The spider and the flies
Having spent the weekend hobbling around on a swollen, itchy, hornet-stung leg acquired while watering down the backyard compost heap, Culture Vulture managed to forgo every party invitation and social engagement that might have provided fodder for an entertaining and enlightening essay such as you have come to expect from the little oasis of non-journalistic writing that we have been tending here at the back of the paper for lo, these many (well, a few) years. So here at deadline’s dawn we soar on the updrafts of randomness and seek to pluck what nourishment we can from the roadkill of a weekend enfeebled by inactivity. In other words, dear friends and neighbors, it’s time for another episode of “Random Thoughts and Trivial Incidents” from your host in our cozy little lime and lavender corner.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” wrote the great American poet, philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self-reliance,” in 1841. It’s one of those quotes that’s been stuck like a wriggling fly in the web of the Culture Vulture memory for several decades now. It’s also one of those quotes that tend to be used in fragmented form. Leave out the qualifying “a foolish,” and you have a rather authoritative-sounding excuse for ignoring the value of consistency altogether.
And of course just quoting the opening line of the paragraph leaves out the meat of Emerson’s line of reckoning, which continues thus: “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
It’s nice that Emerson provides such a boisterous apologia for inconsistency, a stunning example of nearly incomprehensible logic and a self-referential link to the shapers of his world all in a single paragraph. Such a thing is no small or easy accomplishment, and we salute him for it.
And speaking of small accomplishments, as the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie and self were returning from the garden to the house on Sunday evening, Daphie spotted a small orb spider laying out her web between the gatepost and a large box of assorted junk that’s waiting to be hauled to the landfill. The little engineer was just finishing off the interior of an intricate pattern of lines within which to snare her prey, and the slowly descending sun illuminated her and her work with a gentle lucidity that belied the pragmatically predatory nature of this tiny thing of beauty.
And so we contemplate the spider, a passive predator that waits for her prey to come to her, and the vulture, an opportunistic scavenger who must actively hunt for prey that is beyond all hope of escape.