Monthly Archives: September 2018

What then, cried Plato’s ghost, what then?

In previous posts I have tried to sketch a little at least of Mariposa’s mission as a City of Literary Refuge. During my long brain break this summer I have been persistently pestered by Mariposan messages demanding that I recognize also the other essential part of the mission, involving Thinking Action.

Finding cities that are committed to action is not difficult, claims the Mariposa of today, but Thinking Action is another matter. Of course these other cities think they are thinking — no jurisdiction wants to believe that it acts without thinking — but Mariposa insists that what passes as thinking in other places will not pass muster for them. Only the best in thinking will do, and they have passed any number of thoughtful by-laws to this effect.

Being a City of Literary Refuge is important both as a means to Thinking Action, and as an end in itself. There may have been a time in human history, they say, when it was possible to think without reading, in the days before there were any books, for example. But nowadays it is not possible. Period. Human affairs have become so complex — due to the arrival of books and all the enrichment of analysis, understanding, and memory that they allow — that any thinking unsupported by reading must remain ridiculously superficial. Reading does not make thinking easy, of course, it only makes it possible. Reading and Thinking Action are inextricably entwined.

It is true that in earlier times Mariposa was more famous for its lack of thought. The current inhabitants look back with shame on the amiable oblivion that inanimated public discourse in the early years of the twentieth century, so richly and ironically documented by Dr. Stephen Leacock, or by someone pretending to be him. (The latter seems more likely, as there is no evidence that Dr. Leacock himself ever set foot in the place.)  To be so taken in by the machinations and manipulations of Josh Smith! To be so blind to the corruption of the courts and politics, the senility of the church, the incompetence of the crew of the Mariposa Belle, the mindless sentimentality of their own reactions to the human dramas around them, the unmitigated mediocrity and self-interest and general meanness of community life! When after the experience of two world wars and a major depression the Mariposans came to take stock of themselves, they concluded that while they could not escape the stupidity of their history they need not persist in it. They would read, they would think, they would act thoughtfully, and they would atone for their ancestors by building a city around those ideals.

I will tell you how they went about that in future postings. To begin with I will explain what I mean by what I say about the old Mariposa. For there has been much nonsense spoken of that too. Please stay tuned.