Now this gathering is a work of art. The teacher whose name I thought of when we all remembered good teachers asked me one time, “What is it artists do?” And I mumbled something. “They do two things,” he said. “First, they admit they can’t straighten out the whole universe. And then second, they make at least one little part of it exactly as it should be. A blob of clay, a square of canvas, a piece of paper, or whatever.” We have all worked so hard and well to make these moments and this place exactly what it should be.
That is from this Kurt Vonnegut commencement speech. And this: “There have never been any “Good Old Days,” there have just been days.“
All intents and purposes I had forgotten that the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” comes from Ecclesiastes. I also was not aware of the phrase “chasing after wind.”
“The word Ecclesiastes derives from the Greek ekklesiastes, or “one who addresses an assembly.” That is from a recent reframing of the book from Lapham’s Quarterly. It is part of a series of piece by the magazine looking at advice from across history in the context of graduation season and its associated commencement addresses.
“[Ecclesiastes’ author’s] advice for readers is to accept the futility of their lives and welcome the knowledge that all human actions are “vanity” or “vapor.” He suggests (perhaps influenced by the Greek philosophy of Epicureanism) that the best course of action is to pursue tranquility and pleasure.”
Lapham’s also points to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59:
If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, laboring for invention, bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
O, that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done!
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or whether better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
O, sure I am, the wits of former days
To subjects worse have given admiring praise.