Dialogue on the Threshold

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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