Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Discipline and Freedom

But to have liberty one must first be a man*, cultured by circumstance to maintain oneself under adverse weather conditions as still part of the whole. Discipline is implied. (William Carlos Williams, "Against the Weather", SE, p. 209)

Etymologies sometimes catalyze Pangrammatical discoveries. I don't like making too much of them, but sometimes it really can't be helped. This is one of those cases, and I must say it startled me.

free (adj.)
Old English freo "free, exempt from, not in bondage," also "noble; joyful," from Proto-Germanic *frijaz (cognates: Old Frisian fri, Old Saxon and Old High German vri, German frei, Dutch vrij, Gothic freis "free"), from PIE *prijos "dear, beloved," from root *pri- "to love" (cognates: Sanskrit priyah "own, dear, beloved," priyate "loves;" Old Church Slavonic prijati "to help," prijatelji "friend;" Welsh rhydd "free").

That's right, dear friends, "free love" is ultimately a pleonasm. Freedom is what love is all about; or, more precisely, love is the root of all freedom. [Freedom and love have one root.] This jibes so nicely with the Pangrammatical notion of love as "the master emotion", and that "desire seeks freedom", that it almost brings tears to my eyes.

What brought me here was reading Williams' "Against the Weather", the third part of which begins with a reflection on America as the symbol of freedom. He is trying to correct "the commonly accepted and much copied cliché, [that freedom implies] lack of discipline, dispersion" (SE, p. 209). This reminded me of a previous Pangrammatical discovery, that belief is always a belief in limits. We can now be more precise:

Freedom is to desire, what discipline is to belief.

But what is discipline? Again, let us check the etymology.

discipline (n.)
... directly from Latin disciplina "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge," also "object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline," from discipulus (see disciple (n.)).

disciple (n.)
Old English discipul (fem. discipula), Biblical borrowing from Latin discipulus "pupil, student, follower," said to be from discere "to learn" [OED, Watkins], from a reduplicated form of PIE root *dek- "to take, accept".

The disciple is the student, the learner. Discipline is the form of learning. (Liberty is the structure of escape.) So we can adduce the following analogy:

All desire desires to be free; all belief believes in learning.

For Williams, the poet differs from the philosopher "in point of action … It is not the passive 'to be' but the active 'I am'" (SE, p. 197). He here forgets, however, that the philosopher, too, can be an artist. The obverse, in any case, is also true: the philosopher differs from the poet in point of fact. Not the "I am", perhaps, but the no less active "it is".

Let us put it this way. There is a love of action, often expressed in poetry, sometimes as the despair of being unable to act, the "melancholy fit". This love is always a love of freedom. And there is, on the other hand, the wisdom of the facts, which philosophy can register with great artfulness. And this wisdom is always the wisdom of learning. That is, we must of course find our freedom in experience, but there is an important limit. Whatever we do, whatever actions we take, must afford us opportunities to learn. (Injustice—evil—is action that affords no opportunity for learning. Think on it, friends.) And here, as Williams rightly says, "Discipline is implied."

*This was written in 1938. While probably not intended that way, I hope feminists, too, will be able to appreciate the joke. It is akin to Woolf's "To write, a woman needs money and a room of her own." So did men, of course. So do we all. It's all about specifying the problem (problem for whom?), which is particular to the Age, and constitutes the "form and pressure" of the times in which we live.

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