For my regular readers, I apologize for this being posted a bit late today (not really a morning meditation, anymore). Truthfully, I just cried my way through “The Notebook.” If you haven’t seen it, have a box of tissue ready.
It actually is an ideal segue into what I wanted to blog on anyway: the renaissance man (and where has he gone?). Wikipedia actually suggests that the renaissance man is someone who is “skillful or excels in a broad range of intellectual fields.” If you have seen “The Notebook,” perhaps you will agree with me that Noah embraces a bit of renaissance man in himself. He can quote Walt Whitman from memory; he single-handedly restores a 200-year old antebellum house; and he writes long prose-style letters.
While this seems to imply romance by default, I think there is an inherent romance in the worldliness that comes from learning. And not all learning is done in academia. While the traditional definition of renaissance man embraces intellectual pursuits, I also believe that trade-style craft fit nicely here too (like painting, or carving, or plantation-house restoring).
Anyway, I digress. Have you known a renaissance man? They have seemingly disappeared. Even Wikipedia references Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Jefferson as examples. So is this notion as archaic as the time period from which it is derived?
I argue that it’s not. I have known a renaissance man. For any K graduate, recall Dr. Jones, our esteemed president. He speaks French fluently, and has even studied extensively at Sorbonne. He holds two masters degrees and a Ph.D. from an ivy-league university. His scholarly articles and philanthropic endeavors preceed him and are only rivaled by his international travels for magnitude.
Is he the last of a dying breed? For the people who have not been blessed to know Dr. Jones, I invite you to recall Jake Barnes from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” As a war-era journalist in Paris, Jake explores the psychological mystery that is his off-beat groups of expatriates while travelling through France and fly-fishing and taking in bull fights in Spain.
Perhaps this sounds a little Bohemian, maybe romanticised even. But where, I implore, has the renaissance man gone? Does one’s appreciation for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing, Edouard Manet’s painting, George Frideric Handel’s music, and the Italian language make one any less masculine? Is it so horrendous to learn to play the piano or to have read “Don Quixote” … untranslated?
Granted, today’s world view is more economic than artistic or intellectual. But it’s a disgrace to history to forget about the last six or seven hundred years and the masters that have come before us.
In my vain attempt to revive the Renaissance [a bit redundant?], I encourage you to visit your local art museum and never leave the impressionist wing. Or, pick up Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” [I was hooked by chapter two]. Maybe humanism will make a dent in our own socio-economic driven lives.
Or as Jake Barnes once said, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”