by cheri block
This morning the West Wind, Zephyr, blew from the Pacific Ocean up our mountain side with ferocity.
Since I find solace and energy in the wind, I ventured out into the rain and up the road, the yellow dog tugging on her leash.
On my mind for the last several weeks have been two men who lived long ago: Michel Montaigne and Rene Descartes. In his fascinating book Cosmopolis, Stephen Toulmin suggests that Montaigne and Descartes represent 16th Century humanism and 17th Century rationalism, respectively. He also says that modernity as we know it began in 1630.
Montaigne was a humanist; in other words, he lived and valued experience, spontaneity, reflection. He appreciated an empirical look at humanity.
Descartes was a rationalist; in other words, he supported patterns and modes, the scientific and the mathematical, and abstract theory as ways to understand Truth.
Unfortunately, from 1630 to the present, humanity has sided with Descartes, scripture and text.
How much spontaneity and human energy have been lost in this effort to concretize the order of things, as Descartes desired?
Could Descartes have known that by the 21st Century, the inherent goodness and warmth of the human experience would be lost to technology?
Humanists such as Chaucer and Shakespeare, who looked at the world through a broad glass, establishing the uniqueness of humanity (think the Wife of Bath and Lady Macbeth), asked a wonderful fundamental question: Isn’t it fun to be human?
Montaigne agreed with Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Toulmin postulates that Descartes, shaken by the murder of King Henri IV (Henry of Navarre) and traumatized by the Thirty Years’ War, offered his solution to the chaos: rationalism. No more of Montaigne’s touchy-feely tolerant approach to things.
Descartes’ ego-centric, existential look at humanity replaced the authenticity and human fallibility told by Montaigne in his anecdotal “Of Experience” in Essais.
And so, thinking about all of this stuff, the dog and I walked up the road, staring at the cattle, the barbed wire, and the trees and trying to make sense of it all.
As I evaluated my surroundings this rainy windy morning, everything around me seemed polarized. At opposites, really.
Montaigne or Descartes?
And then, I saw something odd in the distance. Luckily, I had my camera in a water-proof case.
A new piece of fruit. Puffy and purple.
A plastic plum growing from a poison oak tendril.
Mr. Descartes? Mr. Montaigne?
Can you explain this phenomenon?