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Little Lessons from the Masters, III



Here are two from Coleridge.  From a letter:

My dear fellow!  never be ashamed of scheming! -- you can't think of living less than 4,000 years, and that would nearly suffice for your present schemes.  To be sure, if they go on in the same ratio to the performance, then a small difficulty arises; but never mind! look on the bright side always and die in a dream!

And from a journal:

The common end of all narrative, nay, of all, poems is to convert a series into a whole:  to make those events, which in real or imagined History, move in a strait Line, assume to our Understandings a circular motion -- the snake with it's tail in it's mouth.

Comments

( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
wolflahti
Apr. 16th, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
"it's"?

tsk-tsk
nightspore
Apr. 16th, 2009 03:17 am (UTC)
It's easy to tsk Coleridge -- a cat can look at a king. (Or are you imagining that crowleycrow is quoting inaccurately? I would check twice before giving way to that fancy.)
undyingking
Apr. 16th, 2009 09:03 am (UTC)
Orthographical prescription was not quite so dictatorial, two centuries ago.
crowleycrow
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:40 am (UTC)
Coleridge's mistake, not mine.
tinacastanares
Apr. 16th, 2009 06:56 am (UTC)
"die in a dream...."
....that's a beautiful concept. I work with the dying, and have often had occasion to wonder what might be in a person's mind in those final hours and moments of life.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 16th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: "die in a dream...."
Well, I was forced to bail out of a disabled aircraft several days ago, and I gotta tell you what was going through my mind as I pulled the D-ring (ripcord), was the weird hope that whoever packed the parachute had had a most satisfying carnal experience the night before.
E.V.
crowleycrow
Apr. 16th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Re: "die in a dream...."
My lord! Complex thought to think in such a moment. Apparently you made it safely to terra sorta firma. Unless you are writing from a hospital bed.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 16th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Re: "die in a dream...."
Call it terra snowy firma - 4 ft of it around the Tetons, so all's well. But in sharing my experience with other pilots I find my "last thoughts" not in the least bizarre. Tell you all about it...
E.V.
tinacastanares
Apr. 17th, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
Re: "die in a dream...."
Glad you made it ! and I love that answer. Brings me back to earth, as it were.
fir_bholg
Apr. 16th, 2009 02:01 pm (UTC)
As far as the journal entry goes, that is a very similar sentiment to something Ursula LeGuin said about the function of stories, that they represent the faculty by which we make sense of events. She went on to opine that historians are not really doing anything different. If I can track down the interview or essay where she says this, I'll post it here.
negothick
Apr. 16th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
Your Coleridge excerpts confirm my reaction to his cottage in Devon: he was a fan. Maybe a Time Traveller?
(Anonymous)
Apr. 17th, 2009 04:34 am (UTC)
Both bits strike me as unduly cryptic, but still I rather enjoy the thought I've willfully divined, whether rightly or wrongly, from the journal extract: that narrative strives to make sense of (merely) chronological facts by making the end appear organically related to the beginning, or perhaps it is the other way around. This seems right. We often say that everything works out in the end, when what we really mean, I think, is that we can work things out only in the end. Kind of like Minerva's owl.

- David Bornstein
hatmandu
Apr. 17th, 2009 08:00 am (UTC)
Fabulous - I'm a huge fan of Coleridge's prose, but not come across these before. Here's another you might like: "A lady once asked me if I believed in ghosts and apparitions. I answered with truth and simplicity, No, madam, I have seen far too many myself."
hatmandu
Apr. 17th, 2009 08:10 am (UTC)
Incidentally, the "dear fellow" he is talking to in the first quote above is himself - it's actually from a notebook in 1804 (sorry, had to look it up!).
crowleycrow
Apr. 17th, 2009 11:11 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. Here's an excerpt from "archie and mehitabel" -- the cockroach archie typing in the newspaper office late at night by jumping from key to key (he can't shift):

you want to know
whether i believe in ghosts
of course i do not believe in them
if you had known
as many of them as i have
you would not
believe in them either

Hard to believe that archie (or Don Marquis) was reading Coleridge's journals...
(Deleted comment)
chris_conradi
Apr. 18th, 2009 01:58 am (UTC)
Of course archie was making a joke. He didn't believe in ghosts because they were an untrustworthy lot, as in "I never believed in Bernie Madoff." I doubt that Coleridge was making the same point, but then they were both poets.

I am pleased that you have read archie. Do you know his piece about fairies?
crowleycrow
Apr. 18th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC)
Well I don't know about "of course" -- I never took it as the double-entendre you see it as, though now I do see it can be read so. I regarded it as meaning just what Coleridge meant, but more poignant in that archie says "know" and Coleridge "see".

Don't know archie and the fairies. Have to look out my copy.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 17th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
Dreaming is Bad
One of the current theories about why we dream is that a dream is the brain's mechanism for shedding information that cannot be placed into a narrative. The brain wrestles with non-narrative data. Narrative allows for digestion. Therefore, dreaming and scheming are anti-poetic. Nietzsche believed that dreaming killed his creativity. Coleridge didn't understand the harm he was doing to himself.
dragowicz
Apr. 17th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Dreaming is Bad
So... "A damsel with a dulcimer, in a vision once I saw..."

Must have been what done him in.
negothick
Apr. 17th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Dreaming is Bad
Not for writers of horror, many of whom are self-proclaimed lucid dreamers. Lovecraft's dreams were the source of many of his early stories--but the nightmares as he wrote them down in letters are (to me) scarier than the published fiction.
bloodspeck
Apr. 18th, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
Re: Dreaming is Bad
Coleridge loved to stare at things, and God bless him for that. I mean really stare. He could stare so hard sometimes his eye-stalks crackled, like when you pull the wrapper from a hard candy. It was very distracting to opera-goers.
crowleycrow
Apr. 18th, 2009 11:48 am (UTC)
Re: Dreaming is Bad
This is about as inadequate as an explanation of what we actually see and experience in dreams as any of the others. I have no idea what "information" in this context actually means, or how the dream is a shedding of it. Most of my dreams do not contain non-narrative data that I can't deal with in waking life; very many dreams seem to have a very gratifying narrative, though wholly unrelated to events in my life, except considered "symbolically" however that's to be treated. If my brain is "shedding information" in the background unknown to me while I watch the picture show and suffer and hope and enjoy, well how is that determined? What's the evidence?
(Anonymous)
Apr. 18th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
Dream researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health believe it is more evidence for their theory of "synaptic homeostasis." This is the idea that synapses grow stronger when we're awake as we learn and adapt to an ever-changing environment, that sleep refreshes the brain by bringing synapses back to a lower level of strength. This is important because larger synapses consume a lot of energy, occupy more space and require more supplies, including the proteins examined in this study.

Sleep — by allowing synaptic downscaling — saves energy, space and material, and clears away unnecessary "noise" from the previous day, the researchers believe. The fresh brain is then ready to learn again in the morning.
crowleycrow
Apr. 18th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
Well that makes sense, but it seems to me to have nothing to do with human dream adventures, which remain unexplained. If I were dumping yesterday's unneeded data and powering down to a lower level, I'd suppose I would experience all the random junk of yesterday's experiences, growing disorganized and dim (the way information on a computer screen used to as the battery ran out.) Instead I see outlandish landscapes, have delightful and harrowing adventures with people I've never met awake, talk to animals, visit my dead parents, wander in titanic cities I've never been in. That;s the part that needs explaining,
(Anonymous)
Apr. 18th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
In normal waking consciousness, the forebrain sorts through various kinds of internal and external sensory input to create a meaningful experience of the world. Faced with a barrage of disconnected inputs during REM sleep, the higher mental centers attempt to impose order on the incoming messages, creating whatever narrative structure dreams have. This is the "synthesis" stage of the theory. The many dreams are just masses of incoherent images representing incoming groups of signals that the brain was simply not able to synthesize.

crowleycrow
Apr. 18th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
Incoming from where? Inputs disconnected from what? I don't mean to be a naysayer, and I'd dearly live an explanation, but I don't believe the theoretical framework is able to account for what happens when I close my eyes and hug my pillow at night.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 19th, 2009 01:47 am (UTC)
Silly me - all this time I thought a "dream was a wish your heart makes.."

E.V.
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