Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vanity and Higher Learning

Some dead-of-the-dark-winter thoughts from Palinurus's Unquiet Grave. On page 20: "Three faults, which are found together and which infect every activity: laziness, vanity, cowardice. If one is too lazy to think, too vain to do something badly, too cowardly to admit it, one will never attain wisdom." The idea is picked up again on page 30: "Sloth rots the intelligence, cowardice destroys all power at the source, while vanity inhibits us from facing any fact which might teach us something; it dulls all other sensation." It seems to me that Connolly here writes rather vaguely (though not falsely) about cowardice and laziness, but he sharpens a very important point about vanity. We can bring the two passages together in a single sentence: If we are not willing to do something badly we will not be sensitive to facts that might teach us something. Much more can be said on this, but the whole point of aphorism is of course to let the reader mull it over.


Laura Carter said...

I recently read in a book on postmodern theology that the temptation of modernism is pride, while that of postmodernism is sloth.

I will have to look for TUG! It is very wintry, indeed. I feel like mulling with that type of writing this season.

Happy New Year!

Thomas Basbøll said...

Happy New Year, Laura! Yes, wintry (though the cycle does technically pass through the seasons of the year, from autumn to autumn). I recommend the 1951 edition, with Connolly's introduction.

Presskorn said...

Let me convey a Happy New Year and my appreciation of RSL with a compliment of a somewhat ‘grammatical’ nature:

Sound pedagogical advice is something which, by its nature, you can only receive from others.

PS: Are we to read ‘badly’ as an adverb or an adjective? I guess one wants to read as an adjective, since even if one wanted to commit a crime, one would like to commit it with excellence – But perhaps that’s exactly what vanity is… Perhaps one ought to be willing to do some botched jobs once in a while in order to learn something?

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks, Thomas. I have to say that I don't see pedagogy as one of my strong suit. I like to think I just have instructive opinions about stuff.

Happy New Year to you too.

My intuition is that "badly" in "doing something badly" is an adverb. But I'll look it up and post on it first thing next year. I think I see your point.

Presskorn said...

The relevant distinction is discussed a few times during the quick-paced postmodern marvel "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", e.g.
around 35 seconds into this clip:

But I am not at all certain that we ought to learn grammar from the beautiful Michelle Monaghan...