We all know a bit more about the meaning of solitude than we did a year ago. Maybe. What do we do with our solitude? And when it is over, what will we do with our freedom?
“We take our fetters with us; our freedom is not total: we still turn our gaze towards the thngs we have left behind; our imagination is full of them.”
So wrote Michel de Montaigne, French Renaissance thinker, essayist, author and philosopher in the l6th century, in an essay entitled ‘On Solitude’ (The Complete Essays, Translated by M.A. Creech Penguin 2003). Extraordinary how modern his words sound, how relevant to our 21st century. Even in lockdown however it is not easy to make headspace or shelfspace for the entire Penguin translation of Montaigne’s essays which runs to 1269 pages (excluding the index!)
“Let us leave aside those long comparisons between the solitary life and the active one, and as for that fine adage used as a cloak by greed and ambition, ‘That we are not born for ourselves alone but for the common weal,’ let us venture to refer to those who have joined in the dance: let them bare their consciences and confess whether rank, office and all the bustling business of the world are not sought on the contrary to gain private profit from the common weal. The evil methods which men use to get ahead in our century clearly show that their aims cannot be worth much.”
Therefore selections based on the Creech translations are welcome. Here is a new one from Notting Hill Editions.
In this collection, Montaigne ponders the great and small questions of life and subjects as diverse as education, fear, reading and death. Throughout his essays he attempts to reach a deeper understanding of himself and, in so doing, he touches on the greater human condition.
I so badly wanted to love this book – as I loved the author’s last book Ash before Oak. His new one from the same publisher is clever and evocative and does what it sets out to do perfectly so why couldn’t I love it? I am not a great fan of the epistolary format – It feels two dimensional compared with the traditional form and I felt that the book was amply clever but it left me unmoved. Bolt from the Blue consists of a fictional correspondence between a mother and daughter from their first letter dated October 85 to their final correspondence in 2018. The daughter leaves home in the suburbs of Birmingham as an art student to study in London. She establishes a successful career as an installation artist and makes some money.
I’ve bought a house
Pinching myself as I type.
Mother writes (not necessarily in response to the above of course) such things as : Dear Lynn, There’s no law that says sex has to end at seventy!
Often their exchanges take place on postcards ( the author is a collector and expert on art postcards). But being told in brackets that this or that was written on a free tear-off postcard from the West Midlands Safari Park in Kidderminster just makes me want to see a picture of it. Which I can’t. But as my title is On Solitude I have to say that the book does pinpoint the essential loneliness of the human condition.
Not a book but here is an item that caught my eye this week.
Known as the ‘Jewish Nobel’ the award for 2021 goes to Steven Spielberg:
The Genesis Prize recognizes Mr. Spielberg for outstanding achievement as one the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, his social activism, prolific philanthropy, and his principled stance against anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance.
For the first time, the voice of global Jewry was a major factor in Laureate selection: 200,000 Jews on six continents cast their votes for the 2021 Laureate. That Spielberg received the most votes was a major factor in his selection by the Prize Committee.
The list of previous honorees for this award includes Michael Douglas, Itzhak Perlman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Natalie Portman.
2021 is The Chinese Year of the Ox. I can’t claim to have read this but it looks fascinating so I might have to get to it.
“If you’re born in the Chinese year of the Rat, what are your characteristics? With whom is someone born in the year of the Ox most compatible? And what are the worst flaws associated with your Chinese star sign? Chinese Astrology is a beautifully illustrated guide with easy-to-use instructions to help you understand the fundamental ideas and determine the more advanced aspects: how does the year of your birth affect your personality? What elements are associated with your horoscope? What celebrities are the same Zodiac animal as you?
Each page includes a newly commissioned artwork of a Chinese character, from the 12 animals of the Zodiac and the 12 Earthly Branches to the five phases and 10 Heavenly Stems. This is accompanied by an explanation of each character and its significance within Chinese astrology.
Illustrated with more than 85 specially commissioned artworks, Chinese Astrology is the perfect guide to your inner and outer life.”
And finally, here are some posts from other blogs I’ve enjoyed this week:
From Laura T Frey’s Reading in Bed – thank heavens, Laura says, she doesn’t do Goodreads goals – I so know the feeling.
Tsundoku is a Japanese Noun for allowing books to pile up unread on shelves and floors and nightstands. I didn’t know that but I do now thanks to The Crow’s Nest.