The Pleasure of Dwelling on Things We Have Read

Zilbadone, noun, Italian.  A zibaldone is  an Italian vernacular commonplace book. The word means “a heap of things” or “miscellany” in Italian. The earliest such books were kept by Venetian merchants in the fourteenth century, taking the form of a small or medium-format paper codex.The word may also refer specifically to the best-known such book: the Zibaldone di pensieri by Giacomo Leopardi, often called simply The Zibaldone. [Wikipedia]

My friend Brandon and I have had exchanges over the years about the commonplace books we keep.  I have collections in Moleskines as well as digital files.  An English translation of Leopardi’s Zilbadone is 2500 pages, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2015.  I checked it out of the library for perusal before I purchased Tim Parks’s more modest sample entitled Passions (232 pages).

The following are some of Leopardi’s topics I culled from Parks’s translation—

The Ancients
Compassion toward Animals
Handbook of Practical Philosophy
Hatred of Our Peers
Man Gets Used to Anything
Moral Etiquette
Moral Handbook
Memories of My Life
Pleasure of Dwelling on Things
People of Great Talent
Sensitive People

A few excerpts—

Doing something energetic, or using energy, whether passively or actively (taking a brisk walk, for example, or making powerful, vigorous movements, etc.), when and so far as this doesn’t exceed an individual’s strength, is a pleasure in itself, even when it may be uncomfortable (exposing oneself to intense cold, etc.) and even when there is no one to watch, and quite apart from any ambition or inner satisfaction and complacency one might also feel as a result. And it’s not just doing energetic things; seeing them done is also a pleasure; watching active, energetic, rapid goings-on, movements, etc., that are lively, strong, difficult, etc., etc., actions, and so on, pleases us because it puts the mind into a kind of action and communicates a certain inner activity to it, shakes it up, etc., exercises it at a distance, etc., and  the mind seems to come away from the experience stronger and exercised.   I’ve said before that every feeling of physical energy is a pleasure. The same is true in the mind (actually, every time our spirits are roused by some outer feeling of whatever kind, whether through reading, or some spectacle, or speech, or thinking, it’s always a pleasure); the same goes for every act drawing on spiritual energy, like virtuous or energetic decisions, sacrifices, giving things up, etc., etc. In short, a living creature of its essence tends toward life. Life is a pleasure for him, and likewise everything that is lively, even when it comes in the form of death. Man’s happiness consists in the liveliness of his feelings and life, which is why he loves life. And this liveliness is never so great as when it is physical. The natural state provided wonderfully well for this basic and universal human inclination. 91-92

The more someone is in a position to be an object of compassion, or to yearn for it and demand it, and the more he does in fact yearn for it and demand it, even when he’s in the wrong, and convince himself he deserves it, so the less he will show compassion himself, since he will now turn all his natural faculties and whatever habits of compassion he may once have had toward himself. The more a man needs the charity of others, so the less he himself is charitable, the less he is even inclined to charity; not only does he do less on behalf of others, but his enthusiasm for his own charitableness dwindles, even though this is the very quality he desires and expects in others, and that rightly or wrongly he supposes he deserves or needs. 126

We are all naturally inclined to think of ourselves as equal to those superior to us, superior to those equal to us, and incomparably more important than our inferiors; in short, to think of ourselves as far more deserving than others, and this excessively and unreasonably so. This is universal nature and comes from a source common to everyone. But there is another source of pride in oneself and contempt for others that we [Italians] know nothing about; something that having begun in infancy becomes, through habit, natural and proper to a person; this is, at least among the French and English, the regard they have for their own nation.  171

As my friend Layla Lavasani used to say many years ago, “It’s time to get crackin’!”

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