|Dr John Senior|
As a classicist, I learnt that habit is good, but experience proves the need to balance habit by frequent reinitiation. As a classicist, I hold that principles are indispensible, but experience proves the need to balance principles by frequently reconnecting with persons. Hard on principle but easy on people, rather than easy on principle but hard on people. He who stands by raw habit and nude principle has hung what he believes to be the truth in a tree and usually worships it with blood libations (sometimes his own, frequently that of others). I suppose the question that arises, however, is why do we ever lose contact with the real in the first place, either through habit (in the moral domain) or through principle (in the intellectual domain)? I'm sure Gabriel Marcel would convict me of having the spirit of abstraction.
|Professor Albert Borgmann|
If that all sounds woolly, the way I see it is that Borgmann is providing a reason why dinner round a table with good friends, laughing and enjoying each other's company, is more satisfying in all ways than an evening spent on Facebook. It suggests why even people who spend half their waking hours steeped in World of Warcraft think it's cool when someone can get the guitar out and pick a tune. It also correlates with Jacques Ellul's belief that the technological society begins as a way of thinking about things, rather than in material production. Perhaps habits and principles, taken in a narrow sense - taken in some self-sufficient sense - are ironically the incipit of a world understood without reference to its deeper self.
We are all users of technology; this very blog is a phenomenon of the technological culture. But this need not be a double bind. I'm free to blog as long as I don't forget the reality of the reader. I'm reminded of some lines by French novelist Georges Bernanos who, when someone said he was a 'realist' because he sat in cafes and wrote about what he observed, answered:
Beyond habit and abstraction, there is then some tangible thing with which I am bound to reconnect. Failure to do so seemingly comes at the price of an ever intensifying dessication of the mind and soul. Bernanos's words were addressed directly to that school of French literature that thought it was being 'naturalist' and 'realist' by trying to represent things as they are. By some sad paradox, they were disorting as they were representing. Somehow, the confidence of a certain mindset in seizing and possessing what is, can lead to a strange payback arising from the infidelity of the knowledge - the inadequation - such a process produces. Our principles are good, but our use of them can distort both them and us. Realism cannot be realism when it is obsessed only with what appears. G. K. Chesterton calls for for stereoscopy: the real only appears itself when viewed through mental binoculars, rather than through any reductive and voracious systematisation of the mind.
These things - and the inspiration of this blog - were brought home to me again recently standing beside an enchanted fjord (in the picture above and around us) when I found its beauty impressing itself upon me. It was not teaching me what it was in itself, as if it were undertaking some exercise in realism. It is not entirely clear what that mysterious fjord was up to But I think ultimately it was reminding me of the depths of all things and, likewise, inviting me to stand a little more humbly before them. Borgmann has not listed fjord-gazing as a focal activity, but something tells me he would not dismiss the suggestion.