Sunday, October 11, 2009


I'm still not quite ready for the synthesis of Surfside and fairy tales. I approach it, draft it, and leave the carcass on the beach. While casting it aside, I continue to march grimly through Cultural Amnesia. I can't stop reading this book. It feels like sitting in a library in an Ivy League college when you're not really there for the education, but you like the idea of the way it smells and looks for the few moments you're there. Worlds pass in the comings and goings of the books.

As you might imagine from the paragraph above, worlds that barely touch anything other than my imagination. It is unlikely that I will even do myself the favor of picking out some of the recommended German texts and try to recover my college German in words that are a beginner's way into the tongue. The idea startles me with the effort involved--learning a language for no reason other than the beauty of the thoughts contained therein. I couldn't learn one when I thought my grades and future employment depended on it. But then, so much of that education was posited as a financial investment that so far hasn't paid off in more than the momentary double-take of a temporary agency staffer in that degree being listed on the otherwise clerical resume.

I won't be picking up German again because I never had a good understanding of more than a few words in the first place. Even my mother retained enough of her French to be able to read in it decades after her last exam. She loved the language to the extent that she could sing in it and read it to us when we were little. While this is probably due to her own proclivities, one wonders if it was also that she learned enough of it to be able to do as the author of these essays that I'm reading suggests--she knew it well enough to pick up a book written in the language and puzzle her way through it.

Another question that occurs to me as I go through this book is why I was never introduced to the essay in school. We wrote them for grades for years, yet we never studied the ones that were written in the journals of our time or any previous ones. Why didn't we study a form that we were supposed to write? Why didn't we study criticism in addition to literature? Journalism in addition to fiction? Why was my English education limited to a poor selection of classical fiction? It gave me the idea that there was room for an extra book; that I might be able to contribute to a thin stream of literature that skipped from great book to great book like a frog traversing a pond?

Please don't take these remarks to be directed at teachers, who are looking for competence in state-directed areas (less so when I was in school, thank goodness). They are more directed at the areas chosen by the faceless nameless who decided that I should learn to write an essay without the benefit of ever learning to what uses they could be put. It's also directed at myself for never asking the questions until now.

And, of course, the forecast is for didactic reading to continue through the next several weeks. Per a chance comment encountered earlier, I'm also thinking about seeing if I can finish War and Peace in a week. Anyone out there a fan who'd like to offer encouragement? Favorite scenes? Favorite character?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Submerged in Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, I feel as if I'm walking on the bottom of the ocean on the ashes of civilization--remnants of good and evil alike rolled like a palate beneath the ceaseless muttering of a haunted sea. So far, this is a book an edifice, a beautiful tomb of an education that must have died before reaching the practical university from which I took my degree.

It shocks me how these tiny vignettes can render a day pointless and yet remind one that remaining engaged may be the only meaning one can hope to find in it. I need to slow down, to restrict myself to just a few names a week.

Despite the negativity it engenders, it forms part of the bulwhark against the nattering of the story-formation lecturers; the ideas present both argue against allowing authority to assume to itself knowledge that is absolute-beyond-question and of forgetting that writing is a conversation and not a string of sensational events dragged from the eyes through the nervous system at speed.

There are better things to gain from the book. So far, I've carefully packed away regrets: I speak only one language; I have such a tenuous understanding of world history that famous names float on nothing but fame on a foam of diffidence; I would be one of those people turning away from hard things, I turn away now; and I find only stasis in the terrible stories.

I look forward to going back to the shallows with the next book on the agenda (which I won't name, since I'm bad about picking up yet other books) and exploring the possibility that our world is the safe one, it's the other that is dangerous.