Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Renaissance Man Reloaded

Thomas Aquinas

The idea of and behind the Renaissance Man has always fasinated me. The general definition of the word has tended to focus on his intellectual side. American Heritage Dictionary defines him as 'A man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.' Wordnet defines him as 'a modern scholar who is in a position to acquire more than superficial knowledge about many different interests.' Most of the definitions take a similar texture. The general visual you have of these sort of men are heavily bearded, tubby and smarter than you can ever imagine; think Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, John Ruskin, Thomas Aquinas (that is a younger depiction of him, which I have always preferred; he is my icon of the Renaissance Man for some strange reason - although I have a sneaking suspicion it has to do with his entry I read once in the Britannica Encyclopedia I have around). And the idea behind the Renaissance Man is that he has a very broad level of understanding with some measure of depth of life and has drawn wisdom from its experiences. One with a great and broad level of knowledge, understanding of it and therefore wisdom. He is the great generalist.

I used to abide by that definition before. But over these last few years having brooded over the idea of doing so after taking into account the massive intellectual, scientific, technological, medical, dietary understanding, educational growth and achievements since the Renaissance, it is time to revise the idea of the Renaissance Man. Why don't I just replace it you may quite reasonably ask? For two reasons. The first is auditory. I quite like the sound of Renaissance and it's rather fun to say. It involves the whole face and mouth in saying it and if properly pronounced it sounds quite pretty as English words ripped from the French often sound (from the French word 'rebirth'). Secondly, I could not be arsed to come up with some crassy new name and sound like I'm touting something new. I'm not. Coining a word used to mean something in days when people were a bit more discerning with their literature. It was a goddamned event. Now, it's mandatory to be able to do so to write those business books or self help ones. None of that for me.

The idea of the Renaissance Man I think can withstand a revision without harm to itself as long as the core idea of what he is remains and the revision is guided by it. So what is it that I'm such a busy body about to write all about it? I think that there are generally four components to a person in this day and life. There is the physical (body), the mental (intellect which would include the arts, religion, and science), the emotional (love, hate, envy, etc. and the sexual) and the political-legal (financially solvency, your rights as a citizen, no prior convictions, etc.). Earlier I had thought of putting sexual as a component by itself, but then I thought that might be putting too much pressure on the guy.

I think that the Renaissance Man has to now weaken his intensity on his intellectual aspect and have a fair and reasonable appreciation of the other three components of his life. So he should not only know of what to do to be healthy, he must at the very least keep himself physically trim (not saying he can't smoke or cigar), he should also have a fairly good understranding of the political and legal system he is in and his rights within it; a sophisticated appreciation of the dynamic interplay between, within and of the undercurrent emotions, and naturally, he is able to keep in firm control of his; he is highly ethical and honest though not without cunning and cynicism; and perhaps even competent at a musical instrument or two, on top of having a reasonably wide level of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. He is to me the Great Generalist. You can throw any question at him and he can in all probability tell you something useful about it or he would have read it.

Damn, when I list it out like that, it sure does look like a tall order. But then that's the point I suppose. We cannot have just about every calling themselves a Renaissance Man (or Woman) as easily as say, some of the Heads of States in Malaysia hand out titles such as the multiplicitous forms of and ubiquitous 'Dato' and now 'Tan Sris' are also becoming a dime for half a dozen. And unlike some of those titles, you cannot pay, cajole or beg anybody to become one. It is something you have to achieve for yourself, by yourself. And more importantly it is a state of being and cannot be flashed around like a Dato'-ship or Tan Sri-ship can with their plate badges. In fact, by then such materialistic achievements would be incomprehensible to him. As I think it is becoming more unbearable for us.

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