The Shape described by Seven
Five books from the secondhand bookshop, one from a far-flung corner of the library and one from Alex, present themselves and tell their tale.
“The fun of playing resists all analysis, all logical interpretation. As a concept, it cannot be reduced to any other mental category… Here we have to do with an absolutely primary category of life, familiar to everybody at a glance right down to the animal level… The incidence of play is not associated with any particular stage of civilisation or view of the universe… Play cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play… From the point of view of a world wholly determined by the operation of blind forces, play would be altogether superfluous. Play only becomes possible, thinkable, and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the universe. The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation.”
Johan Huizinga, “Homo Ludens”, introduction, 1949
“Philosophy invites us to ask whether what we say in morality is true. One thing I felt in writing this book, and feel even more now, is that it is vital not to forget another question that is to be asked both about morality and about moral philosophy, how far what we say rings true.”
Bernard Williams, “Morality”, introduction 1993
“In some strange way we devalue things as soon as we give utterance to them. We believe we have dived to the uttermost depths of the abyss, and yet when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pallid finger-tips no longer resembles the sea from which it came. We think we have discovered a hoard of wonderful treasure-trove, yet when we emerge again into the light of day we see that all we have brought back with us is false stones and chips of glass. But for all this, the treasure goes on glimmering in the darkness, unchanged.”
Maurice Maeterlinck, quoted in “Young Torless” by Robert Musil, 1906
“I shall argue that while it is certainly possible in many cases to discredit appeals to the objectivity of reason by showing that their true sources lie elsewhere – in wishes, prejudices, contingent and local habits, unexamined assumptions, social or linguistics conventions, involuntary human responses and so on – interpretations of this “perspectival” or “parochial” kind will inevitably run out sooner or later. Whether one challenges the rational credentials of a particular judgment or a whole realm of discourse, one has to rely at some level on judgments and methods of argument which one believes are not themselves subject to the same challenge: which exemplify, even when they err, something more fundamental, and which can be corrected only by further procedures of the same kind.
Yet it is obscure how that is possible: both the existence and the non-existence of reason present problems of intelligibility. To be rational we have to take responsibility for our thoughts while denying that they are just expressions of our point of view. The difficulty is to form a conception of ourselves that makes sense of this claim.”
Thomas Nagel, “The Last Word”, 1997
“In the beginning, let me as distinctly as possible announce, not the theorem which I hope to demonstrate – for, whatever the mathematicians may assert, there is, in this world at least, no such thing as demonstration – but the ruling idea which, throughout this volume, I shall be continually endeavouring to suggest.
My general proposition, then, is this: in the original unity of the first thing lies that secondary cause of all things, with the germ of their inevitable annihilation.
In illustration of this idea, I propose to take such a survey of the universe that the mind may be able really to receive and to perceive an individual impression.
He who from the top of Etna casts his eye leisurely around is affected chiefly by the extent and diversity of the scene. Only by a rapid whirling of the heel could he hope to comprehend the panorama in the sublimity of its oneness. But as, on the summit of Etna, no man has thought of whirling in his heel, so no man has ever taken into his brain the full uniqueness of the prospect; and so, again, whatever considerations lie involved in this uniqueness, have as yet no practical existence for mankind.”
Edgar Allen Poe, “Eureka”, 1848
“But here I should hesitate for a moment – for what do I mean by ‘belief’? The word is not to be airily tossed away in this cavalier fashion, without some attempt to come to intellectual grips with it. In my own case I find that with every kind of belief one must exercise a certain caution – for it hardens into dogma if it becomes absolute rather than provisional. The word Tao, on the other hand, suggests to me different stances (all truth being relative) – a state of total disponibilité, total availability, a total and comprehensive and wholehearted awareness of that instant where certainty breaks through the surface like a hooked fish. Only at this point is the spirit fully tuned in to the great metaphor of the world as TAO. Reality is then prime, independent of the hampering conceptual apparatus of conscious thought. It is the flashpoint where the mind joins itself to the nature of all created things. That poetry is Tao.”
Lawrence Durrell, “A Smile in the Mind’s Eye”, 1980
“On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
All distances of place however wide
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilisations, languages,
All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.”
Walt Whitman, from “Leaves of Grass”, 1856