Distortionary Dialogues

Questions and quandaries to catalyze abstract or atypical thinking. All manner of responses welcomed.


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Ornamental Hermit

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1 Ornamental Hermit on Sat Jun 02, 2018 6:12 am

“Certain noblemen and country squires were advertising for Ornamental Hermits. Nothing, it was felt, could give such delight to the eye, as the spectacle of an aged person, with a long grey beard, and a goatish rough robe, doddering about amongst the discomforts and pleasures of Nature.” - Edith Sitwell, English Eccentrics

Hermitages were constructed, and Hermits sought, during a time when Follies and picturesque landscapes were the idalic forms for wealthy English Estates. Small structures, referencing roman, greek, and asiatic building typologies were scattered through manufactured, rolling hills and constructed ponds at advantagious angles. The garden was an experience of the world, showing it’s owners prestige. “Men of an Eccentric bent and material substance” built home, where the hermit would perform scheduled apperances for the employers pleasure. The hermit was another layer to this very literally landscape. The hermit would be provided vittles and shelter for various terms (it seems these were quite case-by-case). Recommended reading or key words:

-Lancelot “Capability” Brown (sick name, yeah?)
-Father Francis
-Hawkstone
- English Eccentrics and Eccentricities by John Timbs
-The Hermit in the Garden
-hermitary.com

Follow up questions:
-what would a hermitage look like today?
-should i make a seekinghermits app?
-would the modern hermit be allowed wifi?!



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2 Re: Ornamental Hermit on Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:35 pm

I am greatly interested in this topic, and curious to read more about the history. For now, let me offer some thoughts about a contemporary incarnation of this phenomenon and try to address some of your questions.

I will start with the last question: I feel confident that the modern hermit should be denied internet access. Given that the hermit's owner wants to use the hermit for the purposes of a vicarious escape from the trappings of modern sociality, it seems obvious that the hermit should be stripped of such technologies. Perhaps, like morsels snuck to starving hunger artists, another servant of the owner could illicitly pass along an occasional meme.

Would a marketplace-style app provide the optimal route towards actually finding such an arrangement? Maybe... it has disturbing implications for the hermit, but clear appeal for the owner. A good hermit should be willing to embody an ethos of pure submission, both to their owner and the conditions of their isolation – they should not be shopping for hermitages like apartments on craigslist. The owner, however, wants to believe that they are receiving a top-quality specimen and can confidently believe that their stipend is supporting the life of a mind that is somehow exceptional. This certainly suggests the illusion of choice and selectivity, which is the desired effect of such apps. But could an online profile truly provide a convincing account of a hermit's worth? I am doubtful. I think the proposal, like most unconventional ones, must be made in obscurity and after a modicum of personal trust has already been established. The owner wants to believe that they have discovered something special in hiring the hermit, not something that can be searched, viewed, and reviewed by the unclean online masses.

(Worth noting that they are ways to use the internet for such purposes outside of the now-tired technique of marketplace-style apps, as dominant as they are. For instance, the website you linked once hosted a forum for hermits, the perfect place for such a discovery to happen organically. This forum is now defunct, but its affiliates are potentially interested in a renaissance.)

What would the hermitage look like, and where could it exist? Given the increasing concentration of wealth into globalized metropolises, it may be difficult to find owners who would be proximate to the isolated space that the hermit requires. Here I begin to wonder if the internet would play a role in this arrangement, for surveillance of the hermit (24-hour webcam access). Perhaps the hermit would exist in an unfurnished high-rise apartment guarded by a doorman who would not let them leave, committed to contemplate urban development at a detached distance. Perhaps, soon, the consciousness of the hermit would be uploaded into a private server.

These suggestions are mere sketches, but still I feel that they do not even come close to touching upon the spirit of the hermitage that once captivated the spirits of the wealthy and eccentric. In order to truly foster a resurgence of such interest, we must understand precisely the motivations and inclinations of the alienated super-rich in our modern era. What motivated them in bygone days? A nostalgia for simpler life, and a desire to demonstrate some lineage or relationship to the glory of the ancients. What motivates them today? Let's discuss.

PS – Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

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3 Re: Ornamental Hermit on Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:47 pm

Here is another important question: what is the nature of the special truth which we imagine that only the hermit could ever discover? Consider this parable...

The Hermit Prophet
Kahlil Gibran

Once there lived a hermit prophet, and thrice a moon he would go down to the great city and in the market places he would preach giving and sharing to the people. And he was eloquent, and his fame was upon the land.

Upon an evening three men came to his hermitage and he greeted them. And they said, "You have been preaching giving and sharing, and you have sought to teach those who have much to give unto those who have little; and we doubt not that your fame has brought you riches. Now come and give us of your riches, for we are in need."

And the hermit answered and said, "My friends, I have naught but this bed and this mat and this jug of water. Take them if it is in your desire. I have neither gold nor silver."

Then they looked down with distain upon him, and turned their faces from him, and the last man stood at the door for a moment, and said, "Oh, you cheat! You fraud! You teach and preach that which you yourself do not perform."

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