Category Archives: clarity

No wonder Dr Johnson is not in fashion

Engraving from James Barry’s portrait (1778-80)

An incomparably greater psychologist than Freud, having no axe to grind and no sect to found

Samuel Johnson, writes Dalrymple,

  • contrived to be a moralist without moralising
  • was humane and charitable without sentimentality

This is a contrast to today, Dalrymple points out, for

we prefer mental contortions, self-justifications, evasions, rationalisations, and all the other methods of avoiding the truth about ourselves, to Dr Johnson’s discomfiting clarity of mind.

Johnson had a gift, Dalrymple notes, for saying things that were

both startling and obvious. As he himself put it, we have more often to be reminded than informed.

Johnson’s prose style

would no doubt strike many people (if they read it) as formal—we prefer expletives and the demotic now.

Airport bookstore drivel

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 18.46.04Dalrymple browses in an airport bookshop while awaiting his flight. Large numbers of the books are on the subject of how to be happy or how to be wealthy or both.

Clarity as a pre-existing condition

Dalrymple picks up one of the volumes and opens it at random. His eyes fall on the following (on page 83):

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Typical popular psychologising or philosophising: exhibit A

Clarity is what a person’s psychology is always endeavouring to return to. Innate clarity and resilience are always shining a beacon even when a person seems hopelessly lost. You see, clarity isn’t an achievement, it’s a pre-existing condition. It’s not something that you need to practise or work on, it’s an expression of who you really are.

Please note that many insurance policies will not cover expenses associated with pre-existing conditions such as epilepsy, hypothyroidism, systemic lupus erythematosis, ulcerative colitis, clarity, etc.

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Typical popular philosophising or psychologising: exhibit B

Dalrymple’s comment (from 39:20):

I hope that this is clear and that you will find it useful, or at least, that part of you that is the real you.

Try to understand this one thing: things are happening. Or they are not happening. We must accept this

Dalrymple turns to a second book, also opening it at random. He finds the following (on page 46):

Acceptance means understanding that things are, or are not, happening. Mindfulness involves accepting what’s happened and what’s happening right now. It involves feeling what you feel without trying to resist or control those feelings or whatever it is that is happening.

Rodin, La Porte de l'Enfer. Commissioned 1880. Kunsthaus Zürich

Rodin, La Porte de l’Enfer. Kunsthaus Zürich

Dalrymple says:

I try to imagine what it is like to find this kind of drivel illuminating.

He fails. One of his ideas of hell, Dalrymple says, is to have to

wade through hundreds of pages of this stuff.

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The mind, too, is mindful

The mind, too, is mindful