Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The thicket of confusions

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As we look back over history, it is difficult to say what part mind has played in the life of nations. A nation’s life gets carried on by many agencies, of which conscious and self-conscious mind has seldom over the long past seemed the most salient. Mere habit and inertia are powerful elements of a national life, as are old pieties, as are commitments to particular social interests or classes. And intelligence has always been of moment, what we call practical intelligence, which, to the degree to which it is effectual, is probably more than simply practical…

Seen in its totality, seen historically, the life of mind consists as much in its failed efforts as in its successes, in its false starts, its mere approximations, its very errors. It is carried on, we may say, even in the vicissitudes it makes for itself, including its mistrust or denial of its own ideal nature. All these are manifestations of the energies of mind, and William James, a philosopher in whose peculiar largeness of spirit we may perceive an affinity with Jefferson’s, was at pains to remind us that they, in all their ill-conditioned disorder, are actually a function of mind’s ideal achievement. Mind does not move toward its ideal purposes over a royal straight road but finds its way through the thicket of its own confusions and contradictions.

Lionel Trilling, The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent

Written by nevalalee

August 26, 2017 at 7:30 am

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