Monday, July 20, 2009


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes,” noted Marcel Proust, and today’s 40th anniversary of the moon landing returns this quote to my mind. It was not landing on the cold dead moon that was so impressive (I can’t get over the Cold War bullshit and Kennedy-priapism writ large), but rather the looking back at the planet Earth, so lonely and blue. Imperialist and/or escapist blather about it being our destiny to go to the stars aside, the thing is to really look at home. We live in a culture where running away is one of the highest aims, as if we'll somehow become somebody else when we go there or buy that.

You could, after all, spend a lifetime around a tree, as E.O. Wilson notes, and still not know all that much about it.

By “commodious vicus of recirculation,” we come back to philosophy: in Simon Critchley’s sneaky compendium The Book of Dead Philosophers, we learn how to live by how we die. Here we are reunited with Thales, who fell into a ditch while looking at the stars; the Thracian girl who laughed at him reposted with the charge that philosophers have had to answer ever since, and which I’ve always phrased as “Keep one eye on the stars, the other peeled for the dogs shit on the sidewalk.” Much is made of the Pythagorean abhorrence of beans, one of the stranger aspects of Western Civ. And who can’t appreciate Diogenes? He is supposed to have masturbated in the marketplace, and said he wished it ’twere as easy to rub his belly to satisfy his hunger…. Spinoza’s excommunication was thus: “Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out and curse be he when he comes in.” Spinoza, I toast you tonight.

1 comment:

amarilla said...

To Spinoza.

Odd, I just came across that tidbit about forbidden beans very recently, I think yesterday.