We were marveling the other night at how the ancient Greeks knew everything when it occurred to me that they had nothing else to deflect their inquiries, no video games, no televised debates or movies to make demands on their time. No wonder they were so smart, they — and the Egyptians too! — had a lot of time to think and observe the heavens.
Speaking of thinking, I’ve been reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” lately and have found that almost invariably I’m a fast (System One) thinker and thus almost invariably wrong. I struck out so many times on questions such as, “If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 and the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, how much does the ball cost,” that I thought it would be better to put the book down for a while, until my ego revived.
I turned instead to “The Odes of John Keats,” a very thoroughgoing study of them by Helen Vendler, and am having a better time with that. Keats, while he likes flowers and knows their names, doesn’t ask questions like, “If roses are flowers, and if some flowers fade quickly, do some roses fade quickly?”
As I said to Mary after reading his odes to Indolence and Psyche, “I may not be very intelligent, but I know what lovely writing is.”
My problem is I’m not skeptical enough, I’m too credulous. For instance, when The New Yorker’s movie reviewer said “Wanderlust” was “funny,” I took his word for it and suggested to Mary that we go.
We did, on a recent Sunday afternoon. (I could have suggested instead that we try to figure out the circumference of the earth, or ponder the conclusions to which the atomic theory can lead, but ancient Greeks had already done that.)
“Wanderlust” was a slog, as it turned out, a “Wanderbust” in our book, and so we left about a third of the way through, just in time to see Olivia de Havilland undergo electric shock therapy on television in “The Snake Pit.” Now that was funny. We were on the floor. Especially when the post-shock therapy reports kept noting, much to the doctor’s dismay, “patient still unresponsive.”
Schlock therapy, I concluded, could also serve as a powerful corrective, a means through which we can divest ourselves of all these diversions and return to a more contemplative state — one that is probably far, far away from New York.