Sunday, February 21, 2016


We finally got a small dose of winter, with a temperature of minus eighteen, but that was short-lived, and we're back to warm temperatures and no snow, with the exception of the mountain elevations, where it's slightly colder (these aren't exactly the Himalayas). Winters are bad for stargazing here, and this one has been no exception, but Jupiter is back and the Great Red Spot, the storm more than twice the size of Earth, is said to be more distinct this year; I'll be viewing it whenever the skies clear. I've started to read Satantango and am enjoying it so far, but will withhold comment until I've finished, because, unlike The Mandarins, it is a story with twists and turns that reads like a true novel as it unfolds; the meaning or lack thereof may not emerge until the end, whereas in more realistic fiction you always have some sense of where you are at each point in the narrative. For now I'll just say that the quality of the prose is quite high – higher than that of any of the other living writers I've mentioned.

I seem to be benefiting from my Internet detox program. There is a hysterical addictive quality to the Internet that younger people may be unable to escape, which explains why they fall victim to the pathologies described by Sherry Turkle. One of the advantages of old age is that it provides awareness of models of cognitive self-preservation that younger people may never have been exposed to. With a little self-discipline I am now able to avoid sites that might just draw me in, waste my time and finally irritate me without providing any noticeable benefits. I do feel as if I'm missing out on a few things, but have enough experience and confidence to know that this is the saner course. My switch to reading printed materials isn't working perfectly, though it is an improvement. The advantage of deriving more from reading books and magazines is partially offset by the fact that some of them are always deficient in content. Of the things I currently read, Archaeology is a bit light and the stargazing magazines are too devoted to advertising, though still useful for astronomical news. Nautilus has better-written and more informative science articles than most – and little advertising. For some reason I'm still receiving Nature, and I don't mind that much as long as I'm not paying the $199 per year subscription fee. The literary magazines, Boston Review and Bookforum, are so alien to me that I'm going to let my subscriptions drop. Somehow I have developed a gag reaction to American literary culture and it is best to avoid it entirely in all forms; I am able to find suitable literary reading beyond the Anglo-American world, but only with great effort.

It seems to me that contemporary culture seriously undervalues the benefits of experience, particularly the accumulated experience of thoughtful people, who always seem to be in a minority. I have been thinking about my father's experience, and how I am now fifteen years older than he was when he died. When I see him in photographs taken not long before he died he looks young to me, and I can't help but think that I know more than he did. The transition from dependence on parents to independence and the reaching of a mature understanding of the world, is, I think, one of the major processes of human life. I have little sympathy for adult children who ceaselessly blame their parents for deficiencies in their upbringing, because everyone is dealt a hand that is bound to be problematic in one way or another, and few of us get optimal guidance and preparation before setting off.

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