Letters from Armorica- Greed and Generosity (20 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have slept little this past week, and burned vast quantities (it seems) of whirtleberry oil; and I scarcely finished my first mug of ale at the hot springs this afternoon before my eyes began to droop. The other men teased me, of course, and told me that one day perhaps I'd grow up and be able to hold my liquor. I am fortunate that it has been a peaceful week in Bois-de-Bas and that there were no serious disputes or concerns for me to address.

A site has been picked for the new Town Hall, the women of the town having been much in favor. From what Amelie tells me, that was due to the prospect of regular town dances than it was to the plight of the young unmarried men who have been coming to live here; but no matter. The women of Bois-de-Bas have spoken and driven their husbands before them. There was consequently much good-natured wailing and gnashing of teeth at the hot springs today, for the chosen site must be cleared of bronzewood trees; but the site is convenient to both the town square and to the entrance to the hot springs, and will, I think, do very well.

But as the result of my late nights I have been making great progress with Master Grenadine's Sur la Thaumaturgie. His terminology remains peculiar, but I am slowly coming to understand it, with many false steps. For example, he writes of objects that exhibit charité and those, opposed to the first, that exhibit envie. I at first guessed that by charité he meant something like the ability of a hardened plate to provide effort to another formed object, and that by envie he meant the ability of something like a warming block to want to pull effort from something else that has what it lacks. His notion of harmonie, then, would be the balance of charity against envy such that the envious object would pull no more effort from the charitable object than it was able to safely provide.

This was plausible but wrong. I spent most of the week under this impression, growing more and more confused, until I realized that I had it precisely backwards…or, perhaps, a bit sideways. To Grenadine, an object exhibits charité if it changes things in the world. A warming block gives off heat; a lifting block in a sky-chair raises it into the air. An object exhibits envie if its effect is in itself. A hardened plate accepts knocks and bangs. Harmonie, he says, lies in placing envious and charitable objects in proxity.

He then goes on to discuss various kinds of formed objects and whether they exhibit charity or envy, and then moves along to speculate as to whether we might some day discover a kind of forming that achieves la perfection: an object that achieves harmony in and of itself.

It is an interesting question, and I would greatly like to discuss it with another master former of greater experience. But Grenadine comes to no conclusions and so the idea isn't of much help in my current endeavors. And there is worse: he seems to have no notion of what I call effort, nor any thought to measurement. He speaks of harmonie, but he has no notion of balance. I fear that even in my limited efforts I have already exceeded him.

Perhaps, of course, he is wiser than I: perhaps my idea of effort flowing from hardened plates to warming blocks is incorrect. Perhaps it is possible to achieve harmonie without worrying about balance. But if I am right then his terminology is not only obscure but also unhelpful.

As I see it, a hardened plate or pot is a collector of effort; and it is generous to the extent that it will provide that effort to other things in its vicinity. A warming block is a consumer of effort; I conjecture that it has what I might call an appetite for effort in proportion to the degree of warming that it provides. Moreover, it is greedy: it will consume effort from a nearby plate until the plate falls apart. (One might say that the plate is generous to a fault.)

And this of course leads me to so many more questions! How much effort can a given collector collect before it gets "full"? Is there a limit? How fast can it provide effort to a consumer? Are there consumers that aren't greedy? Can a collector be protected against a consumer's greediness? And though I have come to believe that these things can be measured, by what means am I to do so?

Measurement is where it all begins. If I can measure, I can begin to address these questions. Either there will be some kind of proportion between effort provided and effort consumed, or there will not.

I suppose I must send to M. Fournier for a book on mathematics. Which will, be in Provençese, blast it.

Next letter

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photo credit: wuestenigel Dried saulty Pumpkin Seeds in the hand via photopin (license)