaches one to laugh at hubris so that it may be despised. Tragedy teaches one, laughing in this way with a kind of self-hatred, to endure with hope in an unseen self.
  4. One may think of the comedy as a play of καῖρος and the tragedy as a play of αἰών.