Friday, June 10, 2016


They had a little earthquake ("little," easy for me to say from this distance) in southern California last night, magnitude 5.2. I'd probably not have noticed, but for the fact that my family is out there right now. Slept right through it, apparently, but they're jittery about possible aftershocks nonetheless. "Wish you were here," texts my wife.

I was driving in SoCal just the other day, musing to myself about when that might happen again.

We were in Palm Springs when a comparable quake happened back in the early '90s. She slept through that one too, but it got my fully wakeful attention right away. I can only imagine what it would be like to survive a really big one.

The anniversary of the great San Francisco quake of '06 was recently marked, as I noted in my dawn post on April 18:
The great San Francisco quake of 1906 was a century and a decade ago this morning, notes theAlmanac. William James was there, and his reaction was amazing - " fear, only admiration for the way a wooden house could prove its elasticity, and glee over the vividness of the manner in which such an 'abstract idea' as 'earthquake' could verify itself into sensible reality." The quake "fed his thoughts," says Rebecca Solnit, as extreme outer events can sometimes nourish a person's inner life with challenge and purpose. But you have to be the kind of person who welcomes spontaneous extremity, to be so nourished. Some of us come by that temperament naturally, others have to work at it.
I dipped into James's letters over the weekend, as I often do, for sustenance and inspiration. In what would turn out to be his final months, he was writing to friends of his admiration for a new "discreet" biography of Nietzsche, by Halevy. He was not a fan of the Will to Power and "poor Nietzsche's antipathies" but he did appreciate the German iconoclast's openness to extremity and the strenuous life. I've started Halevy's Life of Nietzsche, it's good. (And free on Kindle.)
Earthquake is a good metaphor for that, not only the geologic energy of the seismic event itself but even more the social energy of reconstruction. The willingness to pitch in with your peers, in times of stress and destruction, to bring about something better for the whole community, is admirable indeed. The will to collaborate in common cause, for the common good, is one of our best attainments. Nietzsche didn't quite get that. San Francisco did.
Pitching in to clean up and rebuild devastated communities, rising from the ashes and reconstructing lives, is one of the best things humans do. We do it because we live forward, in time and in imagination, emulating our most noble forebears. And that's how we make the most of the present.

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