Bought a copy of The Fry Chronicles yesterday on a whim, because I am a bit of an early Fry fan (Jeeves and Wooster were perfection, and I quite liked him in the Monty Python stuff) plus I admire his work on mental health stuff. So today I was reading the chapter about his time in Cambridge and quite naturally was comparing it with my undergraduate experience. I must say I am quite glad I chose America over England because, despite his self-deprecation and constant assurances that he was incredibly insecure, I can just imagine the ponciness of his set from the outside – mainly because of my own interactions (bare as those may be) with the American superrich. I mean, it’s bad enough when it’s American superrich (the amount of money isn’t so much the matter, it’s more about the social standing and class division aspects), British supperrich/landed gentry/poncy uppercrust sounds about a thousand times worse. And the constant anxiety about being a fraud, intellectual or otherwise, caused by the high idealization of legendary universities is quite familiar. Ah, youth! I must say that with all the flash and dash and pretended sophistication of the H. houses and clubs, they cannot match the decadence of the Cambridge May Balls for the sheer price of tickets and amount of decadence. Cambridge, MA, is, after all, officially shut down for business after 2 A.M., and actual cops do come to shut down your kegger, no matter how posh.
You may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees. But all of this amounts to absolutely nothing devoid of love.
But even more Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love it means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned, and die the death of a martyr. Your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as history’s supreme hero. But even so, if you have not love your blood was spilt in vain. You must come to see that it is possible for a man to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. He may be generous in order to feed his ego and pious in order to feed his pride. Man has the tragic capacity to relegate a heightening virtue to a tragic vice. Without love benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.
Novel Research Rant
How does a 13 year old think? Fortunately, due to the extensive chronicling of my life since literacy, it is not hard for me to find out. Unfortunately, I was a nitwit. Which means that it is kind of annoying to trawl through the endless stash of notebooks I have left in my wake, because every two pages I am doubled over in a dreadful grimace which is a cross between laughter and horror. If I were the sort of person who were not so harsh on myself, I would probably have drawn the conclusion that I was a sensitive, ambitious, introspective little girl. But being the proto-draconian-headmistress that I am probably condemned to be later in life, I say, expose the folly!
Examples of Nitwitness:
– Disturbing adherence to school and government propaganda, including lingering, tragical poetry about having to switch schools
– Reader’s Digest-style heartwarming articles
– Whole articles devoted to a “shared moment” (probably completely imaginary) with crush
– Successive entries on completely different crushes, each declaring undying love and that “this is the real thing”
– Verbatim quote: “We have already gone through everything together. … Pretty impressive since it has only been a few days”
– Was convinced she wore “millions of masks”
OK. Slightly more adorable, but still cringe-worthy:
– Earnest belief that daily log of growth of green bean was a scientific experiment
– Log book of coloured Japanese gel pens owned
– Environmentalist posters to save the tiger which I made copies of to paste over the whole house
Sometimes something as mundane and silly as putting on the screensaver does something to you, something radical. They are only photographs being slowly expanded across my screen, but somehow that balletic grace shines through. I imagine what sort of wonder they would have elicited just a century before, and here I am, blasé enough about them to display them on my screen when I’m not looking at them. To think that Marlowe’s Faust, when given a choice of limitless power, chose, as his first task, to fly high above the earth just to check the accuracy of the Renaissance maps, and here we are zooming in on our planet every few seconds each time we want to go to the next place we’re meeting a friend in, without having to sign our souls over to the devil first. It’s a wonder we still have the capacity for wonder at the beautiful thing, and it’s a wonder that I can, after so long, feel it again.
They tell me, Lord that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since but one voice is heard, it’s all a dream,
One talker aping two.
Sometimes it is, yet not as they
Conceive it. Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say,
But lo! my wells are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.
And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talkers, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.
– Anonymous, quoted by C. S. Lewis in Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
“On the one hand, the man who does not regard God as other than himself cannot be said to have a religion at all. On the other hand, if I think God other than myself in the same way in which my fellow-men, and objects in general, are other than myself, I am beginning to make Him an idol. I am daring to treat His existence as somehow parallel to my own. But He is the ground of our being. He is always both within us and over against us. Our reality is as much from His reality as He, moment by moment, projects into us. The deeper the level within ourselves from which our prayer, or any other act, wells up, the more it is His, but not at all the less ours. Rather, most ours when most His. Arnold speaks of us as ‘enisled’ from one another in the ‘sea of life’. But we can’t be similarly ‘en-isled’ from God. To be discontinuous from God as I am discontinuous from you would be annihilation.” – C. S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm.