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I am archipelagic, not…


Rock Formations, Study 2, Yoichi, Hokkaido, Japan (2004) by Michael Kenna

I am archipelagic, not continental…

Archilochus is one of several Greek philosophers known solely by fragmentary writings that have survived the vicissitudes of archaic libraries: we’re lucky to have anything. Heraclitus is also in that category and my insophistication has habitually confused the two. [Spell correction, by the way, doesn’t like that word—insophistication—but I do.]

Archie [is that too familiar?] came to my attention in an essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox“: “Πόλλ᾽ οἶδ᾽ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἕν μέγα.” “The fox knows many things,” Archilochus tells us, but “the hedgehog [knows] one big thing”. Berlin used the observation as a tool for understanding great literature, while I applied it to a eulogy for my friend James Tiernan O’Rourke.

Berlin uses the Archilochus quote to understand the differences, say, between two great Russian authors, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin. Hedgehogs, in Berlin’s view, see the world through the lens of a single defining idea, while foxes have a built-in multi-faceted approach; for them, the world defies such simplistic thinking. At James’s memorial service, it seemed to me that Mr O’Rourke had operated most of his life as a hedgehog and I interpreted him that way.

Ultimately, though, it seems to me to be the difference between people who like cats and those of us who love dogs.



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