Impending

[Elias Hassos]

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.

-Kundera - Book of Laughter and Forgetting


I attended the end-of-the-semester faculty reception last evening -- mixed feelings of worry (due to going solo and thus exposing myself to the possibility of standing alone waiting for someone to talk to me) and excitement. No worry needed (of course).

I had a conversation with one of the tutors emeritus -- someone who knew me best from my days at the library, someone who always had trouble remembering I was also a student at the college. He didn't remember my name two weeks ago when we ran into each other, but last night he came and sat next to me and talked with me for over an hour. Toward the end of our conversation he told me that he wants to write his memoirs -- he wants to begin with something that had happened to him recently: Sitting in a chair, having his hair cut by a woman who apparently knew him well he said, 'My son has been reading about the second world war ... ' She apparently replied, 'Don't tell me about it, I don't like anything academic.'

He wondered aloud what it was about his statement that signified 'academic' and wanted to begin with that little event in telling his own tale.

I wondered about memoirs, as I have before -- I wondered about our desire to tell a tale, mostly true, mostly personal -- to make sense of a life. I've been recopying my reading journal from 2005, mostly because it's in an unlined notebook and I hate looking through it because it's so messy -- and in the process of recopying I rewrote the notes I initially took on Milan Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which I referenced in the post linked above.

Everyone has trouble accepting the fact he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late.

A 'universe of words' -- Whenever I wonder about what I'm doing here, with my own words, I think about this desire -- to have a story, to convey it -- a story that others will want to read, thoughts that others will want to listen to -- in the book that precedes this in my reading journal, Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami, one of the characters says "Existence is communication, communication is existence."


Re-writing these past thoughts of mine, noticing again what I noticed the first time through and noted in writing in notebooks for future notes -- what does it all add up to? Notes on a life? Notes on a life worth living or not lived at all? I tell stories of my thoughts to make sense of them. Mr. Waggish noted a passage this week on philosophy as narrative. From Donald Philip Verene's Philosophical Rhetoric:

Philosophies, like all narratives, act against forgetting. To forget is to leave something out, to omit or overlook a feature of a subject matter or of the world. Philosophical speech is memorial speech because it reminds us of what we have already forgotten or nearly forgotten about experience. The speech of philosophical narrative can never become literal-minded because to act against forgetting is to attempt to hold opposites together. The narrative is always based on a metaphor; a metaphor is always a narrative in brief. The narrative is also the means to overcome controversy, because for the self to overcome an inconsistency of its thoughts it must develop not simply a new argument but a new position, a new narrative in which to contain any new argument.

Forgetting -- also a concept of Kundera's -- and recollection -- the recollection discussed by Kierkegaard -- his launchpad of sorts. I still wonder why his moment is necessary -- why do we need to understand moments of decisive significance? I'm reminded of a comment from last night, the same man who spoke of writing his memoirs spoke of Kant (I had quite a few conversations about Kant actually). He said that Kant was an undeniably original thinker but we can never know if anything he said is true. A funny comment.

Kundera's book is just so right for me right now -- the infinite variations of Beethoven and of personal life -- I'm reading Richard Powers' Goldbug Variations right now -- Man's place between infinities -- strung between stars -- I also copied this from Madame Bovary today:

Because lips libertine and venal had murmured such words to him, he believed but little in the candour of hers; exaggerated speeches hiding mediocre affections must be discounted; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow the emptiest metaphors, since no one can ever give the exact measure of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sorrows; and since human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars.

And this of course reminds me of 'Only connect' from Howard's End --

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

My auto-biography would be a bibliography -- the real one would be. The true story would be one of the reader -- or is that too facile? It's certainly dangerous, and I'm pretty convinced it wouldn't be very exciting. And again I arrive back at the life worth living or some such well-trod phrase. Kundera also says that our desire to construct a universe of words results in a cacophony -- the sentence I began this post with --

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.'


We know that fate all too well -- this entire medium, my ever-growing collection of links, bookmarks, online notes. I absolutely hate trying to keep online notes -- I hate having links at work, links at home, I hate that writing I've liked online stays online unless I copy it from the screen into a notebook which feels strange and backward.

My head is cluttered -- with old and new words, original words and words quoted and requoted until there's no telling anymore where they've come from. Primary sources are so refreshing -- no filters -- perhaps I'm like the haircutter -- 'I don't like anything academic' -- or perhaps I just tire too quickly of it -- perhaps I'm too slow for it, two steps too late.