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Thanks to NS Palmer for Lord Macaulay’s Translation of Horatius at the Bridge

And still his name sounds stirring
Unto the men of Rome,
As the trumpet-blast that cries to them
To charge the Volscian home;
And wives still pray to Juno
For boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well
In the brave days of old.

And in the nights of winter,
When the cold north winds blow,
And the long howling of the wolves
Is heard amidst the snow;
When round the lonely cottage
Roars loud the tempest’s din,
And the good logs of Algidus
Roar louder yet within;

When the oldest cask is opened,
And the largest lamp is lit;
When the chestnuts glow in the embers,
And the kid turns on the spit;
When young and old in circle
Around the firebrands close;
When the girls are weaving baskets,
And the lads are shaping bows;

When the goodman mends his armor,
And trims his helmet’s plume;
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

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More Books and Writers

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Zhuang Zi by Zhuang Zi
Little, Big by John Crowley
Pale Fire
Tristram Shandy
Don Quixote
Hamlet
Bleak House
Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
The Worm Ouroboros
Catch 22
Stories by Franz Kafka
City by Clifford D. Simak
Leonora Carrington
Gene Wolfe
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
Patric Highsmith
J M Coetzee
Tolstoy
Goncharov
Dostoievsky
Beckett
Proust

What else should I read? Who am I missing?

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Hard and Easy

Some people like to talk about how hard they are on themselves — how their job is hard, the tasks they set themselves are hard, how they don’t take the easy way out. Wittgenstein supposedly said something like that — “My way in philosophy is the bloody hard way.” But you hear it from all kinds of people in much less fancy contexts. “I’m taking care of my poor old sick mother. It’s so hard of me to do that!”

If these people were really trying to do the hard thing they wouldn’t say what they’re doing is so hard! Wittgenstein would have said “I take the easiest way out all the time! That way I can knock off early and relax.” The person caring for her poor mother would be like “Nothing easier than caring for Mom — I love her.” Even if it is a little harder to do it and be happy about it, they should do it. Because they like taking the hard way.

The easiest thing in the world is to go around saying your task is hard. The hardest thing in the world is to make it seem easy.

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Too Much Ambiguity

It’s pretty cool when a single speech can mean two different things. The oracles liked to do this. For example “To war you shall go. You shall return. Never by war shall you perish” also meant “To war you shall go. You shall return never. By war shall you perish.”

There are stories that admit of more than one interpretation. For example, The Lady or the Tiger, ends on a cliffhanger. We don’t know whether the spurned princess is sending her lover to her rival and life, or death in the jaws of the tiger. The story ends — what do you think? Alan Moore performs a similar feat with his story “What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”

And evocative allegories and fables can give you even larger sets of possible interpretations.

“Alas”, said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I am running into.”

“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up

Who is the cat and who is the mouse in Kafka’s fable? Is the cat death? Authority? Guilt? Our own true self? God? All we know is he says to the poor mouse who finds the possibilities of life closing in on his head “You have only to change your direction!” and eats him up.

There’s something better, or as I said cooler, about a sentence or a story that admits of a finite set of interpretations where that set is greater than one, as opposed to the sentence or story that admits of a single interpretation. That leads one to wonder though if there is a limit. Wouldn’t the best story be one that admitted of a maximally large set of interpretations? “Mumbo wails” for example where Mumbo could be anybody and the reason he wails could be anything, giving something like a thousand times a thousand interpretations?

Or even better maybe the best story would be a blank page offering us the ability to imagine literally anything was written on it? Or our actual lives which we can apply as many stories to as methods of interpretation as have ever been told? For each of us our life would be the maximally ambiguous story, capable of being resolved in infinite ways.

I think though the answer to that is pretty clear — that would be too much ambiguity.

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Reading List

The [widget] the [wadget] and Boff

The Book of the Dun Cow

Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism

Star Maker

Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

Oblomov

Natural Magic

Book About Video and Cybernetics I Found in Grand Army Plaza Library in 1978 (don’t remember the name)

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

City (by Clifford D. Simak)

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The Best Model of a Street is the Street Itself

People used to believe that the way we knew how to walk down a street was to have a tiny model of the street in our mind, and a tiny model of our body in our mind. Then we would use the tiny body to walk down the tiny street and then transfer that to our bones and muscles and walk down the street.

Then people became smarter and realized — wait. If we know how to make the tiny person walk down the street in our mind, why don’t we just walk down the street? Why do we need a tiny model of the street in our mind? We have the street itself. How could there be a better model of a street than the street itself?

Similarly people used to think that when you fell in love with a person it was because you recognized that that person was a second self and you extended your self-love to that person. “Oh Jane!” thought Joe “I love you like I love myself!” Jane for Joe is an image of Joe, embodied in the form of another. Joe for Jane presumably is the same, a refuge from the foreignness and inimicality of the world — a harbor of self in a world made of others.

It’s time for people to get smart about love as they have previously gotten smart about streets! If Joe knows how to love anything he knows how to love someone else. If Joe were unable to love he would be unable to love himself.

People think the present is in love with the future and that the present contains a model of the future. Both ideas are wrong. The future is in love with the present, and that’s why it gives birth to it, through making love with the past. The future knows the present and kisses it without an intermediary. It is not hidden behind a veil of thoughts, but meets it skin to skin.

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