Get Thee to a Garden

photo of Butchart Gardens Victoria

Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia

Oliver Sacks talks about the healing powers of gardens in a posthumous collection.

I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.



The Fire that isn’t Notre Dame

In a review of The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells tells us that there’s a fire that hasn’t been put out that could do us all in. One lesson he hopes people will learn is not to throw up their hands in despair.

There simply isn’t a point of no return beyond which action on climate stops mattering, at least not within any of our lifetimes; every additional tenth of a degree of warming will mean tens of thousands of lives lost, and likely many more. “What may sound like stoic wisdom is often an alibi for indifference,” he says of the cynics who claim that nothing we can do at this point will change the course of events. “The fight is, definitively, not yet lost—in fact will never be lost, so long as we avoid extinction,” Wallace-Wells writes, “because however warm the planet gets, it will always be the case that the decade that follows could contain more suffering or less.”


Tears of the Gargoyles

cover of Michael Camille's book on Notre Dame's gargoyles

Notre Dame gargoyles

Quotation of the Day

From Will Eaves’s Murmur (2018):

Tolstoy’s accounts of Borodino and Austerlitz show us what real war is like: no one knows what the orders are or who is winning. No one has any idea what to do. Soldiers are permitted to kill each other and are maddened, sooner or later, by the realisation that someone else, somewhere relatively comfortable, thinks this is the right thing for them to do. And we are not far from that kind of chaos in everyday life.

graphic map of Austerlitz

Awareness Doesn’t Help

From the 8 April 2019 New Yorker, p. 42:

Sometimes Laura thought, Women who are happy and socialize like to buy dresses. She’d go to Nordstrom and buy two or three dresses. She recognized that this behavior was “textbook”—she had bought her own copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—but the awareness didn’t prevent the purchases.

Lacan: In the imaginary order, self-knowledge (me-connaissance) is synonymous with misunderstanding (méconnaissance), because the process by which the ego is formed in the mirror stage is at the same time the institution of alienation from the symbolic determination of being.

New Yorker cartoon

Candidate for Literature’s Hall of Shame

Those of us who work in the humanities like to think that our disciplines are misunderstood and underappreciated. We latch on to articles that say things like, “Literature makes people more empathetic.” The discourse of the university on the humanities side turns on claims about making students “better people” in broad senses. Then Allison Johnson happens, and it becomes clear that even English majors do wretched things. All that training in reading and empathizing didn’t take for reasons that won’t be explored by anyone. Allison Johnson will be written off as an exception, an anomaly, a person potentially with “mental problems.”

caption from news story about Allison Johnson in Oklahoma

A Helical Hell

cover of audiobook of The Third PolicemanFor those readers who have wondered about the title of this blog, its backstory belongs to Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, which happens to be the subject of a new essay by Fintan O’Toole, considered one of the sharpest Brexit commentators on the other side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, this particular offering by O’Toole is behind a pay wall, but here’s the beginning to give you the flavor:

In 2005, viewers around the world were sucked into a meandering TV drama called Lost, in which it was never quite clear what was going on.

Then the writer let it be known that, in the third episode of the second series, there would be an important clue. The clue was that one of the characters was seen reading Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman, written in 1940, in which the reader begins to realise what the nameless narrator does not: that he is in hell. This made sense of Lost. But I can now reveal that The Third Policeman is also the secret key to another long-running drama in which everyone is lost, no one quite knows what is going on and everything begins to look a lot like hell: Brexit.