Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Bread of Life

Last Friday I was hungry and thirsty. I was opening a bag of very nondescript white bread and then came the words from Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away: "I ain't hungry for the bread of life." This, of course, brought up other memories from the novel, including the last scene in which Tarwater has a vision of the feeding of the 5,000 and receives the call to "warn the children of God of the terrible speed of mercy." Having remembered the text, I am left to decide what, if anything, to do with O'Connor's story.

Flannery O'Connor says “A story isn’t any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind.” Evidentally, her story is still expanding in my mind, like the way the universe is expanding--over great time and great distances. It has been about four years since I read The Violent Bear It Away.

It is a gift to have a piece of meaningful text brought to one's rememberance. I doubt it has so much to do with the power of one's mind as the power of the text.

Now, to do something about the bread of life.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Reason upon Compulsion?

Falstaff, the excessive comic character in Shakespaere's I Henry IV refuses to give "a reason upon compulsion." I feel compelled to write something in my log, and so feel resistive to doing so. I suppose writing and reading, like other forms of exertion, can be challenging at times. What is the term in running for reaching a point at which one feels one cannot go on, but if one breaks through the point, one can? Maybe the same is true of thinking. This brings me to related issues. Sports are so wonderful because they provide metaphors for other activities which are also incredibly challenging (like thinking). Imagine a movie about somoene training her mind or emotions. Seems pretty abstract, doesn't it? Borges says that reading a story is as much an experience as taking a walk or being in love (something like that). The mind/body difference maybe isn't so distinct. I better end this paragraph--my brain is tired, and it's time for a warm down. If I kept writing, would I get my second intellectual wind?

Monday, May 22, 2006

What is a poet?

Soren Kierkegaard (Christian existentialist philosopher) asked, "What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music." So, do you subscribe to the idea of the suffering artist? Natalie Goldberg admonished to "kill the idea of the suffering artist."

Well, don't pretend to suffer or create problems for yourself so you can overcome them or enchance your art with them. But if you happen to be facing a mortal existence (I assume you are), and it happens to not sit well with you at all times, transforming the angst into art seems a pretty neat economy--or alchemy, almost.

Whether moving art comes out of profound suffering or not, moving art does certainly come out of some sort of exertion--I am confident on that point.

And for the record--you don't ever have to agree with anything I say out of pity, politeness, or condescension. I crave conversation that is free of contention and full of teaching.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Besides the cliche title, what's wrong with this picture? It is Saturday evening and I am about to go hang up and fold laundry rather than go read a book of my choice. Someone may eventually fold my clothes for me, but no one is going to read a book for me; engaging with literature is like getting a haircut--you can't delegate it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Poems You Can Only Get Away with Once

Some poems are delightful because they are witty little things that cannot be repeated. (Mmmh--can any poem be repeated? Then why do these type I'm thinking of seem especially unrepeatable?) Here's an example by Desmond Skirrow:

Ode on a Grecian Urn Summarized

Gods chase.
Round vase.
What say?
What play?
Don't know.
Nice, though.

Hamlet or . . .

Is it simply because I'm thinking about Hamlet that I feel indecisive about studying it this term in our literature class? I had a very insightful, mantic (not manic) professor once who said Hamlet was not indecisive; he just wanted to do the right thing. Anyhow, to read Hamlet or not to read Hamlet. If I had to give a one-line reason why we should read Hamlet this term, it would be "because it's good for you." My other choices would be Ibsen's Doll House along with Miller's Death of a Salesman. They seem like easier reads and seem immediately needful. I don't know if nourishing is the right word; maybe touchstoney would be it. Both of these plays seem like ones people can identify with at some level, perhaps easier than Hamlet. On the other hand, maybe we don't want to identify with Hamlet. Anyhow, anyhow. We could write some great papers about Ibsen and Miller and the family dynamic (enter Tolstoy on unhappy families). If we wrote on Hamlet it would be a really obvious and difficult question: Why is reading Hamlet good for me?

I just can't decide.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Finding Enjoyment in Reading Literature: 3 Tips for Getting Started

Please understand that the ancient maxim of "Delight and instruct" includes the idea of delight and starts with the idea of delight. So first off, literature is meant to give enjoyment. When approaching a text, do so with a mind to enjoy. You may have to work for the fun, but that isn't as foreign as it sounds. If you like sports, for instance, you know that the enjoyment you get from running, playing baseball, or whatever it be, does not come without some exertion. Coming ready to enjoy is the first step. Another important thing is to give yourself time--enough time--to find the enjoyment you seek. It is a highly UNsatisfying experience to pretend to read something. I have done this before--I have spent what seemed like a long time and probably was--reading Jane Austen and not remembering anything of note. Talk about a time waster! Further, as you read, allow yourself time to get over any initial distaste you might have for what you read. Some things will grow on you . . .

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"You must change your life."

It is an odd and powerful ending to Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo": "You must change your life." It is an odd and powerful feeling when a phrase of poetry just makes profound sense. I wonder if poetry speaks to us because it reflects our realities, or our realities speak to us because they reflect the poems we read. Certainly it is the reversability in a chemical process--the arrows go both ways. Achebe speaks of this: stories happening and creation coming out of them. Borges speaks of this, the living reality of text.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A little about language

Yesterday I was thinking about human beings. We are distinguished, in the most secular sense, from other animals because we use tools and we use language. We also use recipes! What other animal do you know that cooks its food and follows a recipe, or combines food . . . okay. But the language is the key thing. When we see a beautiful sunset (cliche? hardly anything cliche about a beautiful sunset or enjoy it, either), if we say or think anything, it will be verbal (meaning a written or oral expression using words). Who do you know starts speaking equations or numbers to deal with the world around them spontaneously?

So we are language users, we humans. And we can do remarkable things with the words we use. And this is where literature begins . . .