We’re at the beach for the weekend. Our hotel is book-themed. Each room is named after an author: we’re staying in the Lincoln Steffens room, decorated with a desk and typewriter; and we have photos on our wall: of a grimacing Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson looking like the missing butler from the Munsters. They really look as dead as they are. Teddy doesn’t look like his end was restful. There are photos of authors everywhere, the hallways are hung with them all up and down their length, so dense they are at most a half a foot apart. Photos are standing on the bookshelves, arranged in layered rows on the mantlepieces, and for sale in the gift shop as postcards.
Posts Categorized: reading
There was a sudden rain, and the view of the north-west warehouses from the fifth-floor window was sunk in the kind of blue that I usually see only in lowlit photographs from digital cameras. Other people weren’t surprised, it was predicted. But I didn’t know about it, and didn’t pack a lunch. I went stood underneath the canvas cover of the burrito cart outside my building. The rain wasn’t the usual Portland rain, but sharp and swift and it came in at an angle. The cart was empty, the surface of the salsa was getting filmy, the cheese was starting to drown, and the wind was knocking the tinfoil around.
I had read W. G. Sebald’s Vertigo in a copy that was missing four or six pages, in the first part of it, about Stendhal. The hole was in one of the most interesting parts of the whole book, and I was curious to know what I had lost. Today I got another copy out of the library, and it had all its pages, and I reread the Stendhal section, and was surprised to find that I seemed to recognize all of it. I couldn’t tell what was missing. Everything I saw I seemed to have seen before. I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe: Sebald is a continuous, viscous substance, that reforms itself over any gaps that appear in him? Is there such a thing as counter-vertigo, the sensation of not changing position, while things about you are objectively moving? It was uncanny.
There are three, maybe more, but at least three, kinds of rereading: I read something at two different times in life, both times leaving myself open to what the thing has to tell me. I learn how I have changed, I learn how the thing is layered, I learn how the times have changed, or pressures formerly on me are missing. I reread something to see what I have missed, as in the case of Vertigo, something doesn’t add up, I look to fill in a gap or make up for something. And also I reread because I am looking for a specific thing or trying to answer a specific question, and then my question changes, and I go back with something else in mind and change the weight I throw on the parts of the thing I see. It is a question of angles, the different ways of seeing the one object, that somehow don’t interfere with each other, or exist on separate planes.
A friend of mine surprised me last night. I know him about as well as I know anyone, though I don’t see him that often – he doesn’t see anyone that often. I know his interests, I know how he behaves when he’s upset, I know how he’s most comfortable and I know his own particular way of undermining himself. I am familiar with a range of motions and postures and it’s easy to pose him in my mind to match whatever position in whatever diorama I want to fit him in. But I didn’t expect to see what I saw and it makes me wonder what I have learned about him at all. Learning as a concept has been tying me in knots recently, and I get lost trying to think about what makes up character as well.
We biked up to visit him with a bucket of compost from our apartment, we’ve been helping make mulch for the garden.
Listening to the radio the other day I heard a program (sort of) about the 1977 Voyager spacecraft, launched into space with a golden record and other goodies; the hosts of the show talked to several moderately well-known people and asked what they would include. Philip Glass, for instance, would include Bach and Tuvan throat-singing (details unspecified); Neil Gaiman would include the The Wizard of Oz, among other things. Several of the folks interviewed included things it would be difficult to include on a gold record: mandarin oranges in syrup, or an entire meal at Chez Panisse. Naturally, this got me thinking…
I wished I had lived in the days of real journeys, when it was still possible to see the full splendour of a spectacle that had not yet been blighted, polluted and spoilt; I wished I had not trodden that ground as myself, but as Bernier, Tavernier or Manucci did … Once embarked upon, this guessing game can continue indefinitely. When was the best time to see India? At what period would the study of the Brazilian savages have afforded the purest satisfaction, and revealed them in their least adulterated state? Would it have been better to arrive in Rio in the eighteenth century with Bougainville, or in the sixteenth with Léry and Thevet? For every five years I move back in time, I am able to save a custom, gain a ceremony or share in another belief.
Idle thoughts while at work. (This means: not enough material for a post in any of them alone. So I put them together on a tray and serve while other posts stew in the kitchen. How bloggy.)
1. Have you ever actually heard anyone say that two plus two equals four in “the tone in which one says that two plus two equals four”? When I was taught it, it was an important fact to be studied and learned (so I heard it in tones of incantation, tones of authority, and tones of confusion).
One of the things I like best about Tristes Tropiques is the pleasure it takes in getting the sensuous detail right. There’s a kind of knowledge muscle it likes to flex as well…
Having read the first two chapters of Tristes Tropiques, I can only say that I like how Levi-Strauss fleshes out his narrative…
Blogs collect unfulfilled projects. (It’s a form of internet lint.) Why should this one be different? One more thing I plan to use this site for, another thing I get to avoid doing in avoiding coming here, I won’t notice it. So let’s announce it: We, Mfc and I, plan to read LÃ©vi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, a couple chapters a week, for the next however long, and blog an exchange about it.