Monday, May 20, 2013

Commonplace book: On knowledge

Gustave Doré: The expulsion from Eden

I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.
The wise man has eyes in his head,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.
—Ecclesiastes 2:13-14

Enough is left besides to search and know.
But knowledge is as food and needs no less
Her temperance over appetite to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with surfeit and soon turns
Wisdom to folly as nourishment to wind.
—John Milton, Paradise Lost 7:126-30  (Uriel to Adam)

It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant and that he did not know where the universe ended. He felt small and weak. When would he be like the fellows in Poetry and Rhetoric? They had big voices and big boots and they studied trigonometry. That was very far away.
—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man

Folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ’em. You’re not going to change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn, there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.
—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird 


There is no intellectual exercise that is not ultimately pointless. A philosophical doctrine is, at first, a plausible description of the universe; the years go by, and it is a mere chapter—if not a paragraph or proper noun—in the history of philosophy. In literature, that "falling by the wayside," that loss of "relevance," is even better known. The Quixote, Menard remarked, was first and foremost a pleasant book; it is now an occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical arrogance, obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form—perhaps the worst form—of incomprehension.
—Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"


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