still thinking about context

"There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The line comes from Act 1 Scene 5 of Shakespeare's play Hamlet, spoken by the title character to fellow student Horatio after they've both seen a ghost.

“But there are secrets, secrets, I may yet—
hidden in history & theology, hidden in rhyme—
come on to understand.

Dream Song 159, John Berryman

Reading these lines this morning they seemed to me like an epigraph for an essay.

Yesterday I was reading in my new ebook copy of How to Live or a Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Blackwell. She points out the original meaning of essay:

Essayer, in French, means simply to try. To essay something is to test or taste it, or give it a whirl.

I have long been fond of Montaigne’s essays. I thought it might be nice to have them sitting in an ebook as well as the lovely paperback edition of M. A. Screech’s translation I own.

And sure enough there they are sitting online free in Charles Cotton’s 1877 translation.

(link to page where you can download it in various ebook formats for free)

I continue to ponder Don N. Micheal’s insights about context. (N.B. I think I have found an online version of his essay entitled “Some Observations on a Missing Elephant” link . I highly recommend reading it for yourself.)

I give context quite a bit of thought. Micheal lists it as both an example of our contemporary blindness to the disintegration of systems (elephants) which he calls “The Dilemma of Context.”

He asks how many layers of context will we plumb as we orient ourselves to a given question or idea? Is it possible to limit these layers?

But then in his list of response to our mutual ignorance he also mentions context. To be “context alert” is to retain some deep understanding in a small number of areas at the same time cultivating an awareness of the always multivalent “depth of complexity of ‘differing values, priorities, contexts, boundaries and so on.’”

I find this a question for thinkers. When I gingerly test others about context in conversations, I often find that I not many are thinking about what is “hidden in history & theology— hidden in rhyme.” (Berryman’s words above)

Is it any wonder I resonate with Michael’s insights?

As I read and think a parade of ghosts surround me. Allen Ginzberg proclaims his beautiful insights into the poetry of life…. John Berryman mourns Delmore Schwarz and guiltily celebrates the young female poets he lusts after…. Montaigne’s visage is serene and self-ironic as he shares insights that are common to all people…

Then there is the context of musicians. I am constantly in the company of people like Shostakovich, Schubert, Bach and on and on.

Context is important. It may be my strongest reality.


Obama Backs Student in Furor With Limbaugh on Birth Control –

This is probably a tempest in a teapot, but it is interesting and the student involved seems to have a clear strength of her convictions. Admirable.


James Q. Wilson Dies at 80 – Originated ‘Broken Windows’ Policing Strategy –

Speaking of context, I didn’t admire everything this guy came up with but I think he had hold of an important part of an elephant of sorts. (Get it? Blind men and elephant story which is debunked by Don N. Michael in the contemporary context? I mentioned to Eileen recently that I benefit from being an anachronism in my thinking about values and context…. I suspect Wilson did as well)


Maurice André, Star of Classical Trumpet, Dies at 78 –

Another man done gone. I liked the way this guy elegantly blasted his way through repertoire.


Crushing Homs –

Syria Keeps Red Cross Out of Homs After Rebels Leave –

The Syrian situation continues to be troubling. Interesting Putin quotes in the second article.


Santorum and the Sexual Revolution –

More damning clear talk about this confused man.


Calling for an End to Phony Military Discharges –

This article exposes some troubling but predictable nonsense from the government about mistreating vets. Blah.


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3 thoughts on “still thinking about context

  1. Thank you for the Borowitz and many other links. I Googled “Stirch”, feeling stupid for not getting it. Only your blog popped up. (Man, copyright that word!) So, I read through dozens of Borowitz one-liners and found “Sturch”. Now I get it. And I’m glad to have re-discovered Borowitz.

    I read the Michael’s essay on context. Even though I’ve been reminded throughout my life how relatively little I or anyone else knows about anything, I do fall into the trap of thinking otherwise. I like the idea that there isn’t an elephant at all, heh. I wonder if this kind of thinking is too uncomfortable for most (I think so). How can you articulate the idea without sounding ridiculous in today’s political arena, especially since you’d have only 20 words or less?

    Your friendThank you for the Borowitz and many other links. I Googled “Stirch” because I didn’t get it. Only your blog popped up. (Man, copyright that word!) So, I read through dozens of Borowitz one-liners and found “Sturch”. Now I get it.

    Back to my life of laundry, music and dating…


  2. Good to hear from you, Nick. And thanks for the gentle spelling correction on sturch…. There is more recently released research about not recognizing one’s own limitations and incompetence…. I’m going to put these links up today. My silly wordperfect blog template won’t let me link them here for your convenience….

  3. Well, sturch was not THAT far of a leap in the imagination, but my brain was apparently not into leaping that evening. Anyway, thanks for the additional links. It is interesting that the more competent you are, the more likely you are to recognize how much you don’t know, as the competent scorers showed in the article. Of the many things I’ve acquired from good minds, the most useful and comforting to me is the desire to recognize my limitations. I wonder at the loss of humility in our public discourse and whether that is unique to us, a Western problem, or just a random thing that comes and goes.

    My only disagreement with the Yahoo article was with the first line, that the democratic process relies on the notion that people can choose the best leadership. My feeling is that the democratic process enables people with divergent opinions to live together in peace. I found it encouraging that, for all our accumulated incompetence, we at least tend to pick better-than-average leaders, however that was defined in these studies.

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