The wingless birds of less difficult media

When books have all seized up like the books in graveyards
And reading and even speaking have been replaced
By other, less difficult, media, we wonder if you
Will find in flowers and fruit the same colour and taste
They held for us for whom they were framed in words,
And will your grass be green, your sky be blue,
Or will your birds be always wingless birds?

Louis MacNeice (1907–1963), To Posterity (collected in Visitations, 1957)

Have a look at photographer Babycakes Romero’s smartphone-themed collection, The Death of Conversation.

Ecstasy and efficiency

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health.  Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem.  There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church.  Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Even if the ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs, they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics. They did not say, “Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent order, I—” Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash.

G K Chesterton 1905 Heretics

A reasonable amount of healthy dirt

Well, allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position.

Robertson Davies 1951 Tempest-Tost (part one of the Salterton Trilogy)


Davies’ work is published by Penguin. Read an interview with him in Paris Review here. See what he has to say about gulls here.

Partners in the hazard of life

Otago_bark_1869-2The Mirror of the Sea, Joseph Conrad’s book about people, ships and the sea, is full of good things, even if you’re only really interested in people. For Conrad, the sea was a mirror in which we could see ourselves. Here he discusses handling ships and dealing with people — this passage is what I used to think about when being trained in communication and the like on work courses. Continue reading