Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It is not a particularly appropriate use

of Columbia's election-day holiday, but I have promised myself a whole day of working on my breeding book, despite the intense pressure of other work. Very exciting. And as an earnest of that intention, here are the two epigraphs for the introduction. The first is very famous, some of you will know it already; and the second is something I've posted before, but I feel it cannot possibly be given again too often (Leslie Farber's writings have been one of my great intellectual discoveries over the past few years; he and John Passmore are perhaps the two writers who've most affected my thinking on character and human perfectibility since I began working on the book, in fact there is a Passmore passage I am also tempted to include here only I think three epigraphs is too many).

Here goes (the introduction's title is "Breeding: Nature and Nurture Before Biology"):

I Wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concern’d in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:——Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,——I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.—Believe me, good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it; you have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are transfused from father to son, &c. &c.—and a great deal to that purpose:—Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man’s sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and trains you put them into; so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, ’tis not a halfpenny matter,--away they go cluttering like hey-go-mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it.

— Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760), I.i

The realm of causation is treacherous ground for a man interested in the truth about himself. Although it is certainly probable that most phenomena of this world, human and otherwise, do have cuases of one sort or another, an absorption with the role of causation in human affairs may lead to an habitual reduction of any human event to its postulated cause. It is apparent how such reduction promises refuge to a man beset by the necessity to “confess”: once he turns his attention to cause, his personal responsibility (whether he acknowledges it or not) is diminished, along with any undue stress or discomfort he may have felt in facing what he believes to be his absolute worst. No matter what scandalous detail about himself he may reveal, he follows such revelation with “I am this way because . . . ,” and everyone relaxes.

— Leslie Farber, “Schizophrenia and the Mad Psychotherapist” (1962)

It is convenient that I'm teaching
Tristram Shandy this week, but it is also unfortunately all too appropriate that I should have spent the weekend rereading a novel that contains what is surely the most famous groin injury in English literature: for the last week and a half I have been having an awful problem with the hip adductor. It has dawned on me that the one problem with running is that it creates complete psychological dependency, so that an injury will send you into total mental tailspin (I am running a half-marathon in less than two weeks, I cannot be injured now!); however I feel more tranquil after having made it successfully through the last twelve-mile training run on Saturday morning, it was a great run despite acute pain in mile 4, agonizing pain in mile 8 and double-agonizing in miles 10-11 (mile 12 was of course euphoric). Could barely walk in the afternoon, but was miraculously helped by amazing Iyengar yoga (if you live in NY and like yoga, you must check that place out, it is absolutely excellent). My brother M., a more experienced runner than I am & also suffering from his own injury, had the most apt comment: "You'll find there's a very steep learning curve," he observed, "when it comes to running-related pain." (Also I had better take this opportunity to give official reassurance to my mother that if necessary I will give in and go to the doctor after the half-marathon is over!)

All right, off to lavish some attention on Locke and Rousseau and Mary Shelley....

1 comment:

  1. Best thing to do after running a long run--more important for me with marathons than halfs, which never bothered me, but probably helpful for halfs too--is to take a significant walk, i.e. keep moving, not necessarily immediately, but within a few hours. Hot water, too. Good luck with hip and race, and hope you had a super-productive day.