Friday, June 15, 2012


"The trick is not to get rid of the butterflies," I tweeted; "the trick is to get them to fly in formation." Until I Googled it a little later, I honestly thought it was my grade-seven band teacher's original epigram, or at least that it was rare, but I doubt that all 181,000 search hits can be traced back to Mr. Orr. It's a familiar saying, it turns out, that is used in all sorts of performance-related situations.

This has reminded me how much of my advice can be traced back to simple pieces of practical wisdom that has been circulating for ages and ages. For example, I often cite Henri Bergson's remark: "Time is that which keeps everything from happening all at once." By quoting a major philosopher, I'm giving it a certain "depth" I suppose. Earlier this year, however, Bob Sutton used it in a response to a comment on his blog as though it was a familiar saying, which I'm sure it is. "I guess that my reaction is that 'time was invented so you don't need to do everything all at once'," he said. Sutton and Bergson are saying the same thing. Or, rather, Sutton's version states explicitly what I draw as an implication from Bergson's.

There are, to my mind, two important differences between Bergson's version and Sutton's that make the former sound profound and the latter sound like a cliché. The first is that Bergson's statement is ontological while Sutton's is mythological. Bergson says "Time is..." while Sutton says "Time was invented..." We must presume that one or another god did the "inventing". It's a story rather than a theory. The second is that Bergson's remark is a statement of fact while Sutton's is a guide to action. Bergson remains aloof to the world of practice and let's you draw the obvious practical implication yourself.

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

The classical style, in the case of the Bergson.