Oliver Sacks on Digital Stuff

From The New Yorker, February 11, 2019
(Posthumously? Reprint? Sachs died in 2015)

My favorite aunt, Auntie Len, when she was in her eighties, told me that she had not had too much difficulty adjusting to all the things that were new in her lifetime—jet planes, space travel, plastics, and so on—but that she could not accustom herself to the disappearance of the old. “Where have all the horses gone?” she would sometimes say. Born in 1892, she had grown up in a London full of carriages and horses.

I have similar feelings myself. A few years ago, I was walking with my niece Liz down Mill Lane, a road near the house in London where I grew up. I stopped at a railway bridge where I had loved leaning over the railings as a child. I watched various electric and diesel trains go by, and after a few minutes Liz, growing impatient, asked, “What are you waiting for?” I said that I was waiting for a steam train. Liz looked at me as if I were crazy.

“Uncle Oliver,” she said. “There haven’t been steam trains for more than forty years.”

I have not adjusted as well as my aunt did to some aspects of the new—perhaps because the rate of social change associated with technological advances has been so rapid and so profound. I cannot get used to seeing myriads of people in the street peering into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces, walking blithely in the path of moving traffic, totally out of touch with their surroundings. I am most alarmed by such distraction and inattention when I see young parents staring at their cell phones and ignoring their own babies as they walk or wheel them along. Such children, unable to attract their parents’ attention, must feel neglected, and they will surely show the effects of this in the years to come…

Bunkhouse

Steinbeck, Of Mice And Men

George and Lennie enter the bunkhouse

The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties.

Aristotle: History and Poetry

Aristotle: Poetics

It is, moreover, evident from what has been said, that it is not the
function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen-
what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The
poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The
work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a
species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true
difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may
happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher
thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history
the particular.

Steinbeck: Fire and Brimstone inVermont

From Travels With Charley

“It is our practice now, at least in the large cities, to find from our psychiatric priesthood that our sins aren’t really sins at all but accidents that are set in motion by forces beyond our control. There was no such nonsense in this church. The minister, a man of iron with tool-steel eyes and a delivery like a pneumatic drill, opened up with prayer and reassured us that we were a pretty sorry lot. And he was right. We didn’t amount to much to start with, and due to our own tawdry efforts we had been slipping ever since. Then, having softened us up, he went into a glorious sermon, a fire-and-brimstone sermon. Having proved that we, or perhaps only I, were no damn good, he painted with cool certainty what was likely to happen to us if we didn’t make some basic reorganizations for which he didn’t hold out much hope. He spoke of hell as an expert, not the mush-mush hell of these soft days, but a well-stoked, white-hot hell served by technicians of the first order. This reverend brought it to a point where we could understand it, a good hard coal fire, plenty of draft, and a squad of open-hearth devils who put their hearts into their work, and their work was me. I began to feel good all over. For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness, and that causes the same emptiness a father does playing softball with his son. But this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me. He put my sins in a new perspective. Whereas they had been small and mean and nasty and best forgotten, this minister gave them some size and bloom and dignity. I hadn’t been thinking very well of myself for some years, but if my sins had this dimension there was some pride left. I wasn’t a naughty child but a first rate sinner, and I was going to catch it. I felt so revived in spirit that I put five dollars in the plate, and afterward, in front of the church, shook hands warmly with the minister and as many of the congregation as I could. It gave me a lovely sense of evil-doing that lasted clear through till Tuesday. I even considered beating Charley to give him some satisfaction too, because Charley is only a little less sinful than I am. All across the country I went to church on Sundays, a different denomination every week, but nowhere did I find the quality of that Vermont preacher. He forged a religion designed to last, not predigested obsolescence.

Steinbeck: Waiting and Reflecting

One of the great benefits of waiting for the impressions to sort themselves out. 

From Steinbeck, Travels With Charley

Go to the Ufizzi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris, and you are so crushed with the numbers, once the might of greatness, that you go away distressed, with a feeling like constipation. And then when you are alone and remembering, the canvases sort themselves out; some are eliminated by your taste or your limitations, but others stand up clear and clean. Then you can go back to look at one thing untroubled by the shouts of the multitude. After confusion I can go into the Prado in Madrid and pass unseeing the thousand pictures shouting for my attention and I can visit a friend—a not large Greco, San Pablo con un Libro. St. Paul has just closed his book. His finger marks the last page read and on his face are the wonder and will to understand after the book is closed. Maybe understanding is possible only after.