G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Michel de Montaigne: a Humble and Inglorious Life; that Does Not Matter

Today September 13 2013 is 421st Death Anniversary of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne:

"I set forth a humble and inglorious life; that does not matter.  You can tie up all moral philosophy with a common and private life just as well as with a life of richer stuff." 

"When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not making me her pastime more than I make her mine?"

 
Anthony Gottlieb:
 
"…Bakewell, Frampton and Kent all stress that the distinctive mark of Montaigne is his intellectual humility. Like Socrates, Montaigne claims that what he knows best is the fact that he does not know anything much. To undermine common beliefs and attitudes, Montaigne draws on tales of other times and places, on his own observations and on a barrage of arguments in the ancient Pyrrhonian skeptical tradition, which encouraged the suspension of judgment as a middle way between dogmatic assertion and equally dogmatic denial. Montaigne does often state his considered view, but rarely without suggesting, explicitly or otherwise, that maybe he is wrong. In this regard, his writing is far removed from that of the most popular bloggers and columnists, who are usually sure that they are right. ..”

Michael Dirda:

"Suppose that Earth was invited to join the Intergalactic Congress of Planets, and its chair-being, Zinglos-Atheling, wanted to know more about our strange species. What one person in history would you choose to best represent humanity? On the one hand, Socrates and Jesus are a bit too saintly (or more than saintly) to be wholly representative; on the other, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan are, as the saying goes, all too human.You could hardly go wrong by picking Michel de Montaigne..."
 
There is no equivalent of  Montaigne in MarathiNot just that, I guess, his essays have still not been translated into Marathi. What a pity!
 
The first essays in Marathi were written only in 19th century. The two essay writers from the period that come immediately to mind are Lokhitwadi (लोकहितवादी) and Vishushastri Chiplunkar (विष्णुशास्त्री चिपळूणकर). 

P G Sahasrabuddhe (पु ग सहस्रबुद्धे) writes about Lokhitwadi's essays:

"...शुद्ध, प्रौढ, पल्लेदार, प्रवाही, ओघवती भाषा हे निबंधांचे मोठे वैभव असते. लोकहितवादींच्या शतपत्रांत त्याची फार उणीव आहे आणि ती पदोपदी भासते. व्याकरणशुद्ध भाषा लिहिण्याचीसुद्धा  ते कसोशी करीत नाहीत…"

("... chaste, mature, strong, flowing language is the big wealth of essays. Lokhitwadi's essays lack it and that is constantly felt. He doesn't even attempt to write grammatically pure language...")

['Lokhitwadinchi Shatpatre' (लोकहितवादींची शतपत्रे), Edited by Dr. Pu G Sahasrabuddhe, 1960/2007]

Hence, Dr.  Sahasrabuddhe says,  Vishunshastri, Tilak (टिळक), Aagarkar (आगरकर), Rajwade (राजवाडे) were better essayists than him.

Marathi Vishwakosh (मराठी विश्वकोश) says Chiplunkar was influenced by Joseph Addison and Lord Macaulay. As we have seen on this blog earlier, Tilak/Agarkar were by J S Mill and Herbert Spencer

For my taste, some of Rajwade's essays are among the best early essays written in Marathi. A few of them still remain very fresh and readable.

However,  I feel none of the gentlemen mentioned above - British or Indian- comes close to the depth, width and literary qualities of Montaigne's work.  

I have chosen two examples from  the Frenchman's output.


Title of XIX essay in "The Essays of Montaigne" is "That To Study Philosophy Is to Learn To Die"

"Cicero says—[Tusc., i. 31.]—"that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die." The reason of which is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or, else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die..."

Now how to illustrate this?



Artist: Salvador Dali 

Courtesy: Brainpickings.org




(George Orwell writes about Dali's art: "Dead faces, skulls, corpses of animals occur fairly frequently in his pictures..." Montaingen's essay then was a good excuse to draw a skull!)
 
Look at the following picture. Happy couple? Man dealing too lasciviously with the woman?




 Artist: Salvador Dalí

Courtesy: Brainpickings.org

"A man, says Aristotle, must approach his wife with prudence and temperance, lest in dealing too lasciviously with her, the extreme pleasure make her exceed the bounds of reason. What he says upon the account of conscience, the physicians say upon the account of health: "that a pleasure excessively lascivious, voluptuous, and frequent, makes the seed too hot, and hinders conception": 'tis said, elsewhere, that to a languishing intercourse, as this naturally is, to supply it with a due and fruitful heat, a man must do it but seldom and at appreciable intervals: 


"Quo rapiat sitiens Venerem, interiusque recondat."

["But let him thirstily snatch the joys of love and enclose them in  his bosom."—Virg., Georg., iii. 137.]
 
I see no marriages where the conjugal compatibility sooner fails than those that we contract upon the account of beauty and amorous desires; there should be more solid and constant foundation, and they should proceed with greater circumspection; this furious ardour is worth nothing."

(Chapter V——'Upon Some Verses Of Virgil') 

Look again at the picture above. Is the man Dali himself? 

This is what Dali writes in his autobiography- "The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí", 1942- about his first meeting with his future wife, Gala: 

"          I threw back Gala's head, pulling it by the hair, and trembling with complete hysteria, I commanded:
‘Now tell me what you want me to do with you! But tell me slowly, looking me in the eye, with the crudest, the most ferociously erotic words that can make both of us feel the greatest shame!’
Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered:
‘I want you to kill me!’"
 Orwell adds: "He is somewhat disappointed by this demand, since it is merely what he wanted to do already. He contemplates throwing her off the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Toledo, but refrains from doing so."

After reading this, the question that haunts me : "What happened next to the lady in the picture?