Bill Casselman

Increase your vocabulary with studies about the use of common English words.

In this 1861 engraving by Gustave Doré of scenes of The Inferno, Dante and his guide Virgil gaze down into the yawning pits of Hell.

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The English word hope and a short note about this Albert Camus quote: « Au milieu de l’hiver, j’apprenais enfin qu’il y avait en moi un été invincible. » “In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”

Thesaurus and dictionaries often list many synonyms for the noun hope, but, in light of the strict meanings which the word hope must have, it enjoys few precise synonyms.

Longing isn’t hope. Anticipation isn’t hope. Dreaming isn’t hope. Aspiration isn’t hope. Promising isn’t hope.

Hope that does not encompass despair (non-hope) is usually mere drooling nostalgia for the numbness of childhood’s “feeling safe with Mommy and a large lactating breast nearby.” But that’s not hope; that’s infantile dependence. Still, it is all many people ever experience of life’s horse race of expectation.

Instead of my usual listing of obscure ─ sometimes delightful ─ synonyms, I deem hope best presented here by means of a highly personal definition. Hope is a term to be leery of. Consider some of the skeptical but apt quotations, including the old proverb: “Hope makes a good breakfast but a poor supper.”

What is hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.                                            Lord Byron

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest

Alexander Pope – An Essay on Man

He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
Benjamin Franklin – Poor Richard's Almanack

He that lives in hope danceth without music.
George Herbert – Outlandish Proverbs

In The Divine Comedy what did Dante see written above the portals of Hellmouth? Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate. ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’ Some think a better positioning of that statement might be above the human birth canal.

Let’s say that hope expects. It awaits some stated or thought desideratum ‘thing desired.’ But hope is not wholly apprehended as a mere mixture of expectation and desire. Hope nudges in a pushy manner and whispers into the ear of Fate, “I’ll get what I want, right? Right?” Hope is bumptious. Hope is a bold, dick-wagging braggart, often a liar. Hope says, “Sure, pal, you’ll get what you want.” Then, when it’s time to deliver the goods, Hope leans in close and confides, “Uh, that truck with all that shit you wanted? Never arrived at the depot! It was hijacked.”  Thanks, Hope.

Typically Teutonic, this Saxon and Low German etymon seems to have begun in the fetid mass of the earliest Germanic dialects and to have spread into later Scandinavian languages from there.

Camus Quotation
My personal motto of hope was written by Albert Camus in his 1952 book of essays entitled Retour à Tipasa. Tipasa was a place beside the sea in his native country of North Africa, Libya. Tipasa was old Roman ruins on a sea cliff beside the Mediterranean, where a youthful Camus once found a reflective solitude. Camus revisited this site of his boyhood imaginings after living in Europe for decades. He went hoping to relive childhood dreams and feelings. The ruins of ancient Tipasa had not changed, yet the thoughts and hopes of boyhood would not return. Camus learned to analyze hope. Camus had changed and had to work hard to recover an optimism. That’s when he wrote “In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”

A later essay by writer Anthony Lyon explains it well: “The sentence, like much of Camus’s most evocative writing, is double. It moves between the natural world and his inner ethical life. He’s in Algeria in winter, but he’s also been struggling with a moral winter. He’d lost the passion that animated his speaking out on behalf of the suffering. This moral winter, like the rainy December in Algiers, gives way to a day of sunshine, a reminder of the summer to come. For Camus, the summer is a constantly renewing source of strength, and now he has found that “invincible summer” inside of himself. The transcendent moment related in Return to Tipasa is not a transference; Camus does not actually take anything from nature, nothing is added to Camus. Rather, he discovers what was always inside of himself.”

That is the kind of hope that appeals to me, Bill Casselman. Call it thought-through hope. As Galileo put it in a different but related mode, “I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

What happened to Camus on that long-ago winter afternoon beside the cold sea is hinted at by American poet T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets:
"What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
. . .
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

Consider this from yet another explanatory essay by a writer named Darran Anderson: “To fully appreciate Camus’ humanism you must set it in the sense of godless post-Nietzsche post-Holocaust futility which he, and the Existentialists, wrestled with and following the very real and often grim experiences of his poverty-stricken childhood in Algeria and his time risking his life in the French Resistance during the Occupation.”

If I, Bill Casselman, were to inscribe a tombstone for Albert Camus (1913-1960) it would not read R.I.P. (Latin Requiescat in pace ‘May he rest in peace’). It would read:
Requiescat in Pace Quaerendo
‘May he rest in a peace that keeps asking questions.’

Bill Casselman copyight 2016

July 17, 2016

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