“The Art of Life” by Walter Horatio Pater (1839-1894)

“The Art of Life” by Walter Horatio Pater (1839-1894)

  • We tend to think of things & principles as inconstant modes & fashions
    • Let’s examine physical life…
    • Look at the floods of summer rain
      • We don’t see anything but a combination of elements from the periodic table
      • They’re in our bodies as well as outside of them
      • Life is just elements in perpetual motion: blood circulating, eyes deteriorating & repairing themselves, brain tissue changing
      • Also rusts iron & ripens corn
      • They go in many currents & forms
      • Birth, death, etc.
      • Many tens of thousands of combination
    • Our faces are merely outlines & shapes while they change constantly
  • If we look at thoughts & feelings, there’s a ton going on there
    • Seemingly everything in us changes when we see things, feel passion & think
    • Our changes come from just perceiving external objects which cause us to react & change who & what we are
  • Their effect dissipates & a cohesion of a new state of being occurs
    • Each of object releases new impressions (color, odor, texture) into our minds
    • We also dwell on abstract ideas that don’t exist except in our language & our minds
    • All our impressions are unique to the individual making us prisoners to our experiences
      • These impressions are constantly changing at speeds & ways unimaginable to the individual
  • Philosophy & speculative culture are there to rouse & startle the human spirit to a life of constant & eager observation
    • Being aware of the constant changes
    • Experience becomes the goal
      • Asking how do we go from point to point & still be able to focus
  • To burn with this hard, gem-like flame & to maintain ecstacy – this is success in life
    • Failure is to form habits by living in a stereotyped world where very little changes & we learn to ignore those changes for the sake of repeated behavior
    • We learn to experience the strangeness changing all around us & reflect on the brevity of what we see, feel, think & experience
    • We ought to be continuously curious & want to test new opinions, seek new impressions & never become complacent
  • Rousseau in Book 6 of Confessions tells of his literary awakening
    • Before he had this smell of death lingering around him
      • He read Voltaire & the sudden intellectual excitement revived him
  • Hugo says we’re all condemned to death but we’re given an indeterminate reprieve
    • Some spend this time in listless, some in high passions, some in song & art
    • Our one change to prolong the interval is to squeeze in as much of the pulsations in passion to experience as much of life as possible, it just for the moment’s sake

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