Hurrying Through Leisure

The whole attitude seems to be: Let me get through this thing I don’t especially enjoy so I can do another thing just like it, which I won’t enjoy either. This is precisely what Paul Virilio means when he talks about living at a “frenetic standstill” and what Hartmut Rosa means when he talks about “social acceleration.” 

I say: If you’re trying to get through your work as quickly as you can, then maybe you should see if you can find a different line of work. And if you’re trying to get through your leisure-time reading and watching and listening as quickly as you can, then you definitely do not understand the meaning of leisure and should do a thorough rethink. And in both cases maybe it would be useful to read Mark Helprin on “The Acceleration of Tranquility.”

Alan Jacobs

This reminds me of two things, both of which I probably learned about from Jacobs.

Odyssey XIV

The part of Book XIV that always gives students pause is the poet’s sudden direct address: “And, you, Eumaeus, my noble swineherd,” etc. Peter Jones says that the figure of speech, apostrophe, is reserved for characters whom, for whatever reason, the poet has particular affection for. In the Iliad, it is used for Patroclus and Menelaus, while in the Odyssey, only Eumaeus is addressed that way.

Odysseus is, of course, the great hero of the Odyssey, and Telemachus and Penelope match his qualities in their own ways. But if you’re looking for a character who is truly good, Eumaeus is your man. He is courageous, hospitable, intelligent, and, most of all, loyal. I can imagine him being used allegorical as an example of a Christian: faithfully tending his Lord’s flocks until the day of return.

Odyssey XIII

I’ve decided to start sharing my notes and reading questions on the Odyssey. For context, I teach a 7th grade Ancient Humanities class, so I tried to write questions that can be answered at a middle school level and also function as springboards into more complex discussions.

(Btw, we are using Stanley Lombardo’s translation, even though it’s not my favorite. Someday I’ll take a leaf from this guy’s book and write a comparison between it, Fitzgerald, and Lattimore.)

What blessing does Odysseus give Arete right before he leaves?

Odysseus wishes that the Queen would be well “all of your days, until age / And death come to you, as they come to all” (XIII.61-62) He wishes her enjoyment of her house and family (ie, a good life). Ironically, Odysseus is the reason Poseidon turns one of the Phaeacian ships to stone (see below).

How does Poseidon punish the Phaeacians for helping Odysseus? How do they react to the punishment?

The Phaeacians take Odysseus home in one of their ships, and on their return, Poseidon turns the ship into stone in the middle of the harbor. Alcinous immediately recognizes this as the fulfillment of a prophecy* and resolves to never provide safe passage to any traveler ever again. Odysseus’s visit causes the Phaeacians to repudiate the law of hospitality. The last we see of them, they are huddled around Poseidon’s altar, begging him not to surround their city with a mountain, as the prophecy foretold.

Apparently, it’s unclear whether Poseidon actually fulfills this part of the prophecy. Lattimore translates Zeus’s response as, “But do not hide their city under a mountain,” which Lombardo has, “And then hem their city in with a mountain.” Obviously, it can’t be both. Peter Jones remarks that the first reading is based on the ancient commentator Aristophanes of Byzantium, while the second relies on the testimony of another ancient commentator, Aristarchos of Samothrace, both of whom wrote around the same time. So… we don’t know. Seventh graders love that kind of answer.

*This isn’t the first prophecy mentioned after its fulfillment. See Polyphemus’s lament in IX.505-519 (Lombardo).

Why does Athena prevent Odysseus from recognizing Ithaca?

My best guess is that she wanted to do the big reveal herself (XIII.197) and maybe mess with him a little. The two have that kind of relationship. As Athena says,

Here we are
The two shrewdest minds in the universe,
You far and away the best man on earth
In plotting strategies, and I famed among gods
For my clever schemes. (XIII.306-310)

Yep, two peas in a pod.

Jones also suggests that the whole scene is designed to maximize pathos by delaying Odysseus’s reunion with his home. We definitely see the same technique writ large throughout Books XIV-XXII.

Summarize Odysseus’s lie to Athena. Why does he make up a backstory?

See XIII.265ff. Odysseus claims to have killed a man who wanted to steal the gold he plundered from Troy. He mixes fact (he was at Troy, he knows Idomeneus, he came to Ithaca by ship and was left on the beach) and fiction (he is Cretan, he killed Idomeneus’s son, he traveled on a Phoenician ship). He lies to give himself an advantage, buying time and examining the stranger before revealing anything. He continues to hone this strategy as his encounters grow more and more dangerous, preparing himself for the final challenge of facing the suitors.

How does Athena disguise Odysseus? Be specific.

See XIII.447: “She shriveled the flesh on his gnarled limbs, / And withered his tawny hair. She wrinkled the skin / All over his body so he looked like an old man, / And she made his beautiful eyes bleary and dim. / Then she turned his clothes into tattered rags, / Dirty and smoke-grimed, and cast about him / A great deerskin cloak with the fur worn off. / And she gave him a staff and a ratty pouch / All full of holes, slung by a twisted cord.”

What reason does Athena give for not telling Telemachus that his father is still alive?

See XIII.437: “I wanted him / To make a name for himself by traveling there.” It’s interesting to consider what kind of reputation she expected him to earn. He still hasn’t done anything particularly heroic. Yet he has gained the respect of Nestor and Menelaus, if only for his politeness.

Twitterese

It is remarkable how uniform and homogenous the style of writing is on Twitter, which is where media culture is defined. It seemingly hasn’t evolved in a decade. Condescending, sarcastic, amused that you would think to say something so dumb, endlessly superior, contemptuous of all sincere values except the one being used as a bludgeon in the fight at hand. Absurdist in an entirely prescriptive way, novel in a tired way, funny in a humorless way. All of it is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a strange and highly mannered form of humor that flourished in an obscure offshoot of an internet forum which migrated to a bigger platform and metastasized into something called Weird Twitter, and was subsequently popularized and imitated so frequently it took over the forum completely. For reasons that elude me, it’s been the dominant style on the world’s most influential social network for going on a decade and appears often in published commentary as well.

From Freddie deBoer’s writing guide “If You Absolutely Must”

Set apart

To call the preacher an authority does not mean that the preacher is wiser than others. What it does mean is that the preacher is the one whom the congregation sends on their behalf, week after week, to the scripture. The church knows that its life depends upon hearing the truth of God’s promise and claim through the scripture, and it has set the preacher apart for the crucial activity of going to the scripture to listen for that truth.

Thomas G. Long

“Crucial activity.” Nice play on words there.

Keeping Up with the Times

The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products—especially in schools—somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy. Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

Elon Musk’s Twitter

Here is no waste,
No burning Might-have been,
No bitter after-taste,
None to censure, none to screen,
Nothing awry, nor anything misspent;
Only content, content beyond content,
Which hath not any room for betterment.

Maurice Baring

Hold the emotion, thanks

I got to make my heist film with Gene Hackman. Like many of the stars in the above-instanced works, he is an actual tough guy. Lee Marvin was a marine commando in the Pacific, Hayden in the Adriatic. Hackman was a China marine, racecar driver, stunt pilot, deep-sea diver.

These men, and their performances, are characterised by the absence of the desire to please. On screen, they don’t have anything to prove, and so we are extraordinarily drawn to them.

They are not “sensitive”, they are not anti-heroes. They are, to use a historic term, “he-men”. How refreshing.

There will always be the same number of movie stars. There is a table of operations, and the vacant places must be filled, as with politicians, irrespective of the distinction of the applicant pool.

But I vote for the tone of a less sentimental time. Look at the photographs in the family collection, of dad or granddad during the war, or the Depression. We see individuals captured in a moment in their lives, not portraying themselves for the camera. I used to look at them and think one didn’t see those faces today.

I saw them on September 11. I was in the air when the bombings took place, flying back to Boston from the Toronto film festival. We landed at a small commercial aviation field. A customs officer escorted us to a room, where a group of pilots and passengers watched the immediate aftermath on television.

I had never seen faces like that in my life. They were so intent, resolved, completely unsentimental, trying to make sense of a disordered and a very dangerous world; as were the men and women who created the genre of film noir, to which I respectfully submit my addition.

David Mamet