Esteemed thinker: Joseph Conrad

airplanes There are many things that fill the mind as we contemplate growing older. And upon doing so we have the capacity to reduce history by simply skipping back through the years; not only in a nostalgic way, but also in a manner that we find ourselves making comparisons from the present to the past; as if skimming through the pages of “Life Magazine”. What was once easy to find, ordinary things that were part of our lives, are now just ‘not’. Take for example: eating out at a diner is now fast food, composing work on a typewriter is now on a computer, making a call on a rotary dialed telephone is on a cell phone. Even the ordinary light bulb will be phased out marking another notch in the belt of technological advancements.

Exemplified by the growth of progress that many have witnessed are the revolutionary changes in travel, well deserving to receive its own column in the list of accolades. For some may remember John Glenn’s ride into space that mesmerized us on our black and white TV’s, and decades later this space capsule was replaced by the space shuttle, a fantastic and almost unbelievable way of travel that if one did not see it with their own eyes could only deem it came out of the imagination of Jules Verne. Yet with all the advancements made, becoming an astronaut is no longer the dreams of most children and the International Space Station news has been relegated to page two of the newspaper…

If we sneak back into time, flying in a plane was once as extraordinary as space travel for it was not common place, and if you were so lucky, the seat next to the window was second best to being in the cockpit. The shear thrill of rising off the ground and watching earth slowly fade away was as fictional as a storybook adventure, yet today it is not more exciting than a bus ride.

Brimming with memories we move forward, charging ahead with our technology and curiosity, but knowing that whenever we wish we can always take an unstructured look back to what once was.

Joseph conrad Today’s blog brings to you the great novelist, short story writer and esteemed thinker: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) born in Berdyczow, located in a Ukranian province of Poland. His given name was Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. From a very early beginning his life was difficult and harsh, at three his father was imprisoned in Warsaw for alleged revolutionary political affiliations and at eight his mother died of tuberculosis. The orphaned boy was taken in by his uncle. Conrad’s early adult life was spent at as a merchant seaman and traveling abroad where his experiences would later influence his writing. His short stories and novels like Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Agent, gained him easy fame and recognition as an influential writer. Although Conrad wrote in English and in 1886 was granted English nationality, he always considered himself Polish.

From his book Notes on Life and Letters we will now take a quick journey into his piece titled “Flight -1917”. I invite you to sneak a few moments out from your busy day to get a “bird’s eye view” from Mr. Conrad’s vantage point…where we will join him aboard an airplane. In his own words…..

“…The machine on its carriage seemed as big as a cottage, and much more imposing. My young pilot went up like a bird. There was an idle, able-bodied ladder loafing against a shed within fifteen feet of me, but as nobody seemed to notice it, I recommended myself mentally to Heaven and started climbing after the pilot. The close view of the real fragility of that rigid structure startled me considerably, while Commander O. discomposed me still more by shouting repeatedly: “Don’t put your foot there!” I didn’t know where to put my foot. There was a slight crack; I heard some swear-words below me, and then with a supreme effort I rolled in and dropped into a basket-chair, absolutely winded. A small crowd of mechanics and officers were looking up at me from the ground, and while I gasped visibly I thought to myself that they would be sure to put it down to sheer nervousness…

As to my feelings in the air, those who will read these lines will know their own, which are so much nearer the mind and the heart than any writings of an unprofessional can be. At first all my faculties were absorbed and as if neutralised by the sheer novelty of the situation. The first to emerge was the sense of security so much more perfect than in any small boat I’ve ever been in; the, as it were, material, stillness, and immobility (though it was a bumpy day). I very soon ceased to hear the roar of the wind and engines—unless, indeed, some cylinders missed, when I became acutely aware of that. Within the rigid spread of the powerful planes, so strangely motionless I had sometimes the illusion of sitting as if by enchantment in a block of suspended marble. Even while looking over at the aeroplane’s shadow running prettily over land and sea, I had the impression of extreme slowness. I imagine that had she suddenly nose-dived out of control, I would have gone to the final smash without a single additional heartbeat. I am sure I would not have known. It is doubtless otherwise with the man in control…”

First Image : N.Y. : Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building, 1911 August 23

Esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson

penguin They say that white is a color without hues; a pigment that ignores any gradual progression of tints or tones by which allowing us to proclaim that white is perhaps the purist of all the colors. Yet there is a paradox to our declaration; for if this wily pigment lacks the natural property attached to what we know as an essential facet of “color”… the saturation and mixture of pigments together … (a very elementary skill we all learned when we were just finger painting; red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, and so forth)…we must ask ourselves… what then is “white”?

Can we say that white is indeed a color or is it the anti-color, the spoiler of the color wheel, the rainbow, and the kaleidoscope? We know it is present in a prism but it never really reveals itself…rather it magically performs as an invisible light that we need but don’t see. Much like infinity; which brings the mind reeling with the concept that a number line can go on infinitely; the same notion that accosts one’s thoughts that space has no end… so does the brain have to come to terms that white is not a color as we know it, but actually a perceived lack there-of; a notion that introduces a most unsettling prospect.

Yet, it is possible that this ‘unsettling’ feeling corresponds with the vast and sheer emptiness one experiences when confronted with a world that is singularly devoid of color…when everything is pure white…when you lose your sense of location for there is not a single landmark to set perspective… the land of ice and snow.And we must wonder if this sensation happens to a polar bear or a penguin…creatures that spend their lives in and out of the icy waters and then on the frozen land that is unforgiving…a most uninhabitable part of earth for many, yet although it does not seem to unfurl the welcome mat, for even the plants that we are accustomed to made a decision eons ago not to adapt, there are some brave souls who find such exotic places adventurous, exciting, even though they are vacant of all accommodations… Even though night chooses not to fall upon its frigid days…and it is always the color of the albatross…the color of pearls… the color of truth….the color…or shall we say the purist of colors… white.

Matthew_Henson_1910 Today’s blog was inspired by the esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson (1866-1955). Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he was the son of two freeborn black sharecroppers. Though both his parents died when he was very young, at the age of 12 he left home and became a cabin boy. Under the tutelage of Captain Childs he learned to read maps and books, the operation of ships, and navigational skills; by twenty- one he was an expert seaman. He later met the Admiral Robert Edwin Peary and was hired as his valet. Yet as time went on he proved himself to be an invaluable asset. Becoming one of the world’s greatest explorers, he accompanied Peary on numerous Arctic expeditions. Though it took years to receive his just place in history, he is best remembered today as having discovered the North Pole with Peary in 1909.

I now give you a parcel of thoughts from our great American explorer and hero, Mr. Henson. From his remarkable auto-biography, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (1912), take a moment… for his words will surely last you a life-time….

“… Naturally there were frequent storms and intense cold, and in regard to the storms of the Arctic regions of North Greenland and Grant Land, the only word I can use to describe them is “terrible,” in the fullest meaning it conveys. The effect of such storms of wind and snow, or rain, is abject physical terror, due to the realization of perfect helplessness. I have seen rocks a hundred and a hundred and fifty pounds in weight picked up by the storm and blown for distances of ninety or a hundred feet to the edge of a precipice, and there of their own momentum go hurtling through space to fall in crashing fragments at the base. Imagine the effect of such a rainfall of death-dealing bowlders on the feelings of a little group of three or four, who have sought the base of the cliff for shelter. I have been there and I have seen one of my Esquimo companions felled by a blow from a rock eighty-four pounds in weight, which struck him fairly between the shoulder-blades, literally knocking the life out of him. I have been there, and believe me, I have been afraid. A hundred-pound box of supplies, taking an aërial joy ride, during the progress of a storm down at Anniversary Lodge in 1894, struck Commander Peary a glancing blow which put him out of commission for over a week. These mighty winds make it possible for the herbivorous animals of this region to exist. They sweep the snow from vast stretches of land, exposing the hay and dried dwarf-willows, that the hare, musk-oxen, and reindeer feed on…”

Esteemed thinker: C.S. Lewis

travel If you journey far from home either by car, train, plane, or bus…whatever mode of transportation you may elect to service, it can often be somewhat tedious. Tedious in the sense that unless the route is new and the sites are interesting, the many hours spent in transit from destination to destination can be…shall I say…downright boring. So, in order to ward off the doldrums, we devise methods of diversion from listening to the radio, downloading our favorite music, or borrowing a book on CD from the library. I often listen to a book that I have read before and have found that this audio method of a “reread” is quite entertaining; especially if the reader is animated and acts-out the character’s dialogue, making the author’s title come alive. Listening to someone else read offers a different perspective compared to your first encounter with the story; it is similar to being the passenger in a car on a road that you are familiar with. You see sights that you may have missed while behind the wheel since your focus has been redirected.

Children are delighted to listen to the rereading of a story, for it seems that youngsters never tire from hearing the same book over and over again; even though the adult tries to cajole with an offering of a newer or prettier text… yet we all know it is the grownup- reader who yearns for the change, not the young listener. Reading a book for a second time allows us to discover elements within the plot or quirks within the character in a way that we wonder, “how could I have missed that the first time around?” And then… it is simply fun to rediscover a book that you may have enjoyed years ago, perhaps the novel or story you were assigned to read for class where the teacher seemed to have tortured you rather than inviting you into the imaginary world of the author. (Now you can give it your personal attention without having to answer questions!)

C.S. Lewis And so, in today’s blog I introduce you to our esteemed thinker: Irish born, C.S. Lewis, ( Clive Staples Lewis: 1898–1963) 20th century intellect, Oxford professor, novelist, essayist, and literary critic. He gained popularity for his science fiction Space Trilogy and the Narnia fantasies for children and continues to be one of the most read authors to date. Some believe that his work, the Chronicles of Narnia, served as a model for our modern children’s literature such as A Series of Unfortunate Events, Artemis Fowl, and Harry Potter. Regardless if one agrees with this connection or not, C.S. Lewis’s work holds a prominent place on a majority of children’s’ book lists.

Snipped from his essay, “On Stories” here is C.S. Lewis in his own words…..

“… As I have admitted, it is very difficult to tell in any given case whether a story is piercing to the unliterary reader’s deeper imagination or only exciting his emotions. .. The nearest we can come to a test is by asking whether he often re-reads the same story. It is, of course, a good test for every reader of every kind of book. An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only… There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell, or *Tristam Shandy or Shakespeare’s Sonnets: but what can you do with a man who says he “has read” them, meaning he has read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter? …the re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain suprisingness. The point has often been misunderstood. …In the only sense that matters the surprise works well the twentieth time as the first. It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. It is even better the second time. Knowing that the ‘surprise’ is coming we can now fully relish the fact that this path through the shrubbery doesn’t look as if it were suddenly going to bring us our on the edge of the cliff. So in literature. We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust has been given its sop and laid asleep, are at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst, which merely wants cold wetness… It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surpisingness of the *peripeteia.

* Tristam Shandy (1759) humorous English nine volume novel written by Laurence Sterne
* peripeteia: a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work