Friday, June 8, 2012

Original Thinking

Here is an amazing excerpt on writing, thinking and living from Ludwig Borne written in 1823, from the May/June Ode magazine:

“There are people and writings that provide instruction on how to learn Latin, Greek and French in three days, or accounting in just three hours.  However, nobody has yet demonstrated how one can become a good original writer in three days.  And yet it so simple!  You have nothing to learn, just a great deal to unlearn; nothing to experience, but quite a lot to forget.  With the world as it is now, the minds of scholars—and therefore their works—resemble the old manuscripts from which you first have to scrape the boring arguments of a Church father or the blather of monk before getting to a Roman classic.

“Thoughts beautiful and—since the world is re-created with each human—new are innate to each human mind.  But life and education overwrite them with useless stuff.

“You acquire quite an accurate picture of this state of things if you consider the following: an animal, a piece of fruit, a flower, which we recognize from their true shapes.  What they are is what they appear to us.  But would we have a true concept of the nature of a partridge pie, raspberry juice, or rose oil?  So it is with the sciences, with all things we perceive with the mind and not through the senses.  They are put before us prepared and changed, and in their ran and naked shape we do not know them.

“Opinion is the kitchen in which all truths are slaughtered, plucked, chopped, stewed and seasoned.  There is no larger lack than of books without sense/reason/wit; namely which contain things and not opinions.

“Only a small number of original writers exist, and the best differ much less from the less skilled than one would think upon superficial comparison.  One creeps, one runs, one limps, one dances, one drives, one rides to one’s goal.  Yet a destination and way is what they all have in common.  Treat and novel thoughts can be won only in solitude.  But how do you achieve solitude?

“You can flee humankind but then you stand on the noisy market of books; you can throw away the books, but how do you throw from your mind all the common knowledge with which education fills it?  In the art of making oneself ignorant, the true art of self-education is the most necessary, most beautiful art yet the least often and least skillfully exercised.  Just as there are only a thousand thinkers among a million people, there is only one original thinker among a thousand thinkers.

True scientific endeavor is not a journey of discovery like that of Columbus but a voyage like that of Ulysses.  Man is born in strange lands; living means looking for home, and thinking means living.  But the fatherland of thoughts is the hear; he who wants drink afresh must draw from this spring.  The mind is nothing but a stream; thousands have camped along its side and cloud the water by wishing, bathing and performing other dirty tasks in it.

“The mind is the brawn, the heart the will.  You can acquire brawn, you can increase it, train it.  But what good is all that brawn without the will to use it?  A fear of thinking is keeping us back.  More oppressing than the censure of governments is the censure that public opinion exerts over the works of our minds.  He who listens to the voice of his heart instead of to the clamor of the market will always be original.  Sincerity is the source of all genius; man would be more ingenious if he were more moral.

“And here is the promised practical application.  Take some sheets of paper and, for three consecutive days, write down anything that goes through your head without guile or dissimulation.  Write what you think of yourself, of your spouse, of Goethe, of the Last Judgment, of your boss—and, when the three days are over, you will be ecstatic with amazement at the new unheard-of-thoughts you have had.  That is the art of becoming an original writer in three days!”

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