Saturday, March 27, 2010

Montaigne and pedal pumping

I was a bit ashamed by Muffy's reaction to my post about the new fetish of pedal pumping -- and not merely because he was wittier than I. His final point was this:

I think this is great, really. Not because I enjoy pedal pumping, but because it reveals another layer of the wonderful oddity of folks.

I should have been more attuned to this, because I've been reading a wonderful new book by a BBC presenter called Sarah Bakewell (I think I've mentioned it before) called "How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer." In the chapter offering the answer "Wake from the Sleep of Habit", Bakewell writes about Montaigne's love of the odd and excessive:

Habit makes everything look bland: it is sleep-inducing. Jumping to a different perspective is a way of waking oneself up again....

Reciting diversities helps to break free of (our narrow and unexamined opinions), if only for brief moments of enlightenment. "This great world," writes Montaigne, "is the mirror in which we must look at ourselves to recognize ourselves from the proper angle."

Of course she also quotes him as saying "The most beautiful lives, to my mind, are those that conform to the common human pattern, with order, but without miracle and without eccentricity."

That doesn't fit me (or anyone else here) any better than pedal pumping -- but thanks again to Muffy for giving me that zen blow on the side of my head....

1 comment:

Muffy St. Bernard said...

And thank YOU for introducing me to...errr...Pedal Pushing!

In a sense I've had to train myself to appreciate odd, harmless obsessions. It's a work in progress.

I used to spend a lot of time on "Portal of Evil," a site/forum devoted to finding the most bizarre websites around. Somebody posted the website for "Rael the Bunnygirl" -- you can Google that one when you're not at work -- and while everybody else was making fun of him, I thought: "Wow, what a lot of energy to spend on something so esoteric, and look how happy he is! And how happy he makes other people! Rael is sort of amazing!"

So whenever I meet a new fetish or all-consuming obsession and I've decided it's harmless, I try to see it in a positive light. At the very least it's something that marks us as human, an element of our social upbringing and self-reflexive nature that makes us capable of turning anything into anything else. That can be evil, but usually it's just...people.