A Garden of One’s Own

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Voltaire meets Woolf meets Montaigne.

There is much to admire in Voltaire, of course, and this insight (later rediscovered by Thoreau in Walden, and also by Borges, for whom Benares served as a spatial analogue for the Argentine capital, and even nestles within the name, BuENosAiRES), consistent with my post Mathematics and Mythology, is what I found most startling:

I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges, – astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc… It is very important to note that some 2,500 years ago at the least Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganges to learn geometry…But he would certainly not have undertaken such a strange journey had the reputation of the Brahmins’ science not been long established in Europe.

His story of The Good Brahmin is a classic:

“You are right,” he replied.  “I have told myself a hundred times that I should be happy if I were as brainless as my neighbor, and yet I do not desire such happiness.”

My Brahmin’s answer impressed me more than all the rest.  I set to examining myself, and I saw that in truth I would not care to be happy at the price of being a simpleton.

As is the ending of Candide:

Let us cultivate our garden.

I flippantly wrote in Conspicuous Leisure that I had arrived at the desired destination of the life of Lord Emsworth, of leisure and luxury, with the added feature (from Weston Brahmin, where I wrote of the origins of my Navatva-Shastra) of Pursuit of Newness. From my earlier post A Sketch of the Past, you know that I have read (and enjoyed tremendously) Virginia Woolf. A Room of One’s Own, which although addressed to middle-class white women of her times, I believe is more Universal in that her central insight – Intellectual Freedom depends on Material Things – applies to anyone not natively to the manner born. What especially delighted me was her essay on Montaigne in The Common Reader, which is worth reading in its entirety:

Montaigne stands out from the legions of the dead with such irrepressible vivacity. We can never doubt for an instant that his book was himself. All his effort was to write himself down, to communicate. To tell the truth, and that is a ‘rugged road, more than it seems.’ …The pleasure of pursuit more than rewards; pursue fancy after fancy; follow the most fantastic fancies without caring what the world thinks or says; habits and customs are a convenience devised for the support of timid natures who dare not allow their soul free play…Here is someone who succeeded in the hazardous enterprise of living; was husband, father and mused for hours alone over old books. He laid hold of beauty of the world with all his fingers. He achieved happiness.

Indeed, I titled my 2017 invited M&SOM article An Essay On Operations Management, listing Montaigne first among other great influencers. Without a doubt, Montaigne has been the primary inspiration for MyAmpleLife, its third anniversary this month, and this post is to mark that occasion. Montaigne is hors concours (as Woolf, herself, sui generis, one of a beautiful mind, with an exquisite command of English, has marveled) as he writes:

I have intended it solely for the pleasure of my relatives and friends…Plato was right in calling memory a great and powerful goddess-In order to contemplate at leisure, I have begun writing…I have no doubt that I often speak of things which as better treated by masters of the craft. This is simply a trial (essai) of my natural faculties, and not of my acquired ones…Without lightness I achieve nothing; application and over-serious effort confuse, depress, and weary my brain…I am extremely independent both by nature and by intention…I have never had a taste for any sort of tiresome labour…Authors communicate with the world in some special and peculiar capacity; I am the first to do so with my whole being, as Michel de Montaigne, not as a grammarian, a poet, or a lawyer. If people complain that I speak too much of myself, I complain that they do not think of themselves as all…Meditation is a rich and powerful method of study of the mind…Contradictions of opinion neither offend nor estrange me; they only arouse and exercise my mind…The man who knows how to enjoy his existence has attained to an absolute perfection, like that of the gods.

Montaigne wrote 107 essays, of various lengths, arranged in three books. As the 1957 Introduction by JM Cohen begins:

Montaigne’s Essays are, in effect, an extended autobiography, the only one ever to be written this way. Others begin with the writer’s birth, and carry on. Montaigne, however, does not proceed along the line of time. His aim is to present a portrait of himself in a frame of timelessness; to build up from a number of partial sketches…

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Here is a sampling of some of my partial sketches, reflecting the many influences, ranging from European Writers to American Filmmakers, keeping in mind his motto, Que sais-je?

On Movies. Planes, Trains and AutomobilesOn Cars. Ford v Ferrari. On Streaming. Loki, Lupin and In the Heights.  On 007. The Artist of Bond. On Physics. Pulp Physics.  On Mathematics. The Topology of Mutated Driver Pathways. On Poetry. Jean Paul Sartre and my Poem to France. On Books. The Importance of Being Bertie. On Travel. The Taj Mahal. On Teaching. Inventory Models in Service of Practice. On Research. Holy Grail of Holy Grail.  On Organ Transplantation. The God Committee. On SmartOps. Slumming It? On Quantum Integer Programming. Neo-Quantum Organon. On Unconventional Computing. 2020 Tayur Prize. On Startups. Serverless Blockchain. On Academic Capitalist. Portrait of an Academic Capitalist as a Young Man. On Pandemic.What would Newton do? On Cricket. A Backward Glance. On Indian Inheritance. My History of Eternity.

My own Really Big Question is Qui suis-je?

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