Most of you know that I’m a sociologist and that my intense interest in Ruskin arose after I discovered the many remarkable and novel things he had said (still says) about this small matter of how can best live together. Given that many of our recent posts have been lengthy and that I keep promising to post some that are shorter, today’s, one that I very much like, is drawn from that more snippet-like category. For me, it resonates, most immediately, with the truly bizarre political scene we here on the Western side of the Atlantic find ourselves “participating” in at this strange historical moment! (It is a rather chilling exercise to run through our mental images of most of those “eminents” presently contending to be the next American president with Ruskin’s sentences in mind!) They come from one of the lectures he gave to his Oxford students in the 1870s. As always, he was trying to remind those listening to him of their own best selves and inspire them to determine to make such memories, however faded, present realities.
Every nation can represent, with prudence or success, only the realities in which it delights. What you have with you, and before you, daily, dearest to your sight and heart, that, by the magic of your hand, or your lips, only you can gloriously express to others. And what you ought to have in your sight and heart (what, if you have not, nothing else can be truly seen or loved) is the human life of your own people, understood in its history and admired in its presence. And unless the first be made beautiful, idealism must be false, and imagination monstrous.
I’ve reread this passage many, many times, and now know it to be true from experience. We create, he says, our world for good or ill (or something in-between) as a consequence of the choices we make daily as we express or practice that which we hold dearest to our sight and hearts. One of my other great teachers said it similarly in this simple but profound way: “That to which we give our attention grows stronger in our life.” So: Beauty or Monsters? It’s a matter of choice–and taste.
Be well out there.