Way back in 1770 the French philosopher, historian, and poet Voltaire wrote that “Perfect is the Enemy of Good.”1 He was quoting an Italian proverb, which was itself probably derived from the Greeks or the Etruscans or somebody, but we’ll go with Voltaire because he said so many wonderful things and deserves all the credit he can get.
This statement, “Perfect is the Enemy of Good,” seems troubling at first glance. Shouldn’t we strive for perfection, even if we know that we — flawed beasts that we are — can never achieve it? According to yet another poet, Robert Browning, “…a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”2
I don’t like country music. The yodeling vocals, the whining guitars, the relentlessly predictable lyrics about faithless babes, abusive bubbas, pickup trucks, disreputable nightspots in the middle of nowhere … An hour of this, and a visitor from another planet would marvel that everything south of the Mason-Dixon line had not long since slid off into the Gulf of Mexico, crushed into slurry under the weight of all that drama and all those tears.
“Wait just a gosh-darned minute!” I hear someone shouting from the back row. “Yes, a lot of country music is like that, but it’s not all the same. You’re being unfair.”
I was poking around among the bookshelves a day or so ago, looking for something to entertain me as the first cool weather of the season settles in, when I spotted my rather tattered Penguin Classics copy of the Histories of Herodotus.
Anyone who knows me may be surprised to learn that I own three Bibles (the Revised Standard, the New English, and the King James), as well as the Book of Mormon, the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, the Apocrypha, and an English translation of the Qur’an. I know the difference between an Apostle and an Epistle, I can list the twelve sons of Jacob*, and I can whip out a quote from the four Gospels for just about any occasion.
From “Mathios Paschalis among the Roses”, by George Seferis:
Her aunt was a poor old body, — veins in relief, Many wrinkles about her ears, a nose about to die; Yet her words always full of wisdom. One day I saw her touching Antigone’s breast, Like a child stealing an apple
Will I perhaps meet the old woman as I keep descending? When I left she said to me “Who knows when we shall meet again?” Then I read of her death in some old newspapers And of Antigone’s wedding and the wedding of Antigone’s daughter Without an end of the steps or of my tobacco Which imparts to me the taste of a haunted ship With a mermaid crucified, when still beautiful, to the wheel.
(Excerpted from “George Seferis: Poems”, translated from the Greek by Rex Warner, Nonpareil Books, 1960)
I’m in the process of reading Book One of the Lady Charlotte Guest’s collection and translation of the Mabinogion, the Welsh cultural epic, and I’ve just finished the story of Peredur of the Long Lance. (Quiet, you in the back row…)
In the course of his adventures Peredur meets (and ultimately marries) a beautiful woman known as “the Empress of Cristinobyl the Great”, who lives in “India”. This Empress is fabulously beautiful, fabulously wealthy, a sorceress, and she needs a good fighting man at her beck and call.
I don’t know what you’re going on about: I see Paul Krugman.
As I do just about every week, I stopped off on the way home from work last Friday to check a couple of books out of the Fayetteville Public Library. I usually read quite a bit, and I try to keep the beast supplied with a plenitude of reasonably nutritious fare — otherwise I start browsing things like the back of my cereal box or the ingredients list on my Twinkies, and there are some things we really weren’t meant to know.
“The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563) — We used to think it was a good idea to understand each other.
I often read novels by Latin-American authors in the original Spanish.
I know, I know: at least part of the reason for doing it is just to be able to make statements like that — we all carve out these nuggets of self-esteem where we can find them — but the fact remains that some stars really do shine brighter in the universes that gave them birth.
Holmes never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson,” but Basil Rathbone made us wish he had.
One-hundred seventy-one years ago, Edgar Allen Poe published his “Murders in the Rue Morgue”. A genre was born, and I, for one, am thankful. I do love a good detective story, now and then.
Poe’s investigator was an individual named Dupin, a “gentleman” in the most traditional sense of the word, a man of independent means who did not have to work for a living, but who could amuse himself however he chose: in this case, by investigating a sensational murder that he and his companion had been following in the press.