Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay about circles that’s both boring and interesting. I assigned it to a class once and that was the verdict that came forth, and I was in no position to disagree with my students.
The essay is about how everything important is a circle, and it reminds me of my own philosophical that everything in the universe can be reduced to feedback loops. As in, everything increases/improves exponentially, or decreases/declines to nothing.
Emerson, though has some winners in this essay: circles are everywhere, he says:
The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.
All right, fair enough. If you say something succinctly enough, it deserves to be right, at least, even if it isn’t. I guess things do begin with our eyes, but even though the eye is a circle, it’s sort of arbitrary, you know? Circles just happen to be the most efficient shape, and spheres the most efficient form. Unless you’re my eyes: the reason I ordered up a new pair of glasses is because my eyes are a little less than perfectly spherical, and you notice it. But I’m not really seeing circles all the time. Unless I’m driving at night.
Emerson goes on to write that:
Circles, like the soul, are neverending and turn round and round without a stop.
I think this was actually stolen from Coleridge, but that makes it even better. It’s almost like Emerson–and Coleridge, I guess–was prefiguring the neverending pasta bowl! Emerson, the seer, could somehow imagine an endless bowl of pasta, with noodles piled in circles, turning round and round into themselves in an infinite know of carbohydrates.
Even the new upholstery seems to admit to this. The endless pasta bowls are whorls and circles, mandalas in the very seats where our semolina-stuffed butts sit. The bowls on the walls are circles, the glasses are circles… hmmm. Crayons are circular. Maybe there’s something to it.
Emerson serves up plenty of burns in this essay, too. I mean, I realize that eating so much pasta this year doesn’t make me a smart man, wellness-wise, but Emerson just slices into me anyway:
Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.
Come on, it’s not like I’m thinking of getting another pass for next year (which go on sale next week…).
Conversation is a game of circles.
I mean, I guess so. It’s a lot of back and forth. Somebody else breaks off and we start to fill in the blank. Maybe so.
Finally Emerson observes:
People wish to be settled; [but] only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
This could be taken a couple of different ways. For one, it means that being in motion, like a circle, means you’re going somewhere, and when you’ve stopped, your life kind of stops with it. He doesn’t put much stock into settled, respectable, boring folks (like most of us). But there’s another sense here, too, in these words: those who aren’t settled, who aren’t finished, who are still restless, are the only ones with hope. Because if you keep looking out your two circles at the circular horizon, you keep believing you’ll find something new and better. To keep hope alive is to stop looking for the end, and to keep moving toward the next arc of the circle. It sounds frustrating, but there’s something genuine in that.
Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, meatballs