Sunday, January 15, 2012

Anatomy of Melancholy V

As I slink wearily over the keyword to produce this post,
With nary a spark of the human vigor of our Enlightenment forefathers,
My mind a broken shadow of a machine, vaguely recollecting images of coherent ideas now shattered.
I dreamt in confusion of old breasts and stale Christmas candies,
I gave a go at subconscious self-abandon, but my brain and vital power were not in it.
To sleep, to wallow, to procure an abacus and tally the days till death,
Is the only remaining instinct.
There are no prospects for productive action,
No universes, no signifiers to be revealed.
I am perhaps dangerous, but only to myself, and only in an absurdist state of existence,
Which we may however inhabit.
Don't tempt me, don't tempt me, don't tempt me.
But of course you won't.
Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Cancun, Ibiza, Johannesburg, Bombay, St Petersburg, Beograd.
Albany, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Newcastle, Glasgow, Gdansk, Kaunas, Vichy.
All offer the equivalent life, the equivalent temptations to me.
I overheard a woman say she wanted to quit her job and go to the Burning Man Festival.
If I quit my own job and went to the Burning Man Festival I would not even have any fun there.
If I checked into a Super 8 in Rochester and pulled the curtains tight with the goal of sleeping in I would be stone awake at 7:30am with nothing to do.
Whether I pay for bottle service on 5th Avenue or go to $3 Pabst Blue Ribbon night in Crown Point,
Whether I go to the concert or the exhibition or the film festival of the Earnest and the Trite,
My own proper crowd, with our shared secret knowledges and confidential intrigues, is never to be found there.
It doesn't exist.

Now that I have had my little amusement let us move onto Burton:

"...it is better to sharpen toothpicks than to beg the favour of the great with literary productions." This is true.

On the neglect of learning by the contemporary European aristocracy: "Thus they reason, and are not ashamed to let mariners, prentices, and the basest servants be better qualified than themselves. In former times, kings, princes, and emperors were the only scholars, excellent in all faculties...Julius Caesar mended the year, and writ his own Commentaries: '(from Latin--Lucan) In the midst of warfare he found time to study the stars, the heavens, and the upper world.' I would write out the Latin if I felt I understood it and had some sense of the literary quality of the passage. In most instances however, I do not.

A ten year's lawsuit, inevitably unhappy for the personage referenced by Burton, is described as "as long as Troy's siege".

There is a whole section devoted to Bad Nurses, the premise, on the authority of "Favorinus, that eloquent philosopher", being "that there is the same property in milk as in the seed", which provides several good anecdotes. Cato, for instance, "...for some such reason would make his servants' children suck upon his wife's breast, because by that means they would love him and his the better, and in all likelihood agree with them." There is also an unnamed "...Queen of France, a Spaniard by birth (I don't recognize this person offhand), that was so precise and zealous in this behalf (viz., that a mother should suckle her own baby), that when in her absence a strange nurse had suckled her child, she was never quiet till she had made the infant vomit it up again".

Burton is those authors who is fond of making a very long argument on behalf of some point, to which the average reader will long have submitted, and then switching and making an equally long and persuasive argument against it.

Burton seems fascinated by the idea of Iceland. He refers to it a lot.

"...milk in gold cups, wine in silver, beautiful maidens at his beck..." When the rich man goes a-visiting.

On the learned and noble but impecunious man: "'If he speak, what babbler is this?', his nobility without wealth is more worthless than the seaweed on the beach, and he not esteemed." The expression and the expansive understanding of man's unhappy lot--not much is neglected--is what makes for the appeal of these otherwise long-acknowledged truths.

There is much that is wise in the depiction of the lives of slaves and servants, but I am going to pass over it because taken out of context the examples come over as crass and gratuitous, I think.

"A Sybarite of old, as I find it registered in Athenaeous, supping at the public tables in Sparta, and observing their hard fare, said it was no marvel if the Lacedaemonians were valiant men; 'for his part, he would rather run upon a sword-point (and so would any man in his wits) than live with such base diet, or lead so wretched a life'."

"If we may give credit to Munster, amongst us Christians in Lithuania they voluntarily mancipate and sell themselves, their wives and children to rich men, to avoid hunger and beggary; many make away themselves in this extremity". My people.



These last few examples are all from the section "Poverty and Want". Continuing in that vein:



"Dante, that famous Italian poet, by reason his clothes were but mean, could not be admitted to sit down at a feast." The citation for this is Gomesius (no, I haven't heard of him either; he does turn up on internet searches on pages that are basically catalogues of antique books, but I don't see any casual information about him). This (Dante) besides being perhaps the greatest Western poet of all time other than Homer, is the personage Ruskin called "the central man of the world". Yet even he was unrecognizable as such in inferior clothes, which is to me really a major point to be grasped here.



I don't like to recount atrocities, which sorts of things people know to happen even if they usually suppress that knowledge in their conscious daily life. But I suppose I need to remind myself of what people can really be like more frequently than I do. Because even if Burton's anecdotes are not completely accurate, one knows similar actions of the sort happened sometime.



"Alexander commanded the battlements of houses to be pulled down, mules and horses to have their manes shorn off, and many common soldiers to be slain, to accompany his dear Hephaestion's death; which is now practised amongst the Tartars, when a great Cham dieth, ten or twelve thousand must be slain, men and horses, all they meet..." This is from the section "Loss of Friends".



"Conradus the emperor would not touch his new bride till an astrologer had told him a masculine hour".

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