Monday, June 20, 2011
This is the 1,000th post on Pearlblossom Highway. That is a lot of posts.
Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course I took with Elizabeth Grosz in graduate school. This book contains one of my all-time favorite essays: "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life." I think I've ready it at least ten times.
The evidence of this appears on the edge of the book where, from page one until about a third of the way down, the paper is still pristinely white. From there, for about another quarter of the way, the edge turns a dull orange/yellow near the center, just about where my thumb would go while leafing through, before it begins to lighten again.
The edge never returns to the pristine white of the first few pages, but you can see that the most concentrated yellowing begins on page one of the essay and begins to lighten on the last page, suggesting it is the only of the four essays I read.
At first I thought the yellowing must have been caused by nicotine on my fingers, but I am pretty sure I had already stopped smoking by the time read the book, so it must just be the oil from the tip of my thumb.
from On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life
'In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating activity.' These words are from Goethe, and they may stand as a sincere ceterum censeo at the beginning of our meditation on the value of history. For its intention is to show why instruction without invigoration, why knowledge not attended by action, why history as a costly superfluity and luxury, must, to use Goethe's word, be seriously hated by us–hated because we still lack even the things we need and the superfluous is the enemy of the necessary. We need history, certainly, but we need it for reasons different from these for which the idler in the garden of knowledge needs it, even though he may look nobly down on our rough and charmless needs and requirements. We need it, that is to say, for the sake of life and action, not so as to turn comfortable away from life and action, let alone for the purpose of extenuating the self-seeking life and the base and cowardly action. We want to serve history only to the extent that history serves life: for it is possible to value the study of history to such a degree that life becomes stunted and degenerate–a phenomenon we are now forced to acknowledge, painful though this may be, in the face of certain striking symptoms of our age.