Thursday, 21 June 2012

Humanist intellect

Currently I am reading "The Great Humanists: An introduction" by Jonathan Arnold.  In this excellent work Arnold discusses the lives in brief summaries of the lives, mindsets, and writings of fifteen of these humanist thinkers.  The crux of the book itself, not including index, appendices and bibliography only spans some 240 pages.  However to Arnold's credit, thus far, the work doesn't appear to have short changed the reader despite the apparent brevity of the work.  It covers a significant amount of ground, detailing the reader of these individuals in a informed, and highly readable, manner.  Arnold himself is Chaplain and Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford and seems to have immersed himself in his passion of the Renaissance.  A man after my own heart.  Not only has he written this splendid book, but has performed and sung with such choral groups as The Tallis Scholars, The Hilliard Ensemble and the Sixteen, with whom he was part of the ensemble for some fourteen years.  So not only have I read his writings, but it seem apparent that I have also heard him sing.

Reading through Arnold's book, I find myself relating to the mind set of the Humanists discussed therein.  In reading his words, one finds oneself almost wishing that the Studia Humanitatis was still encouraged and embraced by the educational system now, as it might well encourage a better standard of learning and appreciation for values by the majority of youth today.  This method of study would encourage thought, ideas, common sense and decency.   These attributes which seem to be in a state of sorry decline in this day and age where a standard of education and learning seems to be continually waning, yet somehow high grades, success and achievement would appear to be on the increase.  This in an era where it is acceptable to communicate and write exam papers via text speak and allowed language to regress into a pseudo literate code of numbers, and words to convey ideas.

In terms of examinations to test the scope of knowledge of the youth today, and rewarding them with a supposedly extraordinary sense of achievement has come to exist where the less intelligent/knowledge are being rewarded.  Another example of a society where it is acceptable to be rewarded for failure.  Perhaps in comparison to the extreme mediocrity of their less applied peers they are seen as more "switched on" and "bright", but it gives such individuals a truly misguided sense in what permits them to refer to themselves as being intelligent.  Unfortunately, intelligence and the quantifying thereof, is such a grey area that it is almost impossible to define; which is endlessly frustrating when one defines or categorizes oneself as being intelligent and to others, the contrary is all too apparant and it seems quite evident that they are not.  For what it's worth, and to me, to classify oneself as intelligent - and certainly in comparison to others (within my peer group of friends and contacts), the following factors are important. Otherwise, to my mind, the whole (subjective) notion of intelligence is redundant.

i/   Good responses from the point of view of truth or fact
ii/  An ability to carry out abstract thinking
iii/ Adjustment to different situations and environment accordingly.
iv/ Capacity for knowledge, and its application

However such apparent "stupidity" can be hopefully turned around and lead towards something beneficial.  It requires no art to become stupid: the whole art lies in exacting wisdom from stupidity.   Having been once told that one is judged by the company which one keeps, I worry for my own value and self worth.  I find it difficult to find, for the most part, like minded friends with whom I can share thoughts, ideas, opinions.  That is not to say that my life is completely devoid of them, and I do appreciate those friends I do have for their enthusiasm, their friendship, their ideas and conversation.  Sometimes I confess however that except in exceptional circumstances and company, do I feel comfortably enthused and that my brain is alive, engaged, and 'switched on' on a higher plain or different level than the mundane norm.  It is a sensation I feel I lack too frequently in my life, and having experienced such intellectual 'stimulation', I am fully aware of what I am missing.  But what to do and how does one meet such people?  It just seems so very rare, rare, rare.

Forgive me, dear readers, today I feel disappointed and disillusioned with myself, my current life and environment.  Perhaps herein lies a masked cry for help, as with the rest of this 'blog' where I find myself opening up yet not revealing a great deal.  Hence the need for me to, once again, escape into other worlds, times, minds, and thought patterns outside of the one I find myself trapped in.  I feel bereft of an ability to reveal my personality too much, for fear of it being misunderstood, and worse still, to find myself being rebuked for being just that, myself.

In the early seventeenth century, the writer and poet Abraham Cowley wrote a poem called The Wish.  Certainly I find that the opening words echo and convey the yearning and sense of longing I have, deep within my heart, my spirit, my soul.

Well then; I now do plainly see,
This busie world and I shall ne'er agree;
The very Honey of all earthly joy
Does of all meats the soonest cloy,
And they (methinks) deserve my pity,
Who for it can endure the stings,
The Crowd, and Buz and Murmurings
Of this great Hive, the City

Ah yet, ere I decend to th'grave
May I a small House, and large Garden have!
And a few Friends, and many Books, both true
Both wise, and both delightful too!

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