Until the hand[s]...could produce the tune as it were on their own, there was no tune...When mind or thought tried to force the issue...the fingers fumbled...Then at some rare moment when the mind was not interfering...the fingers danced...What a thrill of delight...
The child’s dancing delight is no more innocent than the sent of honeysuckle. It just is. The adult words are verbal definitions for a cerebral dance in another region. Philosophers have manifestly enjoyed cerebral dances of complete innocence. The more bloodless the categories the more agile the dance.
Neil Gunn (1956)
Neil Gunn’s reflections on his childhood led him to a distinction more normally found in academic circles rather than the straths of northern Scotland. He is noticing the way we may come to realise that important skilled actions, such as the long-jump or playing the fiddle, are better performed when thought stands aside - “...when the mind was not interfering...”. Heidegger offers the same contrast, although wrapped in cryptic clothes, with his
On acting without the interference of words.
Both writers point to the delight that comes when non-verbal attention Our minds normally range freely, but we can try to take them in hand. is gathered. While it is patent that Heidegger (as an established philosopher) thought there were also cerebral delights, it is reassuring and refreshing that Gunn, primarily known for his novels, agreed. “Logic had its delights.” he writes, which lead to the start of philosophy, On the theme of philosophy and wonder.
and another sort of dance can commence. But in delight their similarity ends. There is a gulf which "adult words" cannot span between that which is thought, and that which is like “the scent of honeysuckle. It just is.” Maybe ‘actions’ like these lie outside the phenomenal world.
The quotes are taken from pages 103 and 125 of the edition of The Atom of Delight which was published by Polygon in Edinburgh in 1986. This gently eccentric autobiography offers meticulous descriptions of selected events from his childhood in the north of Scotland, and his young life thereafter, but his interest is in what lies behind these surfaces.
Gunn’s account relates youthful fiddle playing near Dingwall at the turn of the previous century. Today Fèis rois Ceilidh Trail tours Scotland in the summer, and is based in Dingwall it recruits people between the ages of 16 and 25, and this year is paying them £1,250 for the four week tour. Hurry! Auditions are on 18th February 2023. In the photograph the group, as composed in 2014, are seen playing near the Big Water of Fleet viaduct in Galloway, southern Scotland.
Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.