Thursday, August 17, 2006

There is something so refreshing

about the way Locke thinks of things, both his thoughts and his language are like flinging a window wide open and blowing out the cobwebs from the corners of a stuffy room. I especially love the science-fiction-y aspect, he comes up with these thought-experiment-type observations that are really quite delightful:

. . . Mankind have fitted their Notions and Words to the use of common Life, and not to the truth and extent of Things. For 'tis certain, that in reality, the Relation is the same, betwixt the Begetter, and the Begotten, in the several Races of other Animals, as well as Men: But yet 'tis seldom said, This Bull is the Grandfather of such a Calf; or that two Pidgeons are Cousin-Germains. It is very convenient, that by distinct Names, these Relations should be observed, and marked out in Mankind, there being occasion, both in Laws, and other Communications one with another, to mention and take notice of Men, under these Relations . . . Whereas in Brutes, Men having very little or no cause to mind these Relations, they have not thought fit to give them distinct and epculiar Names. . . . And 'tis no wonder Men should have framed no Names for those Things, they found no occasion to discourse of. From whence it is easy to imagine, why, as in some Countries, they may not have so much as the Name for a Horse; and in others, where they are more careful of the Pedigrees of their Horses, than of their own, that there they may have not only Names for particular Horses, but also of their several Relations of Kindred one to another. (II.xxviii)

And you know, I don't often (ever?) write about matters political here, I am reasonably ill-informed and have no desire to hold forth opinionatedly about things that others have much more authority to speak of, but it's impossible not to remember while reading Locke that he's coming off the two decades in England that basically invented modern party politics in a form recognizably like what we've got today in the US. The terms "whig" and "tory" had just come into use, and the nastiness of partisan battling actually makes what we've got now look--well, not innocuous, for sure, but at any rate very familiar. So here's Locke (in the famous chapter on enthusiasm) on the psychology of what we would call evangelical or fundamentalist Protestantism:

Immediate Revelation being a much easier way for Men to establish their Opinions, and regulate their Conduct, than the tedious and not always successful Labour of strict reasoning, it is no wonder, that some have been very apt to pretend to Revelation, and to perswade themselves, that they are under the peculiar guidance of Heaven in their Actions and Opinions, especially in those of them, which they cannot account for by the ordinary Methods of Knowledge, and Principles of Reason. Hence we see, that in all Ages, Men, in whom Melancholy has mixed with Devotion, or whose conceit of themselves has raised them into an Opinion of a greater familiarity with GOD, and a nearer admittance to his Favour than is afforded to others, have often flatter'd themselves with a perswasion of an inmmediate intercourse with the Deity, and frequent communications from the divine Spirit. GOD I own cannot be denied to be able to enlighten the Understanding by a Ray darted into the Mind immediately from the Fountain of Light: This they understand he has promised to do, and who then has so good a title to expect it, as those who are his peculiar People, chosen by him and depending on him? . . . . And whatsoever odd Action they find in themselves a strong Inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from Heaven, and must be obeyed; 'tis a Commission from above, and they cannot err in executing it.

In more frivolous reading news, I did read one novel a few days ago, I couldn't help myself (it was another one from last week's public library visit), Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb's Memory in Death. I find these futuristic Manhattan mysteries extremely enjoyable, the most undemanding kind of pleasure reading; it irritates me when the Otto Penzlers of the world make snarky remarks about them, they are not groundbreaking of course but the story-telling and character development are both excellent.

Oh, I am having mild novel-deprivation! I've got a moderately vast tract of reading (and writing and revising as well, but that's different) still to do in the next month or so and I think it will not be until October that I can indulge in the true novel-reading binge I'm already coveting: I am going to have a Saturday in the second half of October where I just read, like, five trashy novels in a row and totally bathe my brain in light reading....

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