One kaleidoscope, many twists; same pieces, different configurations

–If, as novelist Henry James put it, what is real is what remains, then the playwright Samuel Beckett’s “nothing” in “Nothing is more real than nothing,” is what remains—before or after—everything has been ironized?

–What’s to be criticized when the positives are those that make room for knowing by knowing less, that at times what clarifies is blur, that good enough is to be naïve enough as an adult to see anew, that recasting categories of living and acting happens at the limits of cognition, and that thinking the hitherto unthinkable is an everyday extraordinary?

–It should be scant surprise that a species recasting its past finds it difficult to predict its future. Immanuel Kant admitted “we are dealing with beings…to whom, it is true, what they ought to do may be dictated in advance, but of whom it may not be predicted what they will do…But ‘miserable mortals,’ says the Abbot Coyer, ‘nothing is constant in your lives except inconstancy’”.

–“Collect all the facts that can be collected about the life of Racine and you will never learn from them the art of his verse. All criticism is dominated by the outworn theory that the man is the cause of the work as in the eyes of the law the criminal is the cause of the crime. Far rather are they both the effects.” Paul Valery

–The more you have to lose, the less you can take for granted. We are left somewhere between “Though to/hold on in any case means taking less and less/for granted…” and “to lose/again and again is to have more/and more to lose…” (Amy Clampitt from her “A Hermit Thrush” and Mark Strand from his “To Begin”). What to do? Elizabeth Bishop suggests–oddly?–in “One Art”: “Then practice losing farther, losing faster”.

–The unexpected event is informative. Inability to figure it out is itself information. Uncertainty needn’t be the absence of information.

–As one critic points out, reversion to the mean is not reproduction of the same.

–We’d like to believe that an idea isn’t responsible for those who believe in it, but that misses professed ideas can reflect intentions, and intentions are part of action.

–There is that sheer delight in turning catastrophism against the catastrophists. The delicious part of an otherwise dispiriting meeting on one-more-crisis comes when I get to add “. . .and of course there are the other things to worry about.” Heads look up, eyes dart, you can almost hear them thinking. If someone does ask—“What other things?”—I offer nothing explicit. We, well, can’t quite put our finger on what’s going wrong, this unease. . .

–They hanker after the old language, that of Baroque music or Mozart, and keep asking why we can’t have more, now. Yet it’s not only that the language has changed, that we can’t go back, and that new language is needed for meanings pushed further. They also want more Bach because that way they don’t have to think about the new, let alone the changes in between.

–The idea was that critique would ensure imagination was ahead of history, or in our case, ensure change is in the race with inertia.

–As the law has no eyes (said Xenophon’s Cyrus), so too for macro-design.

–“It’s the questions we ask that matter”. That’s not quite right. The hard issues–e.g., what is power?–remain hard because we’ve stopped short of pushing questions and answers further.

–If you cannot act believingly now, then belief does not matter enough, here.

–They read less as crisis scenarios in need of details than grudges passed off as threats.

–You’d think that “radical” in “radical uncertainty” would require responses other than the same-old same-old. Yet in his book on the last financial crisis, Mervyn King, former head of the Bank of England, ends up recommending the conventional: Radical uncertainty–King’s term–needs to be better reflected in economic and financial theories and practices. It seems that “radical” is dumbed down at the exact moment when needed most.

–If, as they say, need connects everything, then rarely have we been as connected as we were when isolated from each other during the pandemic.

–It’s an odd kind of a-historicism to deny utopian possibilities because we live in an endless present that forecloses on anything like a future.

–Overdetermination: too much wind-up for the pitch thrown. Resilience: the play in a steering wheel. Progress: watching Sovietology fade away. Solipsism: the last stage of society’s extreme polarization.

–To “see” the unknown unknowns means sensing ignorance through surprise and contingency. The opacity of ignorance leaves these traces and traces mean ignorance of unknown unknowns is never “placeless.”

–Sigmund Freud and H. Rider Haggard were enthusiastic collectors of carvings and antiquities to inspire their work. Freud at his improvising best gave his patient Haggard’s She to get her thinking. She, though, had already read She. (It’s said Carl Jung favored Haggard over Shakespeare.)

–How can you have “proper pricing of risk,” if you don’t know the system to be managed and the reliability standard to which the system as a whole is to be managed and, only then, can you ask: How are the risks entailed by subscribing to that standard to be managed?

–As frequently said of meditation, it’s the nature of the mind to wander, again and again.

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