Friday, September 17, 2010

Falling Down . . .

Thales of Miletus
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've previously noted a curious, telling anecdote about the presocratic philosopher Thales of Miletus, but I thought of it again yesterday and realized that it applies to me as well:
[Plato writes in one of his dialogues about] the jest which the clever witty Thracian handmaid is said to have made about Thales, when he fell into a well as he was looking up at the stars. She said, that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven, that he could not see what was before his feet. This is a jest which is equally applicable to all philosophers. (Plato, Theaetetus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, Part 1, Page 39)
The implied criticism here is that Thales and other philosophers lost in abstraction ignore at their peril the practical path stretching out before their feet.

I had a similar experience as an adolescent. One of the ways in which I occupied myself as an Arkansas lad in my tiny Ozark hometown of Salem was to read copiously from the somewhat limited shelves of books in the Fulton County Library. I had a tactic to ensure that I was constantly reading. As I neared the end of a book, I would mentally calculate the time needed for finishing the pages still remaining and start off at the proper moment for the library, which was about a five-minute walk away, reading as I strolled along the town's streets, a peripatetic loner. On one of these literary perambulations, as I neared the library, I was so utterly engrossed in my book that I failed to see the big garbage can positioned on the downtown sidewalk, though it came up past my belt, and I stumbled over that large container, knocking it over and nearly falling down myself, to the great embarrassment of my brothers across the street in the courtyard, who might well have echoed that Thracian maid, that I was so eager to know what was going on in my bookish haven that I couldn't see what was before my feet.

My life has generally been a bit like that experience, for I've kept my nose constantly in books, learning a lot, I guess, but ignoring the practical aspects of life, even to the exclusion of those pragmatic skills in which mastery is needed for surviving within my chosen realm of academia.

That also probably explains the occasional academic mess that I've stumbled into, and over which I've even fallen down . . . but such experiences have at least taught me a certain pedestrian wisdom.

Labels: , , ,


At 2:53 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Well, considering what's out there, I'd say having a full-time job is a reasonable benchmark for success.

Having taught upper division literature classes as well as medical research writing to post-graduate nurses and Physician Assistant students, and serving on thesis committees, I feel I can rightly claim "Been there, done that," and so I am happy teaching just about anything. Even teaching grammar in developmental writing is rewarding--of course the way I teach grammar has much in common with a sensible conversation about Wittgenstein, and it doesn't get much better than that--except perhaps a sensible conversation about Locke or Milton. Meantime, my actual "work" has shifted to my desk at home and what I can produce there, and I like it that way.

At 6:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose that I've fallen into a good situation, though not quite so ideal as your own.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home