“THE GREATEST OF ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF 20TH-CENTURY SCIENCE has been the discovery of human ignorance.” Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell. “OUR IGNORANCE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.” Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exit from Eden

excerpt from "My First Play" by the 18th-century English essayist, Charles Lamb

I was six years old when I saw my first play at the Old Drury. Upon
entering the theater, the first thing I beheld was the green curtain that
veiled a heaven to my imagination. What breathless anticipations I
endured! I had seen something like it in an edition of Shakespeare, an
illustration of the tent scene with Diomede in Troilus and Cressida.
(A sight of that image can always bring back in a measure the feeling
of that evening.) The balconies at that time, full of well-dressed men
and women, projected over the orchestra pit; and the pilasters
reaching down were adorned with a glistering substance resembling
sugar candy. The orchestra lights at length rose. Once the bell sounded.
It was to ring out yet once again — and, incapable of the anticipation, I
reposed my shut eyes in a sort of resignation upon my mother's lap. It
rang the second time. The curtain drew up — and the play was
Artaxerxes! Here was the court of ancient Persia. I took no proper
interest in the action going on, for I understood not its import. Instead,
all my feeling was absorbed in vision. Gorgeous costumes, gardens,
palaces, princesses, passed before me. It was all enchantment and a
dream.

After the intervention of six or seven years I again entered the doors
of a theater. That old Artaxerxes evening had never done ringing in
my fancy. I expected the same feelings to come again with the same
occasion. But we differ from ourselves less at sixty and sixteen,
than the latter does from six. In that interval what had I not lost! At six I
knew nothing, understood nothing, discriminated nothing. I felt all,
loved all, wondered all. I could not tell how, but I had left the temple a
devotee, and was returned a rationalist. The same things were
there materially; but the emblem, the reference, was gone. The green
curtain was no longer a veil, drawn between two worlds, the unfolding
of which was to bring back past ages, but a certain quantity of green
material, which was to separate the audience for a given time from
certain of their fellows who were to come forward and pretend those
parts. The lights — the orchestra lights — came up a clumsy
machinery. The first ring, and the second ring, was now but a trick of
the prompter's bell. The actors were men and women painted. I thought
the fault was in them; but it was in myself, and the alteration which
those many centuries — those six short years — had wrought in me.




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