The lattice of language

Yamamoto Masao - 820


From Linda Nochlin's 'A Life of Learning'

But how could you reasonably understand The Magic Mountain at age 12, one might reasonably ask? I understood everything; I skipped nothing. Everything in the book was of equal, passionate, undeviating interest. Yes, I understood everything, and better than I would if I read it today for the first time, because back then I knew nothing of life that would interfere with the pure literary matter, the transparent narrative provided by the text. In the absence of worldly experience -- of love, illness, of European history, of philosophy -- the text and the act of reading the text were all there were. Thus I understood, or rather, participated in Clavdia and Hans's love affair and its ironies far better than I would have if I had ever had love affairs of my own. I would have projected my own experience of love on to the text if I had ever loved; this way I understood it purely, without the corruption offered by a 'personal' view.

Oh, that's it -- as we amass our own stories -- stories of experience -- there is conflict, competition, confusion. When we read as young people, as fresh minds (and I do think that this freshness of reading can be maintained, sustained long past when one would think it possible) we are new pens re-writing the stories, finding the ideas, all on our own.. An act of creativity and construction not yet mixed up and disoriented by one's own experiences. As we grow older, amass memories, histories, tracts of retired and retiring cognition, we have to deal with those experiences -- lift the hefts in our hands as we work through some new tale. Logarithmic thinking -- not linear -- there is more space between 1 and 2 than there is between 1000 and 1001. There is more space between my reading of Watership Down at age 7 and my reading of Jane Eyre at age 10 than there is between the some 150 titles I've read, written about and recorded over the last 2 years.

We become palimpsests every time we read -- we rewrite and retell, layering and interleaving. Walking sheaves of paper. Long ago, when people wrote letters at all, they would conserve paper by writing crosswise -- cover two sides horizontally, then -- 90 degree tilt of the page and two more sides of writing. A veritable lattice of language.

How difficult it is to read innocently -- I didn't realize that until St. John's -- we shoulder an unseen burden -- not simply of opinion and prejudice and misconception -- we shoulder the burden of having experienced -- of having tales to tell. So to read innocently becomes more and more difficult the longer life runs forward -- logarithmically, not linearly. The more I experience, the greater my burden.

Burden here is not negative -- it's not a trudging, trodding process -- and I don't think that good reading comes from masquerading as a blank page. I do think that good reading must be something akin to weaving -- a craft in its own right. Every sentence that falls across my mind -- every word I turn over on my tongue -- they're all worked over -- into the same medium. Some are more noticeable -- the lines of force run through and connect with greater accuracy --

This isn't a matter of black or white -- this or that. I don't want to be a perpetual child, forever reading recklessly -- abandoned to the sheer joy of language -- its transports and its constructs. I want to revel still -- but I want logos as well -- I want to be an interpreter of my own active text --

I remember growing up in the Catholic church -- sunday school, confirmation classes, etc. I remember hearing about the miracles -- wafers of real flesh -- I have this strange grotesque image with me now, from those mornings in church halls -- I think of ingesting the Word -- the flesh of the word, of edible texts --

I think of words jumping off of pages to prick my mind with their hidden dangers -- of twisting, writhing phrases -- slicing relentlessly -- the nightmares of an interpreter, a translator. But to learn to read one's own mind -- one's own ever-changing, ever-mysterious self -- to come to some understanding of the process of living -- the process of life which is action, creation, and growth.

I'm back into small snips of paragraphs -- dashes -- when did I start using dashes so much? And I'm back with Orlando -- that passage I hold so dear -- a sort of Rosetta stone --

When this happened, Orlando heaved a sigh of relief, lit a cigarette, and puffed for a minute or two in silence. Then she called hesitatingly, as if the person she wanted might not be there, 'Orlando? For if there are (at a venture) seventy-six different times all ticking in the mind at once, how many different people are there not--Heaven help us--all having lodgment at one time or another in the human spirit? Some say two thousand and fifty-two. So that it is the most usual thing in the world for a person to call, directly they are alone, Orlando? (if that is one's name) meaning by that, Come, come! I'm sick to death of this particular self. I want another. Hence, the astonishing changes we see in our friends. But it is not altogether plain sailing, either, for though one may say, as Orlando said (being out in the country and needing another self presumably) Orlando? still the Orlando she needs may not come; these selves of which we are built up, one on top of another, as plates are piled on a waiter's hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own, call them what you will (and for many of these things there is no name) so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs Jones is not there, another if you can promise it a glass of wine--and so on; for everybody can multiply from his own experience the different terms which his different selves have made with him--and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all.

We tell our own tales, every day. Every day is homespun story. But we must also interact with other tales -- other ways of being, of having been.