This week I got up to Volume III, Part II in War and Peace, and at the start of this section, Tolstoy enters into a bit of philosophising — or I should say re-enters, as he sort of went over this in an earlier section. In this part of the novel, Napoleon is invading Russia. His army is far superior to that of the Russians, which appears to be in comparative disarray as they are lacking a strong leader.
Tolstoy posits that everyone involved in that war believed they were acting for themselves, according to their own will, but, in reality, they were all “involuntary instruments of history”. In an earlier part of the novel (I forget where, and the book is much too big to go searching for this one particular chapter), Tolstoy wrote something about the great cascade of events that must take place for a war to start, and claims that it cannot be pinned on any one event or person.
If I remember correctly, the main gist of it was that no matter who insults who, or who wants to go conquesting where, there cannot be a war if great masses of people don’t enlist to become soldiers, and there is a great deal that must happen to lead to that.
For several weeks now, I have been thinking of this quote from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and I’ve been meaning to find it so that I could blog about it, but I either haven’t had time or, when I did have time, I just couldn’t find it.
During my first reading of Meditations (now a few years ago), I used some scrap paper to jot down some notes regarding noteworthy passages. For some of these, I copied out the passage (if it was short), and for some I simply noted the book and chapter numbers. I kept these scraps of paper as reminders — some within the pages of Meditations, and the rest on my bedside table. I had hoped that the quote I was thinking of would be on one of these but, alas, no luck.
But, no matter, I thought, there is a helpful index in the back of the copy I own, which can be used to find passages relating to various subject matter and concepts, so I tried this next. I pondered over words that might lead me to the passage, but these either did not take me to where I wanted to go, or they did not exist in the index.
As a last resort — or perhaps just a despairing effort — I flipped through to random pages, hoping to find it by pure luck or coincidence. (Keep in mind that I didn’t do all this searching in one day; it was spread over several weeks, whenever I thought of it and had time.) Unsurprisingly, this tactic proved fruitless too.
Last night, however, I was really determined to find it. I was so determined that I resolved to go through each entry in the index that was even remotely relevant, starting with A and working through the entire index to Z.
Recently I’ve had a certain passage from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations circulating around in my mind. As with other thoughts that float around in my head, I thought I’d record it here on my blog. I think it’s worth sharing too.
Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6, Chapter 19)
Perhaps a good reminder in these uncertain and ever-changing times.
Perhaps, also, a good reminder for me as I continue to try to learn how to play the piano!
I wonder what prompted Marcus Aurelius to record this particular meditation. I wonder what could have possibly put self-doubt in the mind of a Roman emperor; or maybe it was just pre-emptive, anticipating the mind’s natural tendency to recoil from difficult and laborious endeavours.
Anyway, I don’t think the passage needs much more explanation, elaboration or deconstruction. Just something to remember in hard times.
A colleague recently gave me some advice that reminded me of the words of Marcus Aurelius. They didn’t use the same words, but the message was essentially the same. Their words actually reminded me of a part of Meditations that I thought I would never blog about — not necessarily because I disagree with it, but because it never sat quite right with me.
When I first read it (a few years ago), I remember that I felt a bit… uncomfortable about it, I suppose is the best way to describe it. But I think, for the most part, I’ve come to terms with it now. I’m sure there is still some part of me that is bothered by it in a way I cannot quite articulate, but maybe acceptance will come with time. Continue reading
I watched a TED Talk recently about bees and have since decided that bees are in my top 10 favourite animals. I mean, they could probably be in the top 5, but I don’t really know what my favourite animals actually are beyond the first two, so I can’t say for sure. Just never gave it much thought, I suppose.
But this post isn’t about me — it’s about bees and the wonderful work they do. The talk, if you’re interested, is by Marianne Gee, and is titled “Want to change the world? Think like a bee”. The title intrigued me because I was probably in the middle of an existential crisis, or just out of one. Highly recommended, though, even if you have never despaired at how impossible it seems to make any worthwhile impact or change. Continue reading
Last night, in a contemplative and pensive mood, I flicked through my copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations again. In the time between now and when I last picked it up, I’ve tried reading two other philosophical books: Discourses, Fragments, Handbook of Epictetus; and Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche. The former I found to be too dry and too much like a lecture; and the latter, although more read-able and understandable, also started going over my head after some time.
So Epictetus and Nietzsche are back on my bookshelf for now, but still with their bookmarks in place, as my promise to return to them eventually. Part of me feels like I don’t really need to read any more philosophy, as Meditations has served me so well, but I’ve been taught not to accept the most immediate and/or convenient text of any kind without doing some sort of cross-referencing and broader reading. Continue reading