Cultivate your garden

josef breitenbach illuminated tree

“Je sais aussi,” dit Candide, “qu’il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

“That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”

Voltaire, Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Candide: Or, Optimism)

Candide is one of my favorite books of all time, and I just realized that the main characters, after suffering an endless array of ridiculous misfortunes, end up in the Ottoman Empire at the end of the novella. They seek out the help of a renowned, wise dervish who advises the philosopher Pangloss to give up his Leibnitzian quest to prove that this world is “the best of all possible worlds.” (Those Sufi gurus are quite useful.) Later it’s a Turkish farmer and his family who advise the ragtag group to follow a simple life devoted to the development of their individual talents and ultimately inspires Candide to “cultivate their garden.”

It tickles me to realize that Turkey plays a pivotal role in my favorite philosophical novel, although it’s really not all that significant–in the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire was simply the closest non-European destination and thus the logical endpoint for a group of miserable exiles–and then of course we can’t make the historical mistake of equating the Turkish Republic with the Ottoman Empire.

Still, I like the idea that Candide, Cunegunde, Pangloss, and their whole group are, like me, somewhere not far outside of Istanbul, trying to cultivate their gardens.

Photo: Josef Breitenbach “Illuminated Tree” via Crashingly Beautiful


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