Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Soul Aloft

As Harriet followed Miss Lydgate across the lawn, she was visited by an enormous nostalgia. If only one could come back to this quiet place, where only intellectual achievement counted; if one could work here steadily and obscurely at some close-knit piece of reasoning, undistracted and uncorrupted by agents, contracts, publishers, blurb-writers, interviewers, fan-mail, autograph-hunters, notoriety-hunters, and competitors; abolishing personal contacts, personal spites, personal jealousies; getting one’s teeth into something dull and durable; maturing into solidity like the Shrewsbury beeches—then, one might be able to forget the wreck and chaos of the past, or see it, at any rate, in a truer proportion. Because, in a sense, it was not important. The fact that one had loved and sinned and suffered and escaped death was of far less ultimate moment than a single footnote in a dim academic journal establishing the priority of a manuscript or restoring a lost iota subscript. It was the hand-to-had struggle with the insistent personalities of other people, all pushing for a place in the limelight, that made the accidents of one’s own personal adventure bulk so large in the scheme of things. [Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night]
Harriet Vane, the heroine of this novel, is herself a writer of detective novels. This brief quotation records her thought as she returns to her old college and the ambiance of the place comes to surround her in a conversation with an old teacher. I marked this passage a long time ago. Oddly enough it came to mind when I read recently this passage in Plato’s Phaedo. The voice is that Socrates:

     And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense of sight or hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body is perceiving through the senses)—were we not saying that the soul too is dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard, when she touches change?
     Very true.
     But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. What interesting quotations. I like them both, they're very evocative.

    It is funny, really, how something so very constant in life--change--can be so disruptive and disconcerting.