Pages

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Times They Are A-Changin


It is not necessary to fathom the ground or the structure of everything in order to know what to make of it. Stones do not disconcert a builder because he may not happen to know what they are chemically; and so the unsolved problems of life and nature, and the Babel of society, need not disturb the genial observer, though he may be incapable of unravelling them.

He may set these dark spots down in their places, like so many caves or wells in a landscape, without feeling bound to scrutinise their depths simply because their depths are obscure. Unexplored they may have a sort of lustre, explored they might merely make him blind, and it may be a sufficient understanding of them to know that they are not worth investigating. In this way the most chaotic age and the most motley horrors might be mirrored limpidly in a great mind, as the Renaissance was mirrored in the works of Raphael and Shakespeare; but the master's eye itself must be single, his style unmistakable, his visionary interest in what he depicts frank and supreme.

Hence this comprehensive sort of greatness too is impossible in an age when moral confusion is pervasive, when characters are complex, undecided, troubled by the mere existence of what is not congenial to them, eager to be not themselves; when, in a word, thought is weak and the flux of things overwhelms it.

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion (1913)

7 comments:

Sackerson said...

Lost me there, too airy. Bob's probably drunk.

Sam Vega said...

Hence this comprehensive sort of greatness too is impossible in an age when moral confusion is pervasive, when characters are complex, undecided, troubled by the mere existence of what is not congenial to them, eager to be not themselves;

I don't know what to make of the Santayana passage, on the grounds that this could be a fair description of the type of society that did give rise to Shakespeare and Raphael. But I'm fairly certain that Dylan doesn't have a lot to offer me. He can remain one of those unexplored caverns. So can his inexplicable popularity.

Santayana himself, though, goes on my "to do list". It may take some time to get round to him . But I'll definitely blame you, AKH, as you are the only person I know who quotes him.

James Higham said...

A little bit too airy-fairy and abstruse, this GS piece.

Roger said...

Very enjoyable, a subtle thinker. I shall look out for GS in my favourite bookshop.

BTW, browsing in the bookshop there was a chap nearby whistling - whistling in a bookshop!!

Right in front of me was a big heavy book entitled 'Multiple Trauma'. He very nearly got it.

Michael said...

I think there is something in GS's comment, in that I keep wondering how my electric bike wheel actually works, and not knowing how was beginning to get on my nerves!

So I did a little research and now I know how it works, I'm at peace, and while I tootle round the countryside, I have less to consider on the transport method, and more beautiful sights to see at the same time.

And I know all the words and music to 'The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll' too...

Demetrius said...

Bob Dylan and for that matter the entertainment etc. 60's entirely passed me by, having too many other things to do. I was vaguely aware that things were happening in London, but not at the meetings I went -to there or the official bodies that demanded my attention. It was like that for more or less all the people we knew and worked with. So Dylan etc. is just another bit of history.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - or perhaps the Nobel committee had an attack of idiot wind.

Sam - I quote some of the best bits of course, but Scepticism and Animal Faith is worth a look.

James - he carries you with him if you allow it.

Roger - he isn't wildly uncommon in good bookshops so must have been popular once. As I recall I've never heard whistling in a bookshop though - isn't it illegal?

Scrobs - I've never listened to 'The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll', never liked Dylan. I'd probably like an electric bike though. While walking along the Tissington Trail recently we had a chat with a couple who had just bought one each.

Demetrius - he passed me by too, mostly because I couldn't stand him.