Book and Chair trio

How do seating arrangements reflect and shape relationships between people? A meditation via celestial navigation.


A university is a society (1) for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, or to start making yourselves, into what the Middle Ages called clerks (2): into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians. And at first sight, this seems to be an odd thing to do during today’s great and very real crises. (3) What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing? Or, even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we – indeed how can we – continue to take an interest in these placid occupations (4) when the world is warming at an alarming rate/thousands are dying of Ebola/people are rioting in Ferguson, Missouri/ISIS is threatening Iraqi and Syrian stability/etc? (5) Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?

Now it seems to me that we shall not be able to answer these questions until we have put them by the side of certain other questions which every human being (6) ought to have asked himself in peacetime. I spoke just now of fiddling while Rome burns. But (7) the true tragedy of Nero must be not that he fiddled while the city was on fire but that he fiddled on the brink of hell. (8)

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