Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Interesting Read: Travels With Epicurus by Daniel Klein

I don't write about books much because I mostly read "how to" type books or re-listen to my David Sedaris audio books.

But this one, Travels with Epicurus, I'm liking.  It makes me think.  I like to think.  And of course thinking is free and hence frugal.

I've got one or two more chapters to read but it's been a good book so far and I'm going to have to read it again.  A bit like Bergman need to look at it a couple of times to get it all sorted out. 

It's a philosopher's look at old age, as opposed to old old age.   Old old age is the bit where you are incontinent and unable to figure out what's going on in general and generally quite ill.  The not fun bit that modern medicine spends buckets of money and effort and research extending.  Old age is the bit where you slow down and think things through and talk about the past and possibly grouse about how the younger generation is screwing everything up.  It's where you think through your life and have some insights.  To me that's a fun bit.  No more chasing the dragon of success and status if you embrace this phase.

Klein looks at this in light of the current American, and other nations', obsession with being forever young.  Always going for a new adventure.   Fine if you want to do that, but you can have a valid and authentic old age without that.  By settling in and reflecting and talking.  

He refers to Sartre (a favorite of mine) quite a bit as well as Epicurus.  Turns out modern pop-philosophy has Epicureanism all wrong.   That's not a surprise.  Epicurus WAS all about enjoying food and the "good" life, but not fancy food and expensive hedonistic pleasures.  He liked a nice pot of boiled lentils and diverse dinner company...say philosophers, fishermen, and whores all together.  He thought that if you could pursue joy or happiness in a thoughtful way, that would result in the good life.  That doesn't mean constant immediate gratification and excitement, it means thinking through the long term joy something will bring you.   That is in line with simplicity and frugality for me.  Enjoying a cheap pot of boiled lentils will be good in the long term.  Spending hundreds I (or you) don't have on expensive food and wine (if you do have the money then skip this bit) and ending up having to stress about debt and paying for the next meal, that isn't good in the long term.  Obviously this applied to more than food but currently we think of Epicurus pretty much only through the food angle, and we get it wrong.

He seems a bit more moderate than my other current favorite Greek thinker, Diogenes who also mentioned lentils.  Diogenes was pretty extreme and reported lived like a dog.  Not like a lap dog, like a stray.  Epicurus however lived off the kindness of others who enjoyed dining with him and gave him the $$ to keep that pot of lentils going.  In return, Epicurus invited anyone and everyone to come in and share a meal at any time.  At least according to this book.  As such, he enjoyed his old age in conversation with interesting people and with plenty of good food.   That's not so bad.

The book goes from there to when to cut off "life."  When does the "good" life, quality of life, come to an end?  When should we call it a day?  That's something I've talked to Gramma about.  The book brings up the dilemma of how to time do you know when to end it when there isn't much good left, but before you're too far gone mentally to know that you should have ended it a little while ago?

Of course this led me to think about movies that deal with old age in an informed and interesting manner.

We'll take the entire Bergman oeuvre as a given and just move on.
Bergman aside:

My two current favorites:

Harold and Maude.  Maude has decided on the time she feels it's right.  She's given up her big adventures and enjoyed a fun and calmer old age.

The Straight Story.  An old man decides to visit his estranged brother before it's too late and bury old conflicts.

In no particular order:

Strangers in Good Company
The Window (La Ventana)
Tokyo Story (or anything by Ozu)
The Beaches of Agnes
Grey Gardens
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Kitchen Stories
Mid-August Lunch

I'm not in the mood to review all of these so just trust me.   They aren't the "Cocoon" type crap where old people are suddenly young and therefore happy.  They are actual old people enjoying, and sometimes not enjoying, their old age before it's too late to function.

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