Gooseberries" contemplates the idea that perhaps it is the self-limiting philosophies of the sort that Tolstoy implicitly prescribed for Pahom that are the real cardinal sin. That perhaps the only arena fit for the human mind is the entire world. And perhaps, Bond villains that we are, even the world is not enough.
Venkatesh Rao, from “The Gooseberry Fallacy”
As an avowed skeptic of self-help books, I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. In it, he discusses how conventional (and shoddy) self-help tips purport to teach us how to reach our own defined goals, while psychologists contend that an enormous prerequisite for happiness comes from cultivating comfort with uncertainty (John Keats called this “negative capability,” Plato’s somewhat-similar term is “metaxis”) instead of fighting for closure and definitive answers. I thought of this while reading Rao’s post—he uses short stories from Lev Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov to make a case similar to Burkeman, arguing that we should “embrace ambiguity and uncertainty in a fundamental way, and choose life over death, even when you don’t know what that life might hold for you.”
I love that I’m not the only one rereading “Gooseberries” these days.
…apparently a happy man only feels so because the unhappy bear their burden in silence, but for which happiness would be impossible. It is a general hypnosis. Every happy man should have some one with a little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws, and some misfortune will befall him – illness, poverty, loss, and then no one will see or hear him, just as he now neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer, and the happy go on living, just a little fluttered with the petty cares of every day, like an aspen-tree in the wind – and everything is all right.
Anton Chekhov with a reminder of unhappiness to temper (and sweeten) the blessings we celebrate today. From the same story
, “do not cease to do good!”
In our version of Mystic Brew, we work with that asymmetry and move it through Fibonacci-like transformations. We perform an asymmetric “stretch” that maintains the same “golden” balance over the entire measure. But we don’t transform simply by multiplying, as you might when shifting from duple to triple metre, or when doubling the quantities of a recipe, say. Rather, we try to preserve an “impression” of the original – the short-and-long-ness of it – to see if we can this way achieve that feeling of similarity.
It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don’t open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel there’s an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little fœtus you carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what’s in the envelope, and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know, too. But the clammy, sad little fœtus which is you way down in the dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn’t want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not-knowing. The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can’t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn’t got and which if he had it, would save him. There’s the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know.
–Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men