At this point in the year, I have read over 30 books written by men. You’d think I would have gained some understanding of the lesser sex. Unfortunately, seminars rarely move to discussion on what Aristotle thought about hook-up culture or ambiguous romantic communication. No, instead we discuss love as a means to an epistemological end, something to prove divine existence. We are taught to dismiss corporeal feelings and affections and avoid conversation that would implicate us in something… frivolous? But why do we read “great” books in the first place? In an environment like Yale, we claim to do this whole intellectual thing for real. We really believe that studying Shakespeare can teach us something fundamental about who we are and want to be. I’m a believer. I do think that Hamlet reveals something about forgetting and not knowing, and I trust that Homer does have something eternally applicable to say about who and what gets to change. But the thing is, I also believe that our academic conversations would be so much better if they lived in the specific. Notions of what Achilles’ rage means for “the human condition” would be so much more insightful if we actually talked about what this condition is. The people who sit around your seminar table aren’t Greek heroes trying to return home, they are hungover, homesick, and heartbroken. But maybe there isn’t much of a difference.
SEXTUS ON SEX
Regretting and replaying an awkward encounter? Vying for something you can’t have? Worried too many details will spread to too many people? Never fear, Sextus totally has your post-coital back. Fortunately for us, Sextus wrote compelling if not slightly terrifying arguments about having decent reasons to doubt everything. For every argument, there exists an equally powerful one on the contrary. So maybe Friday didn’t end how you wanted it to. You’ve already inspected and dissected every text, aside, and pause of breath. Maybe you even brought in the experts. But the thing your suitemates might not be willing to tell you is what Sextus would have no problem saying: it really do be like that… sometimes. From your perspective, it’s a disaster. But if you treat yourself with compassion, call your notions of what is and is not ideal into question, suddenly your judgements seem less judicial. What Sextus got right is that so much of living is about change, making it impossible to the see the world in absolute terms. What you perceived as a huge sexual misstep may have gone unnoticed by other interested parties. My point is, give some thought to the other side of things and don’t accept everything just as it seems.
SENECA ON SNAPCHAT
You are livid. Is it that difficult to open a Snapchat when you are constantly on your phone? You can watch my story but when it comes to responding to my perfectly-imperfect-working-hard-but-hardly-working snap, that tiny red box is a huge obstruction. Soon, you’re seeing red, and it isn’t just the arrow that points to the futility of your efforts. Let’s be honest, Snapchat and so many other forms of frustrating communication can make you pretty mad. However, Seneca has some wise words for when your blood starts to boil. No matter how hard we try, nearly everything is out of our control. The one thing we know for certain is that anger gets you absolutely nowhere. In fact, Seneca would say that anger puts you in a miserable hurry. As time ticks on, you continue to lunge for what you can never have, ensnaring yourself in a vicious cycle of want and anger. So why not accept what you can’t control and consciously surrender to your own desire? Choose peace over irrational rage, and just be cool about it.
PETRARCH ON PUNISHMENT
You exit a conversation with great plans for what you should have said. You regret not making the move that would have prevented her from talking to him. Each trip to his Instagram is a knife to the chest. With the obsession comes brutal self-punishment. Petrarch knew a little about watching and wishing from afar. He literally wrote about someone he never talked to. I’m not sure that he lived in this space of regret and punishment, though. Rather, I think he appreciated the subtle beauty of just feeling. No, he never got the girl, but he did write quite beautifully about his failure. Because there is something just plain exciting about infatuation. So maybe things aren’t going anywhere. Can it be enough to just appreciate what you’re feeling and where you are? Can you and your experience be enough?