Dialogue on the Threshold

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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Deus nocturnus

Nocturnum deum Varro in saturis perpetuo sopore et ebrietate torpidum introduxit. 

M. Terentius Varronis Saturarum Menippearum Reliquiae
edidit F. Oehler, Quedlinburg and Leipzig, 1844, p. 239.  

In the Satires, Varro presented the God of Night as stupefied with deep sleep and drunkenness. 

(Remains of Terentius Varro's Menippean Satires, edited by F. Oehler)

Oehler provides the following note on this spurious fragment:  

Popma citat hunc locum ex Augustini libris de Civ. Dei; sed mihi, opere hoc paene sexcenties pervoluto, reperire eum non evenit. 

[Ausonius van] Popma [1563-1613] quotes this passage from Augustine's The City of God; but having reread the work nearly six hundred times, I have not happened to find it.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Originaux et excentriques

En Angleterre (surtout en Écosse), les hommes domptés par une religion de fer et courbés sous le puritanisme, ne peuvent s'évader que par cette demi-rupture avec le réel, cette demi-folie qu'on appelle l'excentricité. Ce sont les maniaques écossais qui ont accrédité en Europe le type du lord spleenétique et maboul. Mais voici qu'à l'autre bout du continent, dans une ambiance clémente et sous un clergé non-interventioniste, des excentriques naissent tout aussi nombreux ; l'aimable Roumanie en engendre au moins autant que la lugubre Écosse. Je leur trouve un grand air de famille entre eux : Anglais ou Roumains, ils ont cette assurance dans l'extravagance, cette imperméabilité à l'opinion des gens, cette insularité morale qui ne se développe que dans l'isolement forcé ou dans la liberté totale. Excès de frein ou absence de frein.

In England (and in Scotland especially), men curbed by an iron religion and bent under the weight of puritanism find their only escape in that semi-rupture with the real, that semi-madness known as eccentricity. Such are the Scottish maniacs who have made familiar throughout Europe the type of the splenetic, barmy lord. But here at the other end of the continent, in a clement setting and under a non-interventionist clergy, eccentrics are born in equal numbers; easy-going Romania engenders at least as many as dour Scotland. I find a great family resemblance between them: Englishmen or Romanians, they have that assurance in their extravagance, that impermeability to others' opinions, that moral insularity that can only develop in enforced isolation or in complete freedom. An excess of restraint or the absence of restraint. 

Paul Morand, Bucarest, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1935, pp. 235-6.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The decay of learning

The abolition of Latin as the universal learned language, and the introduction in its place of the parochialism of national literatures, has been a real misfortune for science and learning in Europe, in the first place because it was only through the medium of the Latin language that a universal European learned public existed at all, to the totality of which every book that appeared directed itself; and in all Europe the number of heads capable of thinking and forming judgements is moreover already so small that if their forum is broken up and kept asunder by language barriers their beneficial effect is infinitely weakened. (...) A vile practice appearing with more impudent blatantness every day which deserves special reproof is that in scholarly books and in specifically learned journals, even those published by academies, passages from Greek and even (proh pudor) from Latin authors are cited in German translation. Devil take it! Are you writing for tailors and cobblers? If this is what it has come to, then farewell humanity, noble taste and cultivation! Barbarism is returning, despite railways, electricity and flying balloons. (...) It should here be remarked in passing that patriotism, when it wants to make itself felt in the domain of learning, is a dirty fellow who should be thrown out of doors. For what could be more impertinent than, where the purely and universally human is the only concern, and where truth, clarity and beauty should alone be of any account, to presume to put into the scales one's preference for the country to which one's own valued person happens to belong, and then, with that in view, do violence to truth and commit injustice against the great minds of other nations in order to puff up the lesser minds of one's own?

Arthur Schopenhauer, "Ueber Gelehrsamkeit unde Gelehrte", Kap. XXI,  
Parerga und Paralipomena. Kleine philosophische Schriften. Zweiter Band: Vereinzelte, jedoch systematisch geordnete Gedanken über vielerlei Gegenstände, Berlin, 1851.
(Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth, 1970, pp. 227-229)  

Sunday, 27 September 2015


Wherever the spirit of God is extruded from our human calculations, an unconscious substitute takes its place. In Schopenhauer we find the unconscious Will as the new definition of God, in Carus the unconscious, and in Hegel identification and inflation, the practical equation of philosophical reason with Spirit, thus making possible that intellectual juggling with the object which achieved such horrid brilliance in his philosophy of the State. Hegel offered a solution of the problem raised by epistemological criticism in that he gave ideas a chance to prove their unknown power of autonomy. They induced that hybris of reason which led to Nietzsche's superman and hence to the catastrophe that bears the name of Germany. (...) A philosophy like Hegel's is a self-revelation of the psychic background and, philosophically, a presumption. Psychologically, it amounts to an invasion by the unconscious. The peculiar high-flown language Hegel uses bears out this view: it is reminiscent of the megalomanic language of schizophrenics, who use terrific spellbinding words to reduce the transcendent to subjective form, to give banalities the charm of novelty, or pass off commonplaces as searching wisdom. So bombastic a terminology is a symptom of weakness, ineptitude, and lack of substance. But that does not prevent the latest German philosophy from using the same crackpot power-words and pretending that it is not unintentional psychology. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "Theoretische Überlegungen zum Wesen des Psychischen," Von den Wurzeln des Buwusstseins, Rascher, Zurich, 1954
On the Nature of the Psyche, trans. R. F. C. Hull, Routledge, 2001, pp. 94-95.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

De quelques phénomènes du sommeil

Il peut paroître extraordinaire, mais il est certain que le sommeil est non seulement l’état le plus puissant, mais encore le plus lucide de la pensée, sinon dans les illusions passagères dont il l’enveloppe, du moins dans les perceptions qui en dérivent, et qu’il fait jaillir à son gré de la trame confuse des songes. (…) Il semble que l'esprit, offusqué des ténèbres de la vie extérieure, ne s’en affranchit jamais avec plus de facilité que sous le doux empire de cette mort intermittente, où il lui est permis de reposer dans sa propre essence, et à l’abri de toutes les influences de la personnalité de convention que la société nous a faite. 

Charles Nodier, "De quelques phénomènes du sommeil",
Rêveries littéraires, morales et fantastiques, Brussels, 1832

As extraordinary as it might seem, it is certain that sleep is not only the most powerful, but also the most lucid state of mind, if not in the transient illusions in which it envelops itself, then at least in the perceptions that derive from it, and which it causes at will to gush from the vague weft of dreams. (...) It seems that the spirit, offended at the shadows of exterior life, never releases itself from it with greater ease than under the sweet influence of that intermittent death, when it is permitted to fall back on its own essence, sheltered from all the influences of the conventional personality that society imposes on us.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The plurality of hells

According to these manifold distinctions in evil, and their nearer or more remote distances from one another, are the several hells divided and regulated with the utmost exactness and congruity. There are also hells under hells, communicating with one another, some by passages, and some by exhalations, according to the agreement or affinity betwixt evil and evil. That the hells are so many and various appears from its being given me to know, that under every mountain, hill, rock, plain and valley, there were particular hells of different extent in length, breadth, and depth. In a word, both heaven and the world of spirits may be considered as convexities, under which are arrangements of those infernal mansions. So much concerning the plurality of hells. 

Emanuel Swedenborg, Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell, Containing a Relation of many Wonderful Things therein, as heard and seen by the Author. 
 London: Printed and Sold by James Phillips, George Yard, Lombard Street, 1778.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The regression of listening

In one of his essays, Aldous Huxley has raised the question of who, in a place of amusement, is really being amused. With the same justice, it can be asked whom music for entertainment still entertains. Rather, it seems to complement the reduction of people to silence, the dying out of speech as expression, the inability to communicate at all. It inhabits the pockets of silence that develop between people moulded by anxiety, work and undemanding docility. Everywhere it takes over, unnoticed, the deadly sad rôle that fell to it in the time and the specific situation of the silent films. It is perceived purely as background. If nobody can any longer speak, then certainly nobody can any longer listen.

Theodor W. Adorno, "On the fetish character in music and the regression of listening",  
The Culture Industry, ed. J. M. Bernstein, Routledge, 1991, p. 27

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Occasionall Melancholie

And for her, some sicknesses, in the declination of her yeeres, had opened her to an overflowing of Melancholie; Not that she ever lay under that water, but yet, had sometimes, some high Tides of it; and, though this distemper would sometimes cast a cloud, and some halfe damps upon her naturall cheerfulnesse, and sociablenesse, and sometimes induce darke, and sad apprehensions . . . Occasionall Melancholy had taken some hold in her; Nevertheless, that never Ecclipst, never interrupted her cheerfull confidence, and assurance in God. 

John Donne, A Sermon of Commemoration of the Lady Danvers, 1 July 1627

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Hives in hell

His firm stanzas hang like hives in hell
Or what hell was, since now both heaven and hell
Are one, and here, O terra infidel.

Wallace Stevens, Esthétique du Mal (1944)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Plutonis Regia

Socrates. On this account, Hermogenes, let us say, that not one of those there is willing to come hither, not even the Syrens themselves; but that both they, and all others, are enchanted; such beautiful discourses does Pluto, it seems, know how to utter. And by this reasoning this god is both a perfect sophist, and a great benefactor to those with him; and who sends up to those here such good things; so many things does he have in superfluity; and from hence he has the name of Pluto. And on the other hand, through his unwillingness to associate with men invested with bodies, but only to have an intercourse with them, when the soul becomes cleansed from all the evils and desires which were around the body, does he not appear to you to be a philosopher, and to have well considered this, that he should thus detain them, by binding them with the desire for virture; but that if they possessed the flutterings and mad feelings of the body, not even his father Kronos would be able to detain them with him, in those bonds with which he was said to be bound.

Plato, Cratylus, 403d-404a

George Burges, The Works of Plato. A New and Literal Version, London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 1850. Vol. 3, pp. 320-321

Monday, 25 May 2015

The library of Nara

Apud Japonios, in civitate Narad, vel Nara, templum est augustissimum, quod Cobocui nominatur, Xacae sacrum, a cujus latere Bonzii, eorum sacerdotes, sua atria et cubicula habent, quorum unum, 24. columnis rotundis innixum, Bonziorum bibliothecam continet, tanta librorum copia refertam, ut ipsae etiam fenestrae, libris, quasi lateribus, obstructae sint. 

Jean Lomeier, De bibliothecis liber singularis, second edition, Utrecht, Ex officina Johannis Ribii, Bibliopolae, 1630, p. 352.

In the land of the Japanese, in the city of Narad, or Nara, there is a most majestic temple, called Cobocui [Kōfuku-ji?], sacred to the Buddha, next to one of whose walls the Bonzes, their priests, have their halls and their cells, one of which, resting on twenty-four round columns, houses the library of the Bonzes, crammed with such a multitude of books that even the windows themselves are obstructed with them, like walls.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The libraries of Hell

Frontispiece, Eloge de l'enfer. Ouvrage critique, historique, et moral. A la Haye, Chez Pierre Gosse Junior, Libraire de S. A. R. 1759.


Descendant in INFERNUM Viventes, ne descendant Morientes.
S. Bernardus, Lib. de Vitâ Solitariâ.

Let them descend into Hell being alive, lest they descend being dead.
St Bernard, On the Solitary Life.


Im Traum, & auch lange nach dem Erwachen, können uns Traumworte die höchste Bedeutung zu haben scheinen. Ist nicht die gleiche Illusion auch im Wachen möglich? Es kommt mir so wor, als unterläge ich ihr jetzt manchmal. Bei Verrückten scheint es oft so. 

In a dream, & even long after we wake up, dream words can seem to us to have the greatest significance. Isn't the same illusion possible too in waking life? It seems to me as though I am sometimes subject to it these days. It often appears to be like this with the insane.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value. A Selection from the Posthumous Remains
ed. Georg Henrik von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Blackwell, Oxford, 1998, p. 75

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Our present Patriotism

Since Nonsense files with greater Celerity, and makes greater Impression than Reason; though no particular Species of Nonsense is so durable. But the several Forms of Nonsense never cease succeeding one another; and Men are always under the Dominion of some one or other, though nothing was ever equal in Absurdity and Wickedness to our present Patriotism.

David Hume, letter to William Strahan, Edinburgh, 25 of March 1771

Monday, 4 May 2015

La biblioteca

Si el honor y la sabiduría y la felicidad no son para mí, que sean para otros. Que el cielo exista, aunque mi lugar sea el infierno. Que yo sea ultrajado y aniquilado, pero que en un instante, en un ser, Tu enorme Biblioteca se justifique.

Jorge Luis Borges, "La biblioteca de Babel", 1941

If honour and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified.

trans. James E. Irby

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The sole proof of our heterogeneity

Diese Angst in der Welt ist aber der einzige Beweis unserer Heterogenität.

This anxiety in the world is, however, the sole proof of our heterogeneity. 

J. G. Hamann (1730-1788), letter to J. G. Herder (1744-1803), 3 June 1781, quoted by Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in a loose-leaf note dating from 1842, quoted by Leonid Dimov (1926-1987) in "Dostoevski în trei personaje", Luceafărul, no. 33, 17 August 1968, p. 3 and p. 6 (Momentul oniric. Antologie, ed. Corin Braga, Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 1997, p. 52)

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Plenty of time

In einem Tag kann man die Schrecken der Hölle erleben; es ist reichlich genug Zeit dazu.

In one day you can experience the horrors of hell; that is plenty of time.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value. A Selection from the Posthumous Remains
ed. Georg Henrik von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Blackwell, Oxford, 1998, p. 30

Friday, 27 March 2015

Form and mere matter

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that in Plato, in spite of his wonderful savour of literary freshness, there is nothing absolutely new: or rather, as in many other very original products of human genius, the seemingly new is old also, a palimpsest, a tapestry of which the actual threads have served before, or like the animal frame itself, every particle of which has already lived and died many times over. Nothing but the life-giving principle of cohesion is new; the new perspective, the resultant complexion, the expressiveness which familiar thoughts attain by novel juxtaposition. In other words, the form is new. But then, in the creation of philosophical literature, as in all other products of art, form, in the full signification of that word, is everything, and the mere matter is nothing.

Walter Pater, Fellow of Brasenose College, Plato and Platonism. A Series of Lectures, Second Edition, 1895, Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1902, p. 8

Saturday, 14 March 2015

His manner of life

Aut lego vel scribo, doceo scrutorve sophian:
obsecro celsithronum nocte dieque meum.
vescor, poto libens, rithmizans invoco musas,
dormisco stertens: oro Deum vigilans.
conscia mens scelerum deflet peccamina vitae:
parcite vos misero, Christe, Maria, viro.

Sedulius Scottus (d. after 874)

The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, ed. F. J. E. Raby, 
Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1959, p. 130.

Whether reading or writing, whether teaching or prying into philosophy, / I make entreaty to my [Lord's] high throne both night and day. / I eat, I freely drink, I invoke the Muses in verse, / Snoring I doze off: awake in the night I pray to God. / Aware of its wickedness my mind bewails my life's sins: / Christ, Mary, have mercy on a wretched man.

trans. Alistair Ian Blyth

Monday, 2 March 2015


'In my day,' said the Sergeant, 'half the scholars in the National Schools were walking around with enough disease in their gobs to decimate the continent of Russia and wither a field of crops by only looking at them. That is all stopped now, they have compulsory inspections, the middling ones are stuffed with iron and the bad ones are pulled out with a thing like the claw for cutting wires.'

'The half of it is due to cycling with the mouth open,' said Gilhaney.

'Nowadays,' said the Sergeant, 'it is nothing strange to see a class of boys at First Book with wholesome teeth and with junior plates manufactured by the County Council for half-nothing.'

'Grinding the teeth half-way up a hill,' said Gilhaney, 'there is nothing worse, it files away the best part of them and leads to a hob-nailed liver indirectly.'

'In Russia,' said the Sergeant, 'they make teeth out of old piano-keys for elderly cows but it is a rough land without too much civilisation, it would cost you a fortune in tyres.'

Flann O'Brien (1911-1966), The Third Policeman (1967), Chapter Six

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The level of paroxysm

First of all, nationalism is paranoia—collective and individual paranoia. As a collective paranoia, nationalism is born out of fear and envy. But above all, it appears as a result of an individual’s lost consciousness. Therefore, collective paranoia is nothing else but a summary of many individual paranoias brought together to a level of paroxysm. (…) a nationalist, almost by rule, as a social being and individual, is a negative figure—a nothingness. That is, by definition, he is a cipher. (…) A nationalist is, by definition, ignorant. Nationalism is therefore a stage of spiritual laziness and conformity. For a nationalist everything is easy because he knows, or thinks that he knows, his qualities, values, and abilities. That is, he knows the qualities of his nation, he knows his nation’s ethical and political values. And of course he is not interested in and does not care about the others. The others are hell (other nations, other tribes). And he does not need any information about them. The nationalist sees and recognizes in the others only himself—the nationalist.

Danilo Kiš, “On Nationalism”, Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2 (May, 1996, pp. 13-17