Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holiday Reading?

I'm about a third of the way through Augustine's Confessions. I decided to pick it up because I'd recently run across references to it in a few different places that led me to think that I should read it, but I have to admit that so far I'm finding it terribly tedious. I worry that part of the problem might be a bad translation (Washington Square Press paper back from the 1950s that I picked up long ago for cheap). But I also have a stack of other books to start reading. Should I stick with the Augustine a bit longer?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Zoë Keating

I got to see/hear/meet Zoë Keating in Cincinnati this past Friday. If you haven't heard (of) her, I urge you to listen to her music. The video below is a good place to start, as are all of the other pieces she did for ABC Radio National (excellent sound and video quality). N.B. no pre-recording, no overdubs; it's all constructed live:

There are a handful of musicians and writers who, when I listen to or read their work, make me ask myself, "How can I write philosophy that is the equivalent qua philosophy to what this person does qua his/her art?" That is probably an insane or at least senseless question to ask. I suppose what I mean is, I find her work inspiring.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

No Bullshit? What a Disappointment!

"When I first picked up this book, I was looking forward to a leisurely reading on obscurantist Heideggerian bullshit. I was wrong. But once I got over my deep disappointment that the book was, in fact, intelligible and not littered with ramblings about Dasein, I began to appreciate the book for what it was." — Critical Theory Blog

I just re-read Frankfurt's "On Bullshit," so I was struck by the review bite above, on the publisher's website, of a book I learned about via e-mail: Social Acceleration by Hartmut Rosa. (It looks a bit daunting, Dasein or not--though I can usually hang with Dasein talk--and possibly worth a look.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Planting, Watering, and Waiting

"I believe we must learn to wait as we learn to create. We have to patiently sow the seeds, assiduously water the earth where they are sown and give the plants the time that is their own. One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history. But one can water it. Patiently, every day. With understanding, with humility, but also with love." -- Vaclav Havel

Monday, October 14, 2013

Virtues in Action

My colleague Mike Austin's edited collection Virtues in Action: New Essays in Applied Virtue Ethics is now out. Details about the book, including table of contents, are available at the publisher's website.

Thanks again to those of you who offered comments and feedback on the material that went into my chapter, "Humility and Environmental Virtue Ethics."

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

"I Don't Have Time to be Patient!" (and a question about Nietzsche)

Or time to blog. It's been very busy this semester, busier than usual on the teaching front with three preps (one course is team-taught, but it also meets 5 days a week; more about it another day). Basically, I'm aching for time to write (I'm beginning to revise the thing that will become a book on patience), and this makes me feel a little discombobulated even though I'm enjoying the teaching. Some of my classes are rather front-loaded (in terms of reading and preparation), so things might pick up here soon, as I find myself needing to test out revised ideas and having a little more time to do so.

Later this month, I'll get to test out a short version of my paper on "Nietzschean Patience" in Nashville at the annual TPA meeting.

One thing I am trying to figure out, as I fold some of the above ideas from Nietzsche into the book, is what to make of Nietzsche's remark in The Gay Science (§336) that our patience (and good will, etc.) with what is strange is always rewarded by the thing's revealing itself "as a new and indescribable beauty." What about the things that are strange and, as it turns out after long attention and study, ugly? What about the fact that there are some things (in GS §276) that he will "negate" by "looking away" (though he does not otherwise want to "wage war against ugliness")? I suppose the easiest resolution would be to take the remark about patience with what as strange to be an overstatement, but one worth making since we often don't see as much beauty in what is strange as we could if we paid more attention (and got over ourselves a bit). However, elsewhere (in Daybreak, §550), he says that, "knowledge of even the ugliest reality is itself beautiful." So, perhaps he means what he says, without overstatement, in GS?

P.S. He continues in Daybreak §550: "...he who knows much is in the end very far from finding ugly the greater part of that reality whose discovery has always brought him happiness. For is anything 'beautiful in itself'? The happiness of the man of knowledge enhances the beauty of the world and makes all that exists sunnier; knowledge casts its beauty not only over things but in the long run into things - may future mankind bear witness to the truth of this proposition!"

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hertzberg on Ethics & Education

I was happy to read this paper by Lars Hertzberg, after my post below. He says much of interest about what an ethics class does and doesn't (or should and can't, and so shouldn't try to) do. Here's one highlight (but you should really go read the whole paper; it's very rich, but brief):
Ethics courses do not aim at raising the moral quality of the students, rather they are aimed at deepening their awareness of their prospective tasks and the way they fit into some bigger pictures. Through these courses, doctors, lawyers and engineers are not necessarily to be turned into better human beings, but into better doctors, lawyers and engineers, by coming to reflect on various aspects of their work. Perhaps one could say that what happens in these courses, if they are good, is that one turns one’s professional competence inside out, one comes to see the limitations and the difficulties of what that competence can achieve. What one is acquiring should not be thought of as a specialized skill; rather, one’s attention is drawn to the things that tend to get overlooked in more conventional forms of professional training.
(I believe this paper also appears in Ethics and the Philosophy of Culture: Wittgensteinian Approaches, ed. Gustafsson, Kronqvist & Nykänen.)

Should I Be Trying to Make My Students Behave More Ethically?

Or, Schwitzgebel is at it again. (I'm a couple weeks late on this.)

Schwitzgebel (henceforth, ES) doesn't say that ethics classes ought to be changing students' behavior. He's just asking whether there's any evidence that they do. Although there's little evidence one way or the other, he suggests there's likely little hope for an affirmative answer, given the apparently minimal impact of ethics classes even on students' attitudes.

I have many and mixed thoughts about all of this. Rather than trying to weave a narrative or argument, I'm just going to number them.

1. Is this really surprising? I've never taught an ethics class where changing the students' ethical behavior in a particular direction was an explicit (or even implicit) goal. True, in accord with the education goals of the courses, I want my students' behavior as thinkers and writers to improve and deepen, but that's more of an intellectual than an ethical goal, even if the two are related. (If they are related, the positive changes would not be detected by attitudes surveys. The instrument is too superficial to tell us anything about how students' thinking--that is, their process of thinking--about ethical issues has changed. A student could change her views for superficial reasons, or maintain a previously held belief for better reasons. ES's methodology has no depth.)

2. What about professional and applied ethics courses? Maybe ES should look at those kinds of classes and leave aside classes where the focus is theoretical and historical (perhaps with some "hot topics" added to the mix). But even in applied courses, focus is often given to complex ethical issues on which reasonable people might disagree.

3. ES's question might seem innocent, but it seems to implicitly affirm the idea that ethics classes should bring about ethical changes (improvements) in student behavior. Maybe that's not entirely fair to him. But my point is that asking the question, treating it like a good question to ask, would seem to affirm the misguided idea that ethics classes can and ought to be geared toward changing students' ethical behavior.

4. What kind of ethics class could--in a liberal society and as part of a liberal education--have that as a goal? What code of ethics would all the relevant professors affirm? If we stuck with things that all, or almost all, would agree upon, then I'm not sure what ethics classes would be teaching anything of much depth or interest: don't kill people for fun, don't steal just because you want something, don't plagiarize your homework.

5. Charitably, one could see ES as dealing with a version of the "can virtue be taught?" issue--or, is it taught in ethics classes? But if Aristotle was right, then ethics class has never been the place where we become better (more ethical) people. It happens in the world, not the classroom. And again, the connection between what we learn about ethics and ethical thinking in the classroom and how that translates into action in the world is not obviously something that can be assessed by attitudes surveys. (Would there be a useful way to compare changes in attitude and behavior in a service-learning course in contrast with a traditional classroom course? Only, it seems, if the content covered in the course were the same.)

6. No doubt, we want our classes in one way or another to help mold our students into better people--more informed, better critical thinkers, better communicators, better at doing rather mundane things that they need to know how to do in order to be successful in the workplace (like doing their work on time, speaking and writing clearly, behaving decently around others, even others with whom they might disagree)--but those are fairly common educational goals that have something to do with "ethics" in a very broad sense. But then ethics class is not the place where those kind of ethical goals are pursued. Does ethics have any specific goals? Well, of course, there's the content and the philosophical skills involved. One might say it's a problem if ethics classes are all "head" (or, reflection) and no "heart" (or, no action), but then we have to think back to Point 4 above. Is anyone exactly prepared to appoint ethics professors the priests of our culture who will set about telling students how they must live and granting them the authority to punish those who fail to follow the rules? (Are ethics professors ready to accept that role?)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Schopenhauer's Patience, Continued

On the one hand, Schopenhauer’s advice seems perfectly sensible—accept what you cannot change, choose your battles wisely, don’t put yourself into situations where the patience required overreaches your own capacities. But on the other hand, it might seem that his pessimism about the fixity of character—that is, his unflinching determinism—is ultimately self-defeating. If character is fixed and all is determined, then what’s the point of offering advice? It’s tempting to think that the advice must be either futile or unnecessary. If I am hopelessly impatient, then the advice is futile, since impatience is an unalterable fact about my character. If I am patient, then the advice is unnecessary. But if the advice works, then doesn’t that show that character isn’t fixed? That is, if I take Schopenhauer’s advice to heart, practice being patient first with inanimate objects and then with other people, and if I thereby become more patient than I have been in the past, then doesn’t my own growth in patience disprove his claim that character is unalterable?

A determinist like Schopenhauer could respond in at least two different ways. First, he might argue that the advice is still good advice even if some people are incapable of following it. Patient acceptance of what cannot be otherwise is a necessary part of coping with life. Some people find life unbearable because they are deeply impatient rather than because they’re really that badly off. That’s too bad for them. Their example makes clear the advantages of patience. But second, Schopenhauer can also argue that the truth of determinism doesn’t imply that advice has no point. Advice itself can serve as a cause. A person might have the capacity to be more patient than he has been in the past, but there must be something that activates (or triggers) that capacity. Schopenhauer’s Counsels and Maxims might turn out to be just the thing I needed to see how important and useful patience is, and to see at the same time that I have the ability to be more patient than I have been. Or perhaps reading Schopenhauer will stimulate me to recognize the limits of my own patience, and cause me to limit my own exposure to situations that I can expect to require more patience than I have. I wouldn’t become more patient in that way, but perhaps my life would go better in virtue of living within the limitations of my own lack of that virtue. So it’s not true that his advice is pointless; rather, its effectiveness (or lack thereof in some cases) is simply subject to the same causal laws that govern everything in the universe. This will be little consolation to the hopelessly impatient, but there’s nothing to be done about that. And it’s hard to imagine someone who is hopelessly impatient taking the time to read Schopenhauer anyhow!

These possible responses might raise questions about what it could then mean for Schopenhauer to claim that character is fixed. Perhaps that for any given person, only a certain amount of flexibility and growth is possible? A more pessimistic view would be that people can’t change or grow in any significant way, but it would be difficult to know how exactly to vindicate such a universal claim. It may be true that we tend to settle into our ways, that, for the most part, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but tendencies aren’t universals, and even radical changes seem to be compatible with the general truth of determinism. (A radical change would simply require a radical, or unusual, cause.) Whether it is compatible with Schopenhauer or not, perhaps a realistic outlook would involve being mindful that we are at risk of fooling ourselves if we start thinking that we just happen to be exceptions to general rules of human nature and psychology. We should aspire to patience, but also be mindful of the possible limitations of our own capacities, and try to avoid setting ourselves up for the failure and frustration of testing our own patience beyond its limits. Of course, if determinism is true, then we ultimately do whatever we do. We succeed or we fail. We repeat past mistakes or we learn from them and grow. But since we aren’t omniscient, the truth of determinism doesn’t itself provide any practical guidance: we don’t know what our own deterministic future holds. So, at the practical level, the best we can do is to try to do the best we can do. The best Schopenhauer can do is to advise us to accept patiently what cannot be changed. Life may be pointless, but if so, then there’s no point in being miserable about it. (See his "The Emptiness of Existence.")

[Reassuring, I know. But here I'm mainly just trying to work out a reading of Schopenhauer's advice with an eye toward moving to some extent past it. Thoughts on the middle paragraph above are especially welcome!]

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Schopenhauer's Patience

Schopenhauer says a few things about patience with others in Chapter 3 of Counsels and Maxims. He begins the general discussion with the following remarks:
No one who has to live amongst men should absolutely discard any person who has his due place in the order of nature, even though he is very wicked or contemptible or ridiculous. He must accept him as an unalterable fact — unalterable, because the necessary outcome of an eternal, fundamental principle; and in bad cases he should remember the words of Mephistopheles: es muss auch solche Käuze geben — there must be fools and rogues in the world. If he acts otherwise, he will be committing an injustice, and giving a challenge of life and death to the man he discards. No one can alter his own peculiar individuality, his moral character, his intellectual capacity, his temperament or physique; and if we go so far as to condemn a man from every point of view, there will be nothing left him but to engage us in deadly conflict; for we are practically allowing him the right to exist only on condition that he becomes another man — which is impossible; his nature forbids it.
One question I have is about what sense it makes to be offering practical advice if our individual characters are as unalterable as Schopenhauer claims. (On a related note, Tommi comments here.) Of course, a determinist can say that such advice can cause others (readers) to act thus-and-such, and so perhaps there's not that big of a problem. If the advice works, it is because it works upon a pre-existing character that is receptive to such advice. (And perhaps those who are "beyond reach" would quickly lose interest with Schopenhauer's advice, or even despise it?) I've only glanced at Schopenhauer's discussion of freedom of the will and his endorsement of a Kantian conception of moral freedom as transcendental--but I've yet to read closely enough to make sense of this. (Help if you can!)

He goes on about patience thus:
The art of putting up with people may be learned by practicing patience on inanimate objects, which, in virtue of some mechanical or general physical necessity, oppose a stubborn resistance to our freedom of action — a form of patience which is required every day. The patience thus gained may be applied to our dealings with men, by accustoming ourselves to regard their opposition, wherever we encounter it, as the inevitable outcome of their nature, which sets itself up against us in virtue of the same rigid law of necessity as governs the resistance of inanimate objects. To become indignant at their conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter.
Not surprisingly, this is similar to things said about patience by the Buddhist Shantideva, e.g. "22. I am not angered at bile and the like even though they cause great suffering. Why be angry at those who have minds? They too are impelled by conditions [causes]."

But later, Schopenhauer says:
He who criticises others, works at the reformation of himself. Those who form the secret habit of scrutinizing other people’s general behavior, and passing severe judgment upon what they do and leave undone, thereby improve themselves, and work out their own perfection: for they will have sufficient sense of justice, or at any rate enough pride and vanity, to avoid in their own case that which they condemn so harshly elsewhere. But tolerant people are just the opposite, and claim for themselves the same indulgence that they extend to others...
The patience of "live and let live" would seem to be inconsistent with this, especially if one thinks of the patience Schopenhauer recommends as a form of tolerance. But it seems important that Schopenhauer characterizes this criticism as a "secret habit" and thus not criticism that is offered to the offending party. (There are other places in Chapter 3 of Counsels and Maxims where he emphasizes the prudence of being silent, of not sharing thoughts and judgments that are bound to offend to no fruitful end, and so forth.)

So, on the one hand, we have the deterministic idea that we should be patient with others because impatience, anger, open condemnation, and the like will be unlikely to have any good effect on the "unalterable character" of the person who is testing our patience (as we say). Better, he suggests at one point, just to be polite (and, to the extent possible, to avoid the company of blockheads altogether). But, on the other hand, we should not, in our patience, fail to judge the characters of others as they are (to call the coward and the blockhead, etc., what they are). However, we should in general keep those judgments to ourselves. I wonder if that goes for the determinism and pessimism, too, since as I suggested when reflecting on Strawson, it might seem insulting (condescending) to express that position to the offending person. (Is the truth of determinism--whatever exactly it is--something we thus must pass over in silence--not because it cannot be expressed, but rather because it does not good in our personal interactions to express it?)

There's something to the idea that it is absurd to expect others to be something (or someone) that they aren't, and to the idea that patience should be distinguished from uncritical indulgence (though I would say the same of tolerance). But I think what puzzles me about what Schopenhauer is doing is that there must be some kind of wiggle room in our allegedly "unalterable character" in order for all of this to get off the ground as advice. Of course, one might reject "ought implies can," and hold that it's still good advice--or the right kind of advice--even if some are incapable of following it. And perhaps the advice is to serve as a kind of trigger for those who are capable of following it, i.e. those who have it in their character to act with greater patience if given the right kinds of reasons and reminders. Is that how this is supposed to work?

I'm just trying to think out loud, as it were, about all of this. Bear with me.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Freedom and Resentment (Strawson)

I don't read much in action theory, but had a hunch that it was time to take a look at Strawson's "Freedom and Resentment." (File this under "classics that perhaps I should have already read"?)

There's much to appreciate in the paper. One the one hand, I find myself thinking, "Ok, so maybe I can live with compatibilism." But then Strawson offers some good criticisms of some types of compatiblist thinking. And then I find myself thinking, "Ah, maybe the point is not to settle on a camp, but just to see that I can walk away from the 'free will problem' without guilt." And although it's a nice line of writing, I find myself unsure what to think about Strawson's remark about "the obscure and panicky metaphysics of libertarianism."

However, I came to Strawson's paper for a particular purpose, in the midst of trying to think about the relationship between patience, tolerance, and forgiveness, and revisiting some ideas from Buddhist sources I've discussed earlier in the manuscript on patience as tolerance. This relates to the problem of determinism insofar as Shantideva's argument for cultivating tolerance depends upon what looks like a commitment to what we (Westerners, I suppose) would call determinism: every action is caused, and coming to understand the causes of a person's harmful deeds or words toward me can help (he suggests) foster a more tolerant, or patient, attitude toward this person.

This looks like a matter of adopting the "objective attitude" toward the person, in Strawson's terms. And one thing that Strawson is good on is the idea that taking the objective attitude is not a way of relating to another, if I can put it this way, as a person. So it might seem that there's something somehow inhumane (insulting, etc.) about the perspective Shantideva recommends.

Strawson also characterizes forgiveness as a reactive attitude that operates from within a personal perspective. I take his implicit point to be that it makes little sense to forgive someone from the position of the "objective attitude" in which we simply view the other as an object of social policy, etc. Although tolerance and forgiveness are different, I'm inclined to think that there's a connection in our typical thinking about character--that a tolerant person tends to be, for that, a forgiving person. But in the case of Shantideva, if tolerance (patience) is fostered by adopting a more objective attitude, then there seems to be a conflict--at least, I'd need to return to a more personal attitude toward the person in order to forgive the person. Perhaps, as Strawson seems to suggest (and this is an idea Thomas Nagel develops in some of his pieces in Mortal Questions), we can't think of either perspective as the "correct" one? So we can remember that--if something like determinism is true--there's a whole slew of causes acting on a person, but we also have to remember that we can't avoid relating to people, in general, as persons, and not merely animate objects.

This might suggest that the problem with the quip, "To understand all is to forgive all," rests on the mistake of conflating two available perspectives: understanding of the sort that comes from the objective perspective can't justify forgiveness; whether forgiveness is right depends upon considerations from within the personal perspective. (Hence discussions about whether forgiveness is required when a sincere apology is made, and whether forgiveness without apology is either reasonable or even required in some cases, etc.)

What I'm trying to get a handle on is how far a recognition of the value and virtue of patience can take us in sorting out questions about when or how much to tolerate, and what the task of cultivating patience might tell us about when and what to forgive. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nietzschean Patience Again

Here's a first draft of my efforts to say something about Nietzsche's various remarks about patience. I've yet to look at some sources others (thanks, j. and Rob Sica) have pointed out to me. The conclusion feels a bit weak, but I need to let it sit. In the mean time, perhaps others will have some thoughts and suggestions.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nietzschean Patience

Nietzsche's various remarks on patience and virtues have lurked in the background of my thinking as I've worked on my papers and book about patience, at times as a kind of warning, questioning voice, that asks things like, "Are you covering up what is weakness as strength? Are you thinking like a 'slave'?" But Nietzsche himself also has positive things to say about patience (Geduld). I'm trying to write some on this now, and am currently trying to think about how the following two passages fit (or fail to fit) together.

First, from The Gay Science §336:
One must learn to love. —This happens to us in music: first one must learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate and delimit it as a life in itself; then one needs effort and good will to stand it despite its strangeness; patience with its appearance and expression, and kindheartedness about its oddity. Finally comes a moment when we are used to it; when we expect it; when we sense that we’d miss it if it were missing; and now it continues relentlessly to compel and enchant us until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers, who no longer want anything better from the world than it and it again. But this happens to us not only in music: it is in just this way that we have learned to love everything we now love. We are always rewarded in the end for our good will, our patience, our fair-mindedness and gentleness with what is strange, as it gradually casts off its veil and presents itself as a new and indescribable beauty. That is its thanks for our hospitality. Even he who loves himself will have learned it this way—there is no other way. Love, too, must be learned.
Second, from Twilight of the Idols, "What the Germans Lack," §6:
People must learn to see, they must learn to think, they must learn to speak and to write: the goal in all three cases is a noble culture.—Learning to see—getting your eyes used to calm, to patience, to letting things come to you; postponing judgment, learning to encompass and take stock of an individual case from all sides. This is the first preliminary schooling for spirituality: not to react immediately to a stimulus, but instead to take control of the inhibiting, excluding instincts. Learning to see, as I understand it, is close to what an unphilosophical way of speaking calls a strong will: the essential thing here is precisely not ‘to will’, to be able to suspend the decision. Every characteristic absence of spirituality, every piece of common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus—you have to react, you follow every impulse. In many cases this sort of compulsion is already a pathology, a decline, a symptom of exhaustion,—almost everything that is crudely and unphilosophically designated a ‘vice’ is really just this physiological inability not to react.—A practical application of having learned to see: your learning process in general becomes slow, mistrustful, reluctant. You let foreign things, new things of every type, come towards you while assuming an initial air of calm hostility,—you pull your hand away from them. To keep all your doors wide open, to lie on your stomach, prone and servile before every little fact, to be constantly poised and ready to put yourself into—plunge yourself into—other things, in short, to espouse the famous modern ‘objectivity’—all this is in bad taste, it is ignobility par excellence
Nietzsche's patience seems significantly more circumspect in TI; there's not the seeming optimism in GS that patience always "pays off" or that anything and everything will, with enough patience, reveal to us its hitherto hidden beauty. In TI, the idea seems mainly to be that we need to be able to sit still and be calm, unjudging, long enough to arrive at a better judgment. But that might well be, so it seems, that this thing or person doesn't deserve a whit more of my patience (or forbearance, etc.).

Perhaps Nietzsche is worried about different things in each of these passages; in GS, there is a general theme of being adventurous and open. But TI reigns that in at least to remind us that, as it were, a mind that is too open is like a parachute with a hole in it. Splat. The "always" in the GS passage ("We are always rewarded in the end...") might seem out of tune with the caution and distrust and "calm hostility" in the TI. But maybe not, if the reward of patience is just that we come better to see what there is to be seen. If TI is supposed to show us the perils of decadence--as Ridley suggests in his introduction to the Cambridge edition--then is there still the issue that there is perhaps some decadence in the optimism--that there is beauty to uncover in everything--in GS? (Or: we can't even assume in advance what the particular "reward" of our patience will be? And some things might just be irredeemably ugly, stupid, monstrous, etc., in which case we'd better be careful about being forbearing lest we get squashed or sullied, etc.)

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Patience in Kafka’s Zürau Aphorisms

I came across Kafka’s Zürau Aphorisms during my time home in Arkansas. Upon reading through them, I had some recollection of having seen some of the remarks about patience somewhere before, though I'm not sure where. Kafka writes:
2. All human errors stem from impatience, a premature breaking off of a methodical approach, an ostensible pinning down of an ostensible object.

3. There are two cardinal human vices, from which all the others derive their being: impatience and carelessness. Impatience got people evicted from Paradise; carelessness kept them from making their way back there. Or perhaps there is only one cardinal vice: impatience. Impatience got people evicted, and impatience kept them from making their way back.

109. […] It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.
I also found the following passages in Gustav Janouch's Conversations with Kafka:
After the first hearing of my parents’ divorce case, I visited Franz Kafka.
                I was very distraught, filled with pains and therefore—unjust.
                When I had exhausted my complaints, Kafka said to me:
                ‘Just be quiet and patient. Let evil and unpleasantness pass quietly over you. Do not try to avoid them. On the contrary, observe them carefully. Let active understanding take the place of reflex irritation, and you will grow out of your trouble. Men can achieve greatness only by surmounting their own littleness.’

(p. 189): ‘Patience is the master key to every situation. One must have sympathy for everything, surrender to everything, but at the same time remain patient and forebearing,’ Kafka said to me, when we were walking one crystalline autumn day through the leafless Baumgarten. ‘There is no such thing as bending or breaking. It’s a question only of overcoming, which begins with overcoming oneself. That cannot be avoided. To abandon that path is always to break in pieces. One must patiently accept everything and let it grow within oneself. The barriers of the fear-ridden I can only be broken by love. One must, in the dead leaves that rustle around one, already see the young fresh green of spring, compose oneself in patience, and wait. Patience is the only true foundation on which to make one’s dreams come true.’
                This was Kafka’s fundamental principle in life, and he tried to impress it on me with never-failing understanding. It was a principle, of whose truth he convinced me by his every word and gesture, every smile and every look of his large eyes, and [p. 190] by all his long years of service in the Accident Insurance Institution.
It has been too long since I've read any of Kafka's fiction carefully enough to comment upon how any of this connects to his work, though it seems to me that there is some kind of dissonance between the remarks above and the futility of waiting in a book like The Trail (as I dimly remember it; perhaps I'm not remembering enough). Nevertheless, these ideas about waiting and patient acceptance seem to make sense in the context of Kafka's art as a master observer. But then I find myself wondering whether this idealization of patience might seem too passive. Is this a way we should want to live? Just waiting for things to come to us? Not leaving home? (The complaint: doesn't this sound boring on the one hand and voyeuristic on the other?) Surely Kafka is right that to realize any grand plan we must persevere, often with patience, and that in impatience we can ruin things, break them into pieces, and miss the significance of what is right in front of us. (So perhaps: the complaint above itself belies impatience?)

Just thought I'd share these findings. My own writing plods along toward a tentative conclusion, with the hope that I can then start editing and revising what I've been writing into something worth calling a book on patience.