Archive for November, 2014

A Thanksgiving Fable You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): coverBefore Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith‘s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), there was Tomi Ungerer‘s  I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories (1971) and Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief’s Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To (1978). They’re stories with unexpected morals, or (in the case of Ungerer) that sometimes just end absurdly. Since Heide and Van Clief have a Thanksgiving-themed tale and since we live in bleak times,* I thought I would share with you something amusing. So, here is “Chester,” illustrated (as are all the tales in this book) by Victoria Chess in ink with wash. The book is out of print, but perhaps someone at the New York Review of Books’ Children’s Collection (or another imprint) will see this tale, and then reprint all of Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To? Let us hope so….

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 36

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 37

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 38

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 39

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 40

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 41

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 42

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 43

Text copyright © 1978 Florence Parry Heide and William C. Van Clief III. Illustrations copyright © 1978 by Victoria Chess.

If you enjoyed this, then definitely check out other books by Florence Parry Heide (1919-2011), such as The Shrinking of Treehorn (1971) and its two sequels (all illustrated by Edward Gorey), Alphabet Zoop (1970, illus. by Sally Matthews), and her final book, Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (2011, illus. by Lane Smith).
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* I’m thinking, at the moment, the structural, lethal racism embodied by Ferguson (but present around the world) and of the rampant rape culture embodied by the University of Virginia (but present around the world). And, yes, of course, this list could be much longer, depending where on our warming planet you turn your attention. Sigh.

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The Meaning of Life; or, How to Avoid the Midlife Crisis

Kieran Setiya, "The Midlife Crisis" (2014)Why do successes sometimes feel like failures? As philosopher Kieran Setiya points out in a wise new essay, “Our achievements, whatever they are worth, are always numbered” (10). Each time we accomplish something, it’s done, finished, and we must move on to the next thing: “the completion of your project may constitute something of value, but it means that the project can no longer give purpose to your life” (12). And so, in “pursuing a goal, you are trying to exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were trying to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye” (12).

What’s the solution? Key, Setiya argues, is to distinguish between telic and atelic activities:

  • Telic: “Almost anything we call a ‘project’ will be telic: buying a house, starting a family, earning a promotion, getting a job. These are all things one can finish or complete” (12).
  • Atelic: “not all activities are like this. Some do not aim at a point of termination or exhaustion: a final state in which they have been achieved and there is nothing more to do. For instance,… you can go for a walk with no particular destination. Going for a walk is an ‘atelic’ activity. The same is true of hanging out with friends or family, of studying philosophy, of living a decent life. You can stop doing these things and you eventually will, but you cannot complete them in the relevant sense…. they do not have a telic character” (12-13). So, “If you are going for a walk, hanging out with friends, studying philosophy, or living a decent life, you are not on the way to achieving your end. You are already there” (13).

This, however, does not mean that one should only invest in the atelic. The issue is where you derive value: locating the majority of life’s meaning in the telic will leave you unfulfilled, and often precipitates a midlife crisis. As Setiya writes, “it is at midlife that the telic character of one’s most cherished ends are liable to appear, as they are completed or prove impossible. One has the job one has worked for many years to get, the partner one hoped to meet, the family one meant to start — or one does not. Until this point, one may have had no reason to dwell on the exhaustion of one’s ambitions” (14).

To avoid or resolve the midlife crisis, yes, you can (as Setiya puts it), “invest… more deeply in atelic ends. Among the activities that matter most to you, the ones that give meaning to your life, must be activities that have no terminal point. Since they cannot be completed, your engagement with atelic ends will not exhaust or destroy them” (15).

But you can — and should — also continue pursuing telic activities. Just pursue them for their own sake instead of for the end product: “Instead of spending time with friends in order to complete a shared project […,] one pursues a common project in order to spend time with friends” (15). As Setiya advises, “Do not work only to solve this problem or discover that truth, as if the tasks you complete are all that matter; solve the problem or seek the truth in order to be at work” (15).

Setiya’s “The Midlife Crisis” appears in Philosophers’ Imprint 14.31 (Nov. 2014), pp. 1-18. Just follow the link. As you may have guessed from my summary, I highly recommend it.

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Commonplace Book, Too

Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985)From time to time, I post quotations that strike me as interesting — my blog version of the Commonplace Book, a tradition dating to the sixteenth century, in which (if I may quote the OED) “one records passages or matters to be especially remembered or referred to, with or without arrangement.”  I’ve done three exclusively devoted to children’s literature (1, 2, 3), and one earlier one not. Here’s the second one of general quotations, featuring the wisdom of Don DeLillo, Laurie Anderson, Ogden Nash, George Herriman, Vic Chesnutt, & five others!

I am the false character that follows the name around.

— Jack Gladney, in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985)

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.

Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

— Bruce Cockburn, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” Stealing Fire (1984)

The world has gone insane

and you don’t know what is right.

You got to keep on keepin’ on:

get on that pig, and hold on tight.

— Parry Gripp, “Baby Monkey (Going Backwards on a Pig)” (2010)

I’ve always had a feeling that life is a series of non-sequiturs, and that we’re all untrustworthy narrators.

— Richard Thompson, creator of Cul de Sac, in article by RC Harvey (June 2011)

I don’t care how unkind the things people say about me so long as they don’t say them to my face.

— Ogden Nash, “Hush, Here They Come,” The Face Is Familiar (1941), p. 36

George Herriman, Krazy Kat, 6 Jan. 1918

lenguage is that that we may mis-unda-stend each udda.

— Krazy Kat, in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, 6 Jan. 1918

Max Brod, Franz Kafka: A Biography (1937/1947)Plenty of hope, … — no end of hope — only not for us.

— Franz Kafka, quoted in Max Brod, Franz Kafka: A Biography (1937), translated by G. Humphreys Roberts and Richard Winston (1947), p. 75

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

— Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (1983)

I’m not an optimist. I’m not a realist.

I might be a sub-realist.

— Vic Chesnutt, “Myrtle,” About to Choke (1996)

What Fassbinder film is it? The one-armed man walks into a flower shop and says:

“What flower expresses ‘Days go by, and they just keep going by, endlessly pulling you into the future. Days go by endlessly, endlessly pulling you into the future?’” And the florist says: “White lily.”

— Laurie Anderson, “White Lily,” Home of the Brave (1986)

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