Air Is Real

by John Holbo on October 20, 2018

This image (I snagged it from an FB group) is evidently from this book [Amazon]. Science For Work And Play (1954).

I think someone should write Philosophy For Work and Play. “Error is real.” We could keep the picture the same.



Christina Rosetti 10.20.18 at 2:27 pm

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.


alfredlordbleep 10.20.18 at 3:20 pm

[Found on a typewriter in the storeroom: “Philosophy at Play”]

Scene: Hertfordshire July 1897. Mid-morning. Garden at the Manor House Woolton. Under a large yew-tree are set basket chairs and a table arrayed with books and two muffins on a tray. Cecily, just turned twenty, awaits the imminent arrival of her Uncle John. Actually, she is his great-great Aunt—but nevermind. He is from the future and distant Singapore

MERRIMAN Your guest has just driven over from the station.
CECILY Ask him to come here.
MERRIMAN Yes, Ma’am.
Merriman goes off
CECILY I have never met a real philosopher before. I feel rather frightened. Reality is so strange nowadays.
Enter JH, very jauntily
JH [Raising his hat] You are little Cecily. So pleased to see you at long last.
CECILY You, I see from your card, are my pedantic Uncle John. I’m to call you Uncle until we understand your place on the family tree.
JH I am not really pedantic at all, Cecily. You mustn’t think so. I am on holiday.
CECILY I’m the first Victorian girl to meet a man from two centuries beyond. Do you believe in life beyond the grave?
JH It’s much pleasanter being here with you. . . than b-be-ing—
CECILY—dead? Let me pause to think. [ Checks her heartbeat] My family isn’t in favor of premature experience, especially mine. Your being here makes me queen of all premature experience! This is no way to enter the history books by forcing their rewrite.
JH I’m fond of paradox, the universe less so.
CECILY Or could we be meeting in the spiritual world beyond time? Oh! Let us not speak of such things, Uncle John. [Looks at him with familial concern] Let’s sit down while we wait for the others to return. A garden is so welcoming, beautiful and fragrant.
JH [drowning in scent] Why don’t we move closer? [Reflexively reaches for her hand. [She frowns] There is a current of electricity in him as he covers it with his own. Her corporeality shocks his senses]
CECILY I have been married sometime, but I’m not quite old enough for adultery.
JH Oh! Let us not speak of such things!
CECILY On Sundays Dr. Chasuble lays down the Higher Law. But I’ve found that passions depart before they can be arrested. Here in the garden as the seasons change, I reflect on that strange truth that it is the superficial things that last.
JH You try to ensnare me right off the bat. Wisemen almost to a man ponder the skull beneath the skin.
CECILY Oh! You are disenchanting.
JH Truth is beauty.
CECILY You touched on an obvious exception.
JH Heraclitus complained that the masses were blind to truth and didn’t know that one good man counts for more than thousands. Remember a good work may atone for a lie, or other sins.
CECILY I try to forget them as soon as possible. It is my only form of self-denial. I remember the past only as it gives pleasure.
JH Spoken like an amnesiac and a voluptuary.
CECILY It would be ideal to combine both, don’t you think?
JH To experience each repetition of a pleasure as a first impression?
CECILY Exactly.
JH For you that explodes the question of original sin by making all original.
CECILY Oh, nobody’s so vain.
JH Be careful or you will be found out.


Jim Buck 10.20.18 at 4:13 pm

The new moon is rising the axe of the thunder is broken
As never was not since the flood nor yet since the world began
The new moon is shining the angels are washing their windows
Above the years whose jumble sale goes spinning on below
Ask the snail beneath the stone, ask the stone beneath the wall
Are there any stars at all
Like an eagle in the sky tell me if air is strong (R. Williamson)


John Holbo 10.21.18 at 12:52 am

Thank you kindly for the contributions!


Atticus Dogsbody 10.24.18 at 8:15 am

He who smelt it had a cast to his eye
Due to the airy flatulation of egg and bacon pie
“There but for the grace of God go I”
He said thence flung
A windy eructation into the dealer’s eye


alfredlordbleep 10.25.18 at 2:01 am


JH Be careful or you will be found out.
CECILY Then look away. Until I met Algy I was without sin—except for being inattentive and that sort of thing. Now I prefer him to all things except chocolate. So he never forgets my real strength of character. Chocolate is the other thing that corrupts absolutely. [Selfishly helps herself to a chocolate creme from a brown bag on her lap]
JH A chocolate taken in a single gulp touches a woman’s reputation.
CECILY Oh, look away. When my tutor’s out of hearing, I like to say that it is better to be beautiful than to be good.
JH Surely, it is better to be good than ugly.
CECILY Ahem, since we’ve known each other a comparatively short time, excuse me for saying what ugly looking clothes you have got on! Please—do go change.
JH I arrived without portmanteau. I don’t have the first thing.
CECILY At the last we all come as we are.
JH What a perfectly heartless thing to say. Before God. . . and the lilacs.
CECILY Oh, I am sorry! I know arriving without your clothes is worse than being orphaned. And neither Uncle Ernest’s nor Algy’s would fit you. [Looks about shaking her head. Offers him a muffin. With a pious expression eats it herself]
JH That looks like repentance.
CECILY Don’t you think a muffin is a happy convenience? I understand now that Uncle Ernest had always asked for my German lessons to atone for his attending Gwendolyn at the same hour. Since you raised the subject, do you believe in the doctrine of original sin?
JH No, that would commit me to much more than your being punished. But don’t think I want you to suffer for this garb either. In my time it’s the expression of rough equality of dress. We call it consumer democracy, the march of progress.
CECILY Speaking of science and so forth, surely, there are improvements
in the future but certainly not to make people look more common. Tell
me has society itself much changed for the better?
JH Meaning?
CECILY Well, [Draws herself up] such as the breakout of universal peace.
JH In the next world.
CECILY 1789 and all that—the rights of man?
JH All down on paper.
CECILY [with sass] The woman question?
JH Still writing.
CECILY I mean equality of the sexes.
JH Superior people still say life’s unfair.
CECILY With such complacency as to make them my inferiors. . . Then what
of the common good—there is strength in numbers?
JH Uncounted at the stock exchange. While those who count trade favors
at the Capital.
CECILY While watchdogs sleep?
JH [sees her in new light] Or growl at the wrong people. It is a question
of loyalty, the hand that feeds. Or the next one. It is ever thus.
CECILY A comedy of manners.
JH They wall off the multitudes.
CECILY That is not to be laughed at.
JH Their soft flesh is a hard barrier. It protects the good of few as it rises to the high heavens. It is as good as an iron curtain.
CECILY [with brio] Materialism is the god that cannot fail.
JH I can’t believe your years. Twenty? [She nods] Against common belief I do not say that thinking costs a girl her beauty.
CECILY Oh! Uncle John, I don’t think it can be right for you to talk to me like that. Miss Prism never says such things to me.[ She looks at him with great interest as she opens her diary] I am ready for dictation. Please go on. And speak of philosophic things like origin and terminus. I have just started The Voyage of the Beagle. [Pats volume at hand]


alfredlordbleep 10.25.18 at 11:49 am

[last line]*

JH [elegiacally] The last kiss [She turns pale] is given to the void.

*accidentally erased by the Final Erasure

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