Monday, May 23, 2016

The philosopher as artist …

George Santayana and the consolations of philosophy. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
George Santayana was unassimilable by nature, a stranger by preference, a man without a country quite as much by choice as by circumstance. When in his sixties he finally settled in Rome, he did so not because he felt he had found an ideal society, but rather because he found suitable lodgings in an ideal situation of solitude and independence, “after the fashion of ancient philosophers,” as he put it, “often in exile, but always in sight of the market-place and the theatre.” Of course, to be in exile one must first have a home country from which one has been ejected or has chosen to flee. As John McCormick writes in his excellent new biography of Santayana,[2]“Wherever he was, he was at ease, playing his part on the stage, but he was not at home.” Yet it would be a mistake, I believe, to imagine George Santayana as lonely, alienated, an isolato—a mistake, in general, to imagine that Santayana did not enjoy life, for he did, immensely.
I am an admirer of Santayana, and I can see why Wallace Stevens was: For Santayana, philosophy was an attempt to arrive at a supreme fiction of one's own. Unfortunately, he seems to have kept pretty much to the surface of things. His reluctance to pursue faith beyond its aesthetic dimension suggests to me a fear of going deeper.

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