Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Alone and in groups

I have been reading Stephen Greenblatt's Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern" recently. My mother passed in on to me. It's an interesting book about how the rediscovery of Greek and Roman texts, specifically Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things," changed the course of history and thought. I'm still in it, but I came across this bit here (reproduced in gotoreads, which makes me wonder if this is like a torrent site for books, so hopefully not breaking any laws here)

Ancient Greeks and Romans did not share our idealization of isolated geniuses, working alone to think through the knottiest problems. Such scenes—Descartes in his secret retreat, calling everything into question, or the excommunicated Spinoza quietly reasoning to himself while grinding lenses—would eventually become our dominant emblem of the life of the mind. But this vision of proper intellectual pursuits rested on a profound shift in cultural prestige, one that began with the early Christian hermits who deliberately withdrew from whatever it was that pagans valued: St. Anthony (250–356) in the desert or St. Symeon Stylites (390–459) perched on his column. Such figures, modern scholars have shown, characteristically had in fact bands of followers, and though they lived apart, they often played a significant role in the life of large communities. But the dominant cultural image that they fashioned—or that came to be fashioned around them—was of radical isolation.

It's interesting how the religious thought or idea actually changed what we valued in thought, also possibly creating a world of saints, solo inspiration, and eventually the tortured creative genius. It's an interesting lineage to think about.  Also interesting to note that when you look at our own history, rather than the lore of the individualist that we love to tell, most all discoveries and thought were created out of group development.  There's an interesting history book about the enlightenment and coffee houses, and how the greatest thinkers of the 18th century all knew each other and bounced ideas off of each other, though they were in different disciplines. Of course I can't recall the title.  We may arrive and leave alone, but in between its clear we are shaped by our time and those around us.  I like the idea that we work through things together.  So much less pressure. 

Speaking of pressure, I have a pinched nerve in my neck that's traveling down to my fingers, making writing somewhat challenging.  I will persevere, but I've not been spending much time doing it as it feels like a funny bone has been hit up and down my arm.  It's lessening.  And sometimes you just gotta go ahead and type even when you have a numb finger.  

Suffering for art. That's another trope for another time.

No comments: