Thursday, October 08, 2020

'As Nimble as the Flux of Existence'

“To read the newspaper & find everything in it insignificant. Sympathy extinguished. The greatest calamities are reduced to insignificance; the greatest triumphs are at once petty & insignificant.”


I came to a similar conclusion while still a journalist. New faces, same lousy human behavior. Were Juvenal to read the front page, he wouldn’t be surprised by anything essential. Why do people monitor every twitch in the seismograph that is the news cycle? I suspect they need something safely remote to fuel their anger and self-righteousness in order to feel something. They confuse intensity with authenticity of feeling. The passage quoted above, written in 1932 by Michael Oakeshott, can be found in his Notebooks, 1922-86 (Imprint-Academic, 2014).


I periodically read two newspapers – our neighborhood weekly and the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition, for the book reviews and occasionally a column or feature. I read the first out of nostalgia, I suppose, and some lingering sense of civic responsibility; the second, because it is, at least occasionally, a solitary holdout of good writing. Online, I never go to news sites. I’d rather read Juvenal.    


In Realms of Being (1942), the Santayana compendium that collected four earlier volumes -- The Realm of Essence (1927), The Realm of Matter (1930), The Realm of Truth(1938), and The Realm of Spirit (1940) – the Spanish philosopher writes:


“It might seem, for instance, that the truth changes as fast as the facts which it describes. On a day before the Ides of March it was true that Julius Caesar was alive: on the day after that Ides of March it had become true that he was dead. A mind that would keep up with the truth must therefore be as nimble as the flux of existence. It must be a newspaper mind.”


I’m no longer that nimble.

1 comment:

Tim Guirl said...

Here is an apt quote from Ezra Pound: " Literature is the news that stays news." I`m an avid newspaper reader, but skip over the fluff and most of the politics. Not an easy task.