Friday, May 13, 2011

The weekly haiku

Sunlight so perfect,
The world seems joyous, carefree.
Soon it grows too hot.

We've had a couple of really perfect days this past week or so: too perfect to last.


JES said...

Is the notion of "too good to be true" common in non-Western cultures, do you know? -- the sense of resignation, rolling one's eyes and shrug or slump of the shoulders, the certainty that bad will out, and that optimism will never be repaid in full but pessimism always will? The closest common expression of the opposite point of view would be something like "too awful to be believed"; that, however, does not express confidence that the world will soon revert to its true "good" nature... it's more like mere sympathy or pity (seeking it, or offering it).

Not saying it's WRONG, and certainly not saying I don't do it myself. Just wondering.

I guess there's evolutionary value in it -- a survival mechanism. If you're always expecting the worst, then you will (in theory) be better prepared to survive it. Expecting the best prepares you for nothing. (On the other hand, I think it was Ambrose Bierce, or maybe Mencken, who once defined remarriage as the triumph of hope over experience.)

Froog said...

An interesting question, JES. I can't think of specific instances (must try to do some on-the-street or in-the-classroom research in China this week), but I'd imagine that pessimism - and a wariness of improbably excessive good fortune - are common to every culture. It seems so 'natural' an attitude, and, as you say, is probably evolutionarily advantageous. Although optimists, of course, claim, amongst so much else, that their sunnier dispositions have health advantages - less risk of heart disease, cancer, and so on - which must cancel out their lack of disaster-preparedness overall.

Is it not surprising that optimists and pessimists have not long ago annihilated each other, since they find their opposites so irritating? I wonder if there's a sci-fi story to be written about that? You may know that Iain Banks once suggested (in Walking On Glass, I think) that the great war of the future - centuries long, galaxy-wide - would be between the forces of Banality and Interest.

How quaint that you try to claim that epigram for your own country? Or is it merely that those are the two most familiar sources of wise saws for you? In the UK, we tend to assume that any familiar-but-not-quite-placed witticism of this kind must be Wilde... or G.B. Shaw... but perhaps it's the Monty Python 'epigram duel' sketch about them that's mainly responsible for this.

In fact, this one is even older: Dr Johnson, as dutifully recorded by Boswell. (You can't help wondering how much of this was 'staircase wit', after-the-event improvements of perhaps fumbled impromptu wit, and possibly even Boswell's own inspiration rather than his idol's. (Sits down of an evening to write up the great man's doings for the day, and suddenly thinks: Gosh, the Doctor missed a really good opportunity there! He should have said something like...)