Mysterious Force At Work

Due to some strange force of Cosmo, we had a succession of baby visitors (and their parents) to our house recently, aged from 11 months to 3 years old. Our cats and these little humans shared mutual fascination toward each other. It was also interesting to observe how each baby reflects his/her parents’ temperament so accurately. Even at such tender age.

I forgot how i stumbled onto littlevanities photostream. But i’ve been following her creations for a while. Loved her photos and what’s more, her commentaries under the photo. I’m a word person afterall.

Read the commentary at this photo today: Only such pleasures as are prudent and modest, where she quoted a passage from Mila Kundera.

“In everyday language, the term ‘hedonism’ denotes an amoral tendency to a life of sensuality, if not of outright vice. This is inaccurate, of course: Epicurus, the first great theoretician of pleasure, had a highly skeptical understanding of the happy life: pleasure is the absence of suffering. Suffering, then, is the fundamental notion of hedonism: one is happy to the degree that one can avoid suffering, and since pleasures often bring more unhappiness than happiness, Epicurus advises only such pleasures as are prudent and modest. …

The first phrase that caught my eyes was “pleasure is the absence of suffering”. I couldn’t believe my eyes as i read, re-read, and re-read it. How pessimistic one must feel to say something like that! Then as i finally forced myself to get over this phrase and read on, i realized pessimistic was the wrong word. Melancholy was a much better expression.
This, i can agree, although with much reluctance…

“Epicurean wisdom has a melancholy backdrop: flung into the world’s misery, man sees that the only clear and reliable value is the pleasure, however paltry, that he can feel for himself: a gulp of cool water, a look at the sky (at God’s windows), a caress.”

– Milan Kundera, Slowness, p.7-8

Making good progress at my birthday gift book stack. Finished “Predictably Irrational” (from Gui) last week (very interesting, recommended), started reading “The Europeans” by Luigi Barzini (from sis). On p65/267. It has been a hilarious read so far.

It has gem like this sprinkled on every page.
Starts with the United State’s “alarmingly optimism”… [keep in mind this book was published in 1983]

The United States must always simplify complex issues so that the common ill-informed man may understand them. Ill-informed men include those who are extremely well informed in their particular fields but innocent of anything just outside their perimeters, and unfortunately also at times certain inexperienced political office holders, including a few presidents…The United States may appear uncomfortably tactless and arrogant at times. It is the arrogance of the man who knows that he is right, that the problem at hand has only one possible solution for a righteous man, and that anybody who disagrees is wrong.

Europe has the contrary defects. It is pessimistic, prudent, practical, and parsimonious, like an old-fashioned banker. It has learned not to rush into anything, even if it is the obviously necessary or advantageous thing to do. It always prefers to wait and see. It enjoys delving into the complexity of things; the more complexities it can find the better. Europe looks for nuances, the bad side of anything good, the good side of anything bad. It believes the devil is never as ugly as he is painted, the future is never (or seldom) as appalling as one fears, but never, never as wonderful as one hopes. ..It is sagacious, and its frequent miscalculations are often the product of its excessive sagacity.

or this…on how “free flow of armaments” tempt some countries to start wars.

As soon as they acquire enough armaments, credit, a patchy ideology, and a Great Invincible Leader, they invade one of their neighbors. There is not even the need to find a valid excuse. Anything will do. Journalists and historians will later invent suitable philosophic, historical, or economic motivations. That’s their job.

I just finished the chapter on “The Imperturbable British”, can’t wait to read about “The Mutable Germans”, “The Quarrelsome French”, “The Flexible Italians”, “The Careful Dutch”, and “the Baffling Americans.” Here is from the ending paragraph on the British.

Still today, when one asks a Briton, any Briton, pointblank, “Are you European?” the answer is always, “European? Did you say European? Er, er” — a long thoughtful pause in which all other continents are mentally evoked and regretfully discarded –” yes, of course, I’m European.” This admission is pronounced without pride and with resignation.