Trains of Thought
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III. 6/02-10/02/17; hypnotic

Henry James on M. Sarcey: a theater critic but the text could be modified to describe a wine-critic.  Robert Parker comes to mind.

When you make and unmake fortunes at this rate, what matters it whether you have a little elegance the more or the less? What principles does the theatre rest on? Vaguely and inconveniently registered mass of regulations which time and occasion have welded together and from which the recurring occasion can usually manage to extract the right precedent.

Even the smallest thing can be perfected, become part of the polish. There’s a mystic salubrity in the bad ventilation of the theatre, he writes.

The theatre-night starts with the performance of plays by less established performers. You can stay all night; “Stageflix.” He samples other theatres, but soon gives them up. They do not pay-off in the same way: less depth.

It would be much better if everyone wore a suit. Cleaner, uplifting, you’d feel motivated for the day. Instead: cargo pants, t-shirts, Lycra, cord, woolly hats, synthetic jackets. Not a single tie in the carriage. A woman opposite covers her mouth and nose with a scarf to sleep and the reason becomes clear as a smell wafts over. A carriage of breakfast digesting bodies. There is no mystic salubrity.

A woman gets up to cough drily. Coughs against the door. She looks like Jeremy Paxman.

Crossword on an iPad: it’s more than just a crossword, there is a window of advice, perhaps a thesaurus or dictionary on the right part of the screen. He flicks to another game with moving colourful shapes, then back to the crossword. 100% absorption.

Henry James again:

Art deals with what we see, it must contribute full-handed that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise expressed, in the garden of life- which material elsewhere grown is stale and uneatable.

Then the squeezing-out of value commences. The sedentary part begins and James compares the writer to an accountant. Like the man who balances a ledger, the author must keep his head at any price.

People are getting up particularly early today. The man in sports gear led the way, now half the carriage is up.

The street is pockmarked with gum, chewed and dried.

Appetite for music changes, is inconstant like any appetite. The excitement of a new flavour wears off, becomes tedious. Hunger pangs for the staple diet: back to Beethoven’s sonatas.

Drayton Park: sprightly trees, moss over walls, red-breasted birds, bottles and cans in various states of decay.

To prevent repetition you have to find new meadows or change the process. Men at work in orange coats and impromptu clothes rack, wires hanging next to jackets.

9:30 is a quiet time both under – and overground. It’s strange how we have all fallen into the same habits: approx 9-5, 5 days a week. There’s no good reason for this. Just another convention, the conventional view of a man spending his life in a standard pattern of working weeks. Jazz musicians “trade fours”, city-workers trade eights (eight hour days).

Grains of coarse sand on the walkways but there’s no risk of slipping any more. The last sand of the year, probably.

The human mind’s primary function is to reconcile the past with the future. The balance of weight shifts: a child is future oriented, learns quickly, grasps, connects, is optimistic. Progressively the balance shifts. The first reflection on a childhood memory marks a turning point.

On the 365502 a woman in black is slumped over her Louis Vuitton handbag. Is it real? The straps are red-edged, which looks out of character..

Man makes his end for himself out of himself: no end is imposed by external considerations, he must realize his true nature, must be what nature orders, so must discover what his nature is. (A “suggestive gloss” on Oscar Wilde’s copy of the Nichomachean Ethics.)

A woman with cropped hair and a “15 minute Spanish” book in her bag is writing in her notebook by hand, copying from a piece of paper torn from a spiral notebook, which has a Spanish vocabulary list on it. The train jolts as it passes over uneven section of the track and the woman looks up towards the front of the train, frowning, tutting, shaking her head: she can’t write her Spanish words cleanly. More loose vocabulary papers are tucked under a leather cased iPhone under her leg on the seat. She wears a silver ring on the thumb as well as on the ring-finger of her left hand. The overall appearance is masculine. She thumbs a mini bright-orange, Oxford learner’s dictionary.

Wilde criticised Symonds for failing to understand Homer’s women. Penelope: trivialised, Helen: conventionalised.

A homeless person sleeping under the cover of a bus stop. A different perspective.

It is interesting how thoughts can get caught up on trivial matters: light matter trapped in unstable orbit.

A misty but resolute morning. The feeling of twilight: jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne. Every beginning: that’s the point. Humans crave beginnings, open-ended journeys, hope: “yes, we can” or even “let’s make it great again.” These are all appeals to the spirit of the starting line: Aufbruchsstimmung.

The idea of a garden city is wonderful, but it’s a difficult one to execute. The design of the garden(s) is crucial and the architecture must blend with the garden’s design. It’s more likely that what you end up with is a greenish version of American suburbia.

Yellow street lights against the rich, pale-blue diffusive sky, like jewels set in a nobleman’s rich blue cloth. The white lights are similarly set, like exaggerated diamonds, so pure they seem to generate light.

A while back there was an exceptionally popular Ted talk on “Flow”. Where is the line between a state of “flow” and a state of self-hypnosis? Billeter draws a parallel between the work of Zhuangzi and the work of Milton H. Erickson, with an interesting description of how to calm a screaming pair of children at an airport.

He relates that he found himself one day in the waiting-room of an airport where there was a mother accompanied by several young children. It was late in the evening, and the children were overexcited. The young woman, who was exhausted, tried to get them to sleep, but without success. There was nothing she could do to deal with their agitated state. Erickson decided to help her. He got up and went to buy a newspaper at a kiosk, resumed his seat and began to tear the pages of the paper into long strips in a calm but visible manner. One after the other, the children started to watch what he was doing. Erickson imperturbably arranged the paper strips on the ground in front of him in such a way that they formed a circle enclosing a cross. The children were spellbound. One of them asked him why he was arranging the paper in this way. “It’s what I do before I go to sleep,” he answered. At this the children sank almost immediately into sleep.

The allure of the law: the rigour, the logic, commitment to the truth. A probabilist during a third year undergraduate lecture: to think mathematically, you must be like lawyers. You have to build your case, find the evidence and then execute the proof. The same probabilist said: mathematics is something you can learn, you don’t start from nothing like you would do if you were writing a novel. You have a building of theory and you’re adding some enhancements, perhaps a new tower if you’re really good, but probably just a bit of new paint here and there. A novelist has to build a whole world from nothing, isn’t that much harder? In fact I don’t remember the probabilist saying all of this. All I remember are the conceptual pairs: mathematical proof/building a law-case, mathematical work / writing a novel. While writing the mind takes these pairs and starts weaving itself around them. A Kleistian process: the self-completion of thought through writing.

The body knows more than the conscious mind. It can think for itself, so to speak. You could, for example, convince yourself that everything is going well, but your body may signal: no, something is broken. Examples: trembling, insomnia, sweaty hands, headaches, gastritis…

The sky at dusk is almost the same as it was at dawn. The shade is a touch lighter. The light is biased to the lighter tones: we are, after all going from light to dark. There’s an inertia in colour.

What’s in a name? Names are magical. In a corporate environment names become symbolic. Notions of power and success are attached to them. And because life is increasingly meshed with work, a name can stand in for the “good life.” Leaders cultivate this: the CEO as a Greek hero. What sort of company would Achilles lead: software startup or an industrial conglomerate? Patroclus as the c-suite sidekick.

It’s easy to be sucked into the vortex if you let yourself get close. The most important thing is to practice what German driving instructors call “vorausschauendes Fahren.” Neatly evade the eddies and currents if your craft is delicate, or change gear and accelerate earlier if your motor can power through.

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