The latest blog hiatus stems from a week-long trip to God’s Country (the Old Homestead) – an alright “vacation,” so to speak, tho I’ll be cleansing my system of the accumulated lipids of barbeque and fried catfish for weeks to come. Of course I brought a stack of books to “work” with and work thru, & ended up reading almost none of them (save Geoffrey Hill’s Without Title, upon which I’ll comment soon). Instead, as always happens when I visit C—, I ended up pulling down things from my own pre-college shelves & from my dad’s library. This time around, for some reason I was seized with the desire to learn something about the Enlightenment, so I pulled a stack of books on the subject.
Harold Nicolson’s The Age of Reason is by no means a hardcore piece of intellectual history, but rather a series of vivid thumbnail portraits of major figures from Bayle to Rousseau (with side-trips to Ben Franklin, Dr Johnson, the Stürm und Drang, et al.): Compulsively readable – I knew I should be embarking on something more substantial, like Paul Hazard or the complete Plutarch I’d hauled down, but I just couldn’t forego another evening with Nicholson’s graceful prose & eminently reasonable summary judgements. (That is, when I wasn’t pleasurably wasting time with eminently disposable genre fiction like Moorcock’s The Silver Warriors – the first of his novels I ever read, maybe 30 years ago, & I remember little more of its plot having read it just last week than I did a decade back – or A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool – a tremendously spooky, compelling opening score pages, which immediately thereafter disintegrates into the the worst sort of Buck Rogers pulp.)
I did manage, however, to make a substantial start on Ernst Cassirer’s still-magnificent The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Cassirer’s is the sort of book of intellectual history that just takes my breath away with its broad-ranging yes-I’ve-read-everything scope, keen close studies of individual figures & passages, & overarching historical perspective. Makes me wish I hadn’t given up philosophy after taking that undergrad degree. (Well, given it up as anything but a left-handed hobby.)
One of the odder experiences of the week was the repeated expeditions into the broiling attic with Pippa (5) to retrieve various of Daddy’s old toys for the girls to play with. Odd, in that as I unpackd each box of Legos or Lincoln Logs or whatever, I would be seized by a kind of somatic memory: my hands would remember how each part fit into the next, how I could make one shape, one structure or another out of these inert pieces of plastic or wood, & a whole miasma of childhood obsession would come rushing back on me. for her part, P was less fascinated by the toys per se than by their “association value” – that they had been Daddy’s once upon a time. At any rate, we’ve UPS’d a few boxes of them (along with, yes, many books) to Florida. Time will tell which of us spends the most time playing with them.
Suprisingly enough, I didn’t feel particularly bereaved by 9 days without internet access, obsessive reading of blogs, newspapers, watching of eBay auctions, etc. Not that I haven’t been catching up today (& sifting thru a great mass of e-mail). As to Our University, two items caught my eye: A local paper responds to an internal “university family” memo from our Glorious Leader; and we seem to be on the verge of enlarging our endowment (!) by what I like to call the “death dividend.”