Anatomy of Melancholy, 157-159 — Pt. I, Sec. 1, Mem. III, Subsect. 6 — Of the Sensible Soul

Hey look, I’m back! Welcome back, me.

In this section, Burton describes the body’s five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It really is not very interesting. Burton mentions “Scaliger’s sixth sense of titillation,” which would be interesting, but unfortunately he seems icked out by it and doesn’t have any fun quotes for us.

While I was reading this section, white supremacists were “marching,” or in other words, threatening violence and spreading terror while incidentally walking a little bit. Our president conducted himself appallingly. Which is worse, the idiocy of a PRESIDENT who doesn’t think before he “tweets” like a squirrel on meth, or his clear racism and tendency to fan the fires of hate? Oh wait, it is definitely the racism and hate fire fanning, but the stupidity is not unrelated. An Anatomy of Melancholy read-along and blog suddenly seemed futile and irrelevant.

I started this project to help me cope with stuff like this during these four horrible years, but when I started reading The Anatomy of Melancholy I didn’t think things would get this bad. I knew Trump was real bad, like racist misogynist selfish and toweringly stupid con artist bad, but I didn’t think that things would get this bad. Like I thought that the restraints built into our democracy (turns out that there are not as many of those as I thought) and decorum (turns out that decorum died quietly at some point in the recent past although no one is exactly sure when) would keep him in check. Nope, not so much. Trump is making America worse again, and I am so incredibly sad.

If you are reading this, you are probably heartbroken over everything too, and maybe you’re scared. Initially it seemed unfortunate that I was stuck in the honestly boring as balls anatomy section of The Anatomy of Melancholy while all this horrifying horribleness was happening. Not an inflammatory, angry quote about the violent stupidity of shortsighted men to be found, and I really, really could use an eloquently angry Burton quote right now. But then I thought on it. I also had some “personal” “stuff” going on while I was reading this section, which helped me with all this overthinking I was doing. So here is what I thought about.

Speaking generally, people are a scourge on this beautiful planet. But paradoxically, parenting two new little people is the most dazzlingly sublime thing that I have done in my life so far, and having my two little diddle diddle dumplings brings love into my life every single day. Like a really strong love that knocks the air out of me periodically. They are going to grow up, and hopefully they will be thoughtful adults who bring love, art, and knowledge into this world and not hate and ignorance. But right now, they are just cute little love gremlins and I want to bottle up all these feelings and keep the sensation of this time in my life vivid and present, in the howling angry face of all the garbage that humanity is busy devouring around me.

So while I read this tedious section on the five senses, I also thought about memory.

Vision: Well yes, I have like a zillion photos of my little guys, so those will keep this time alive when I am old and gray and whatnot.

Hearing: Dang, I really should make more videos. At least I have a few, and maybe the fact that I have only a few makes them more precious and more… present in a way that my one zillion photos are not.

Smell: If I am honest, probably most of the time my kids do not smell so good. But I think I will try to keep a bit of their baby soap and bubble bath. If you read science, then you know that scent memories are the strongest, most transportive memories. This was so that if you ate some bad T-Rex meat in the olden days, you would remember – violently – that it didn’t agree with you, should you be tempted to eat bad T-Rex meat again.

Taste: I have never tasted my children, although currently the little one likes to lick my arms sometimes. Weird, precious little angel.

Touch: This one got me. I often think, “oh gosh, I need to preserve this memory of my kid doing something cute in an outfit remarkably free of yogurt by taking a photo.” But until I read these three pages of my big ol’ book, I never paused to think about touch. How will I remember the feel of them? My kids and I hug each other constantly all day. Their cute little hands grab at me and pull me over to play. I hold their hands while we walk, their teensy, fragile, perfect, miniature hands. Both of them have been somewhat challenging sleep-wise, and as a result both have spent probably hundreds of hours sleeping on me, usually in the middle of the night. The trust they have in me then, the comfort they feel melting into me… I hope I can somehow always give them that, no matter what happens as they grow up. As for me, how will I hold onto that feeling? There are no words for it, so I drew a picture.

Parenthood aside, we all have these pure moments. Feel them, and hold them tight. When you are sleeping with your kid (or your fur-baby) late at night, remember to feel the quiet weight of peace. When you walk the same old stupid walk you have walked for ten years, feel the breeze on your face and the cicada’s whir in your ears . I think we will need these simple memories in the years ahead. There are big bubbly happy moments – weddings, births, hubbub, and hullabaloo – and then there are the quiet, mundane kind. These peaceful memories are almost imperceivable. They are easy to miss in the present, so often repeated that they become invisible, and your brain forgets to hit record. They hide in plain sight, but they bring so much relief. Look for them, feel them now. Then hold them tight and remember. No one can take these moments from you, and no one will ever take the memories of them either.

I am wading into dangerously mushy gushy sentimental terrain, and that is not my style. So without further messy emotional ado, here is my picture for Subsection VI – Of the Sensible Soul:

A of M 157-9 two

I am sending you sloppy and emotional hugs, wherever you are.


This post is part of a long, tedious, and very illustrated read-along of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy – more info here and follow along on Facebook here. Illustrations posted via devon_isadevon on Instagram.

Leave a Reply