Thursday, February 04, 2010

`Getting Past Vanity'

“And if no one reads me, have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts?”

Montaigne, of course, from “On giving the lie,” asking another self-answering question. Sometimes I think the man who redefined essai for literary purposes has already asked all the important questions and supplied all the interesting if not always definitive answers. He was not quite 50 when he wrote this essay, around 1580. I (age 57) reread it Wednesday in a high-school gymnasium where I was keeping an eye on a student arguing with a teacher. Soon I had to escort him to the counselor’s office. At home I had an e-mail from Elberry, who has hardly passed 30:

“It's probably not coincidence most of the best bloggers are in their 50s at least - such equilibrium isn't a youthful property.”

A flattering sentiment but probably true. The thoughtful middle-aged are less likely to rant, to bait their lessers, to scrawl their names on the bathroom wall. They’re less interested in pleasing or angering you and more interested in getting the job done to their satisfaction. They have less to prove and more to say – concisely, we hope. Elberry continues:

“One can only do good work by getting past vanity. i like to give pleasure but it's very important that i write to give myself pleasure first of all - and to be the sort of person who will take most pleasure in that which will also please others.”

Middle-aged thoughts from a young man, and very much in the manner of Montaigne. Solemn or goofy, Elberry is always worth reading carefully. He speaks of vanity, our chronic human malady, and Montaigne addresses a sizeable essay to that subject:

“No pleasure has any savor for me without communication. Not even a merry thought comes to my mind without my being vexed at having produced it alone without anyone to offer it to.”

1 comment:

Gaw said...

I would recommend his recent book of essays and stories (available via his blog). His discussion of good and evil in Tolkien, for instance, is quite superb.