As I was setting up this blog, I got to the box asking me for the title. Hadn’t given this much thought.

The jump from intention to action was quick, following a long gestation. In that moment, I had rushed ahead of myself.

Turning to Strunk & White, always on my desk, a talisman and guide for many years. A memento of when I had been lucky enough to meet Mr. White, years ago in Maine. Sitting in his kitchen, soaking in who he had become late in his long life as a writer, looking for hints, the residues of something that might help me find my way on a path, even then, a hidden aspiration of mine.

Opening it at random, looking for inspiration, as some will turn to the Bible, or the I Ching…. Nothing jumped off the page. It had been silly to ask them for this kind of sign. This work is a guide to form. They steered clear of influencing content. Elements of Style’s refusal to give me an answer was polite, yet firm.

I turned to my current notebook. Flipping through the most recent pages. It jumped out at me.

A moment of recognition, the phrase: Horizons of Significance.

I’d come across this term in one of Michael Wesch’s videos on YouTube a week, or so, earlier. I took as a good omen. His inspiration had been pivotal in getting me to the point of starting this blog. His assurance that there “are no natives here,” social-networking just a few, short years old.

He got it from Paul Taylor’s Ethics of Authenticity. I’ll probably write something on his thesis, but for now, the key was in how this phrase means something quite distinct to me. Something important.

This recognition was immediate. Its alignment with my own thoughts brought out so many implications.

On the discovery of relativity the twentieth century fell into a deep crisis, spiraling outwards from the loss of a single, over-riding sense of authority. This always seemed to me a petulant, adolescent response.

Life holds us in a deep and radical contingency, The Twentieth Century was as if everyone threw up their hands, declared that nothing had meaning, nothing mattered anymore.

Little energy was ever expended on developing a mature perspective. So much went into acting out reactionary dramas at every scale. From the most internal and personal, to the widest and most public stages. Orgies of self-destruction and aggression were carried out under this banner. Lacking through all of this was a sense of looking out for horizons of significance.

This perspective lets us ask questions, find answers. Without short-circuiting, diving into nihilistic reactions, as we have, since Nietzsche had his insights, and Einstein made his discoveries.

Searching for Horizons of significance is just the way to steer through the tensions brought on by contingency. To build on my underlying conviction of the centrality of a viable notion of truth.

I’ve often thought back to Melville’s conception; life as a rope, twisting strands of necessity, free will, and chance. Elements of a life forged in a way that makes something greater than its parts. A search for truth and meaning.

The passage, not a destination, a principal well suited to blogging.

Tracing a path from Melville to Wesch, from Ishmael to Gary Brolsma.* A common current towards a connection between a search for personal authenticity, and a path – taken in humility – leading towards greater connections between disparate people. It carries a common yearning. Gives us a tool to bring it about. Helping our searches after truth. Truth and meaning. As we interact with others within a broader sphere, one without gate-keepers or inter-mediators, and their external agendas.

Ahab was a warning, an example of the long line of monomaniacs to come in the 150 years since Melville wrote him into being.

The *Numa Numa Guy is perhaps a funny sign of a resurgence of Ishmael’s spirit. The outsider looking for something, using his trials to find meaning with an urgency those more conventionally “connected,” have lost long ago. Lost along with any curiosity or appetite for anything beyond their comfort and its perpetuation.

His silliness is not just another symptom of the trivialization of everything. In this light it can be taken as a radical foolishness. As Pan or Dionysus were foolish, providing signs of our need for humility in the face of great mysteries. A sign that a pose of seriousness is often a greater barrier to understanding than foolishness held in good spirit, embraced authentically while reaching out to others.

I hope to take a more sober tone. More out of temperament than any sense of superiority.

I hope, here, to be able to strike a tone that allows for a quiet exploration of these themes, running up and down the scales, looking for ways in which our horizons of significance can show us how to find harmony in a life of striving after meaning. As we navigate contingency.

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3 thoughts on “Horizons…

  1. Outstanding post, Tony. As I read it for some reason I became very aware of mortality, the limited "horizon" imposed on us all by that linear succession of minutes, hours and days we know as chronos, time. But of course the Greeks had another concept of time: kairos, those moments of inspiration or revelation that occur in the cracks and crannies between the metronomic tyranny of clock-strokes. In kairos, every horizon is significant because, really, there are no horizons, only the self-imposed limitations of our own sight. I also thought about Eliot's poem Burnt Norton, one of his Four Quartets, in which one finds the following meditation on "time:""Time present and time pastAre both perhaps present in time future,And time future contained in time past.If all time is eternally presentAll time is unredeemable.What might have been is an abstractionRemaining a perpetual possibilityOnly in a world of speculation.What might have been and what has beenPoint to one end, which is always present.Footfalls echo in the memoryDown the passage which we did not takeTowards the door we never openedInto the rose-garden …"…Time past and time futureWhat might have been and what has beenPoint to one end, which is always present."


  2. Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis leads towards a conception of an infinity of infinities nested within each other at an infinite number of scales. This relates to time and to the notion of horizons of all kinds….Welcome to this discussion, Mark.


  3. And yet, it is precisely the horizon of human mortality that infuses our dreaming, our effort, our "successes" and "failures" with such bittersweet drama, with meaning. I remember learning in college that our common humanity is characterized by contingency (we are not necessary), ambiguity (what our role may be is not really clear), and finitude (it will all end for all of us). It is that finitude that limns (a great word) our horizons. And so, another Eliot quote:"As we grow older, the world becomes stranger, The pattern more complicated of dead and living. Not the intense moment, Isolated, with no before and afterBut a lifetime burning in every moment;And not the lifetime of one man only,But of old stones that cannot be deciphered."Next time, I promise it will be either Czeslaw Milosz or W.H. Auden.


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