Very good sentences

He was an ironic rationalist who, like all rationalists, had an irrational personal history.

That is from Adam Phillips, on Byron, in a review entitled Stag at Bay, in the latest LRB.  From elsewhere, here is an article on how to die a greener death.


A traditional super-green death is the Zoroastrian Dakhma, essentially exposing the dead body to the vultures. Of course this needs a vulture population to work. Since the vulture population is declining, the wiki article on Dakhma says that the Zoroastrian community in India is considering breeding vultures and using huge mirrors to decompose the body.

Sure, it's a good sentence. But look who is writing it. Phillips is a Freudian (post-Freudian, to be more polite). He's certainly going to insist that people have irrationalist skeletons in their rationalist closets. But it is really the case that all rationalists have an irrational personal history? What counts as an irrational personal history? And -- for that matter -- what is irrational anyway?

This whole sentence reminds me of Freudianism. It is witty, it seems to promise something deep and elaborate, it is a sharp observation, it seems saturated with (in?) profundity ... but there's no reason to think it picks out something specific about Byron, rather than, say, Parfit.

Nice sentence, but can't top, "He's mad, bad, and dangerous to know."

here's two sentences from W.Sommerset Maughm
"He lied and never knew that he lied, and when it was pointed out to him said that lies were beautiful. He was an idealist."

“He was an ironic rationalist, who, like all rationalists, had an irrational personal history.”

There’s some truth in that. You’re more likely to see the possibility or desirability of rationality if you already have deep experience of irrationality. Problem is that even after you’ve learnt to be rational you’re still so conditioned by your past that you express yourself ironically and appear wildly irrational (as a result no one believes you) when in fact you’re being perfectly rational.

Is this why East Europeans with experience of socialism became so comically passionate about (rational) capitalism?

There’s another sentence in that article with the same flavor:
“Ellis allows us to see how much Byron was changing, thanks largely to his irresolution, the narrowing of his social life and, indeed, his shrewd unwillingness to change.”

Seems not to make much sense. Byron could not decide what to do, he isolated himself from people who might change him, and anyway he bloody well rejected change. But that’s why he changed. It reminds me (in reverse, irrationally) of something Claudio Veliz said about the Latin Americans. I think he said they can’t change their culture very easily because dislike of change is part of their cultural make up.

On Adam Phillips, what do you expect from a writer of books with titles like Going Sane, On Balance, or On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored. Tickled and bored at the same time. Is that possible?

C'mon, depends on who is doing the tickling!

I can imagine being tickled and being afraid.


O, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have a rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

Comments for this post are closed