I’m a very stable and fixed sort of person – you could call it mulish (or if you happened to be interested in astrology, you could say it was because I have a grand cross of major planets in the fixed signs ;) – but one way of thinking about it, which my wife uses every so often, is to say that I have a lot of inertia. Normally that means that her husband is accumulating too much lard on his backside through being inert, but I actually like the strictly physical definition, whereby a body at rest needs a lot of prompting to move, but also a body which is moving requires a lot of force to change course. For I have been known to move, on occasion.
This sequence of thoughts was prompted by the arrival of Ollie – not an expected arrival, but one which was nevertheless sought out, and is from God – for Ollie is dragging said husband off his backside onto the beach two or three times a day, and the pressure of a wagging tail and a wet nose is a sufficient force to cause the mass to enter into movement. I think this is a very good thing for me – I haven’t been getting enough exercise ever since I got married (and have accumulated nearly an extra three stone in weight) and this exercise is going to persist. So although I find it uncomfortable – my inertia is resisting this outside force – I can see it is a tremendous blessing for me.
Now yesterday I managed to read a review in the Times Literary Supplement which discussed theōria. Theōria is seen by Aristotle as the highest virtue, and it is normally translated as contemplation. My spiritual director once told me that I have a significant contemplative streak, and I think this is true – I like to ponder questions, and weigh them, sifting them for nuggets of truth. Think of Rodin and a part of my self-image is revealed. Yet I have always seen this as a principally sedentary and immobile activity. Now I read this in the review:
“In due course, Aristotle would assert that theōria, meaning philosophical contemplation of the nature of things, is the best, most enjoyable activity there can be; hence it is God’s sole occupation and the central purpose of the best possible human life.
“This is easy to misunderstand, in part because ‘contemplation’, the now conventional translation of Aristotle’s theōria, suggests a single, steady gaze held on a single impressive object, like a telescope focused on the peak of a high mountain… But the original theōros, engaged in “sacralized spectating” at the Olympic Games or watching a tragedy in the theatre at Athens, saw a complex multiplicity of events, which could only be properly understood in relation to one another. (Compare: the spectator’s experience of a modern cricket match is more like following a narrative than viewing a mountain peak.) There is no good reason to think that this complexity dropped away when Plato and Aristotle made the transition to abstract, philosophical theōria. Their theōria is not analagous to a single steady gaze at a single impressive object.”
(MF Burnyeat, reviewing Andrea Wilson Nightingale’s “Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy, TLS February 24 2006)
It seems to me that this sense of theōria has just a little in common with blogging – on going comments on those things which enter into the mental frame of reference of the blogger, which do not have to be fixed and stable like a mountain, but can be an ongoing drama like a greek tragedy, or like the fall of western civilisation as a result of Peak Oil (grin).
So theōria, contemplation, that which I enjoy – this is not a ‘single steady gaze’ – and to undertake contemplation I do not need to be passive, which is the psychosomatic hole in which I have placed myself. My inertia can be mobilised, I can indeed be a body in motion, and still I can pursue that highest, most divine of virtues – “sacralized spectating” – which is, I believe, what my blog should aim to be.
I’m not there yet, but I’ll keep going at it.