Renounce and Enjoy – oh, and read alot.

blogging, Life, literature, wellbeing

lifeI love that. Renounce and Enjoy. Three words that make a mantra. Yesterday I was listening to a great podcast by a blogger I follow, Jacke Wilson (History of Literature – Upanishads II)

I was soothed by his voice, and interested by his content because;

a) I love literature and it was titled ‘ History of Literature’ – no brainer then.

c) I have been fascinated by the history of spiritual development ( wanting to have some myself, being a Godless creature. I may need to realign that – I don’t think I am Godless, but unwilling to belong to the nomenclature ‘God’ as it  carries so many connotations.

I really enjoyed sharing his curiosity- it mirrors my own- what is there? who am I? and I have been discovering slowly over the past few years that I am drawn to the understanding about the connectivity of everything to everything else.  I have moments that beam into my day where I feel this truth. There’s no reason for it, no rational explanation that I can expound, no theology that I can share, just that momentarily I FEEL it.

This week has been extraordinary for one reason – Death is in it.  It is playing as a soundtrack in my head and I have no idea why – this is how it started.  I was driving across the country as is our usual custom on a Sunday, preparing for the work week in a different county to our home.  I spend this time either talking to my husband, listening to the radio, or in quiet contemplation.  On Sunday I talked.  I talk to him and he listens. It is a way of thinking for me. I had been considering a T.V drama I had  watched wherein a potential terrorist was going to blow him and his partner to smithereens in a public place to maximise the devastation. In the drama it shows the young man with his wife, explaining how they would be together after death, and used the metaphor of it being like moving from one room to another. Bear with me – I do not advocate terrorism (au contraire) but this is important.  Watching the drama play out brought something positive to me.  The metaphor was one that I could feel.  I have no strong belief about afterlife – my gut feeling is the body dies and we are gone. But my whole life  I have understood something other than this rationalisation. I was 11 when I encountered a death that was meaningful – my uncle, much beloved.  He has remained alive in me all my life, he has influenced my thoughts and my behaviours, he has helped me to be more the person I want to be than I would otherwise have been.  Is this life after death then? My husband and I have always been disturbed by the possibility of either of us dying- we don’t want to be left alone.  This is what this drama brought out in me. We will never be alone.  If I die first I know my loving presence will be felt every day by him, his presence will be felt by me if he dies.  It occurred to me in that discussion that possibly those who have died may feel  the vibration (forgive the word) of the love that continues in the living. Who knows?  Maybe Shakespeare knows I love him. Perhaps not personally, but maybe he feels the weight of love. How heavy is love anyway? Perhaps it should be better described as the lightness of love – for isn’t that what love does? Illumines and sheds burden?

Later that morning the radio played a marvellous monologue by a Bishop about Death – and learning to live well  with the knowledge of its inevitabality -“Courage is not being unafraid. It is to be very afraid, yet to overcome our fear and refuse to flinch. It is the best lesson life teaches us.”

Three Score Years and Ten

Jacke Wilson explains that Gandhi said if all the Upanishad and Hindu scriptures were to disappear but the first verse of the Upanishads were to remain, Hinduism would still exist. On being asked to make a summary of Hinduism , Gandhi chose three words  ‘ Renounce and Enjoy’.

And what Jacke does on the podcast is to bring his humanity to his attempt to understand what he’s doing on earth – he speaks directly to me, tells me it’s o.k to be human in the face of spiritual challenges. Like me he wants much of the world but not all of it, he wants some of religion, but not all of it, he wants more from the world, and more from religion than is available.

I fall down all the time at trying to be the person I want to be – but I keep trying , and I don’t even know what direction I am travelling in, I have no ultimate destination in mind even, I just know there is more to me than the me I have found to date. And like Jacke, its literature that led me to that well of sustenance.

And literature generally leads back to people, so really it’s other people that have illumined parts of my psyche that would otherwise remain in the dark – dead people too – Shakespeare, Montaigne (via Sarah Bakewell- thank you!), T. S. Eliot, Rumi, Iris Murdoch, William Golding, Herman Hesse.


Many thanks go to Jacke Wilson for bothering to do all thinking, the reading and the recording for the podcasts.  They are on my list of what to listen to – I recommend them heartily. Here’s the link to the first part of the one on the Upanishads HIstory of Literature, Upanishads Part 1


“Books are good company. Nothing is more human than a book.”

books, Life, literature, Marilynne Robinson, Thoughts


 ”I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all respect to heaven, the scene of the miracle is here, among us. The eternal as an idea is much less preposterous than time, and this very fact should seize our attention.”

Marilynn Robinson, with  ‘her quiet brilliance’ writes about a ‘ profound consideration of a life, without any fanfare’ in ‘Lila’, the third book narrating the voice of John Ames wife.

The author introduced us to the small American town  of Gilead in her second  novel which was a resounding success following up from a novel ‘Housekeeping’ written two decades earlier and earning her a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The recurrent message that the author communicates is complicated, as is life. It is hopeless, and full of hope.  A paradox that is biblical in its incomprehensiveness.  That kind of sums up her writing and the reason it works so luminously. It is a mirror to our own experience, that life can be simultaneously filled with horror, trauma, insignificance, hope and joy.  The overwhelming sense the reader comes away with is one of recognition wherever and whenever that reader happened to live.

Lila illustrates what Robinson described in  ‘Home’ as humanity’s “odd capacity for destitution,” “as if we are shockingly unclothed when we lack the complacencies of ordinary life. In destitution, even of feeling or purpose, a human being is more hauntingly human.”  We can only ask “how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home. But the soul finds its own home if it ever has a home at all.”

All three novels present loneliness as the human condition, suggesting that if our imprisonment within our own perspectives tempts us toward judgmentalism, then compassion is the best palliative.

John Ames in ‘Gilead’ is a man in search of wisdom from the story of his own life’.  Robinson’s treatment of her characters is compassionate, and that is the imperative of life that this reader shares with the author – the hope that in despair and suffering, the miracle of being human saves us – redeems us, even if   redemption we need is from our own fears and natures themselves.

One of the joys in reading her books comes from that ‘quiet brilliance’ that can narrate the ordinary, the slow, the mundane in such a way that life becomes more meaningful for it’s lack of ‘bling’, and not less.  The lack of sensationalism somehow underlines the sensibilities that accompany most of us in coming to terms with living ordinary lives. What I seem to value are those qualities that carry us through the tedium of a job, the trials of parenting, the petty dramas of relating to those closest to us – that soul search that impels us to be better, kinder, more loving human beings. I think these books carry that message too.  Read them if you havn’t, read them again if you have. Let me know if the world seemed different or not.

Mopping and mowing in the social space with William Golding.

blogging, books, literature, United Kingdom

nightingaleRecently I have had a phrase dizzily scootering around my brain – the ‘aboutness of being’- which has recklessly abandoned itself for examination and there is neither rhyme nor reason why. Except this – the fact that I understand there is no earthly impetus for me to consider the abstraction of consciousness points to the question itself. I am not alone and I know I am not because I read words that reflect a similar preoccupation with not merely how we think, which in itself is fascinating, but why we think about the abstractions that occur to us. Why do we look for meaning and purpose? Is it merely a by product of a brain that is at its evolutionary point, wherever that is on a timeline which has some way yet to go? Or is the impulse to understand consciousness an act of creativity in and of itself? Is it necessary for a satisfying life? Or necessary only to some to fulfil their lives. We are not all the same, although we share common tendencies, so what I may demand from my consciousness is clearly different from what my spouse or my children demand from theirs. Not to mention the 7 other billion I share the planet with. Oh and that is only mentioning the human lives,because how do I know what conciousness looks, feels like to my dog?

So now you know what I think about after a cup of coffee has been introduced into the system, and to help me think about the ‘aboutness of being’ I am going to introduce one of my favourite novelists , ‘William Golding’, who investigates and describes in a far more articulate manner than I can. As a school girl I read ‘Lord of the Flies’ and found the story full of momentum and interest ; but it was much later that I discovered the relief of reading a master novelist at work. I say relief because it is the closest expression I can find; I was a young adult who was continually seeking the companionship of shared insight, shared experience and it was in his works that I could feel understanding, resonance and even validity. As members of a singular species we want to affirm our existence, and one of the ways we do that is recognising that the way we think and feel is not specific to ourselves. While we desire individuality and uniqueness we also desire companionship,
shared values, shared feelings. I had been married to a man for twelve years before I faced the truth that one critical facet of our relationship was missing- recognition. When I met my second husband it was a powerful sense of coming home,inexplicable and astonishing at the time, devastating and demanding levels of courage and understanding not just from the main players in the drama , but affecting everyone in our little world.

Recently I read an article by a scientist that questioned whether we needed to consider our ‘aboutness of being’, or another way to put it would be whether the practice of examining theory of mind was pertinent in modern era.
‘ ” As we learn more about the detailed mechanisms in the brain, the question of ‘What is consciousness?’ will fade away into irrelevancy and abstraction,” he said. ‘(Desimone , Article in The New Yorker.Oct 1 2014 Attention by Alan Lightman.

That isn’t how I see it, or how Golding saw it either ( nor Bryan Appleyard via whose feed I found said article).

I am in the process of re-reading a selection of essays Golding wrote decades ago called ‘A Moving Target’, which is divided into the two sections of “Places” and “Ideas”. It is the second section that I refer to here. In his essay Belief and Creativity he discusses the difficulty in discovering,retaining and using an authentic voice. In being identified as a successful novelist Golding fights the entrapment of the role of novelist.

“To some extent we are all victims of a similar fate, The teacher may create his own image for the purposes of discipline and find himself unable to creep out of it. In the end, he may consent and become the image entire, at last the parody of a schoolmaster, don, lecturer. The actor, the politician – since our global television suburb is not so much bookist as imagist – must think first of an action, ‘How will it affect my image?’ Watch the box and see it happen. Constrained by the necessities of his trade he will adjust either his action or his image so that another figure of fantasy mops and mows in the social space. That space, our divided but communal awareness, is so full of the image, the real unreality or unreal reality, it is a wonder men can breathe. Perhaps we cannot. Perhaps it is our fate as human beings that none of us knows what it is to draw a lungful of psychically unpolluted air, to look and to examine innocently the crowded impressions on every sense with which our individual selves cope, suffer and enjoy as the essence of being. “

How pertinent is that paragraph today, in the world of cyber space – a world that did not exist as Golding wrote these words.

“From Aristotle onwards – even from Hecataeus and Herodotus – the glum intellect of man has succeeded in constructing bolts and bars, fetters, locks and chains. …We have had great benefits from that same intellect but are having to pay for them. I say we have erected cages of iron bars; and ape-like I seize those bars and shake them with a helpless fury. . ..The simplistic popularization of their ideas ( Marx, Darwin, Freud) has thrust our world into a mental straitjacket from which we can only escape by the most anarchic violence. These men were reductionist, and I believe – peering from the middle between the bandages (of mummification) saying not what I ought to think but what I find my centre thinking honestly in spite of itself- I do indeed believe that at the bottom the violence of the last thirty years has been less a revolt against the exploitation of man by man, less a sexual frustration, certainly less a process of natural selection operating in human society, than
a revolt against reductionism, even when the revolutionary, or it may be the terrorist, does not know it. “

Golding explains his own development in attempting to shrug off the prism of explanation via a third party ( i.e. through the accepted ideologies of the day) and think for himself and writes the best put down of Marx I have encountered, succinct and humorous.

“I have no doubt that Marx said this somewhere. He seems to have said most things according to those who have examined his work closely; but the crude system extracted from the corpus of his work omitted this unpredictability. I could, by including it, account for the fact that Marxism always got the future wrong and excelled in predicting the past. The whole of its illustrations of human conduct was what the French have called l’esprit d’escalier, – an expression drawn from a common experience – the brilliant retort that occurs to us after an argument when we are going down the stairs. “

He describes the approach of the novelist as one that is trying to communicate via a world he can create himself restricted by the innate constraints of that form.

” I fumble. I practice a craft I do not understand and cannot describe….. The little, lighted awareness that we call a conscious person is indescribable and incommunicable yet needs neither description nor communication since we all know it and how it is. If we cannot agree on that it is impossible to agree on anything. We are it. It is our burden and pleasure. The awareness is not a point, a position without magnitude, but an area. Awareness, like belief is a matter of position in that area. …another dimension must be added to the area and I do not see how I can present you with a three dimensional surface. Yet the area is moving through the third dimension of time. .. You read as the novelist must write,one word at a time….we ought to be up to our eyes in mystery and astonishment, and we have only just begun. …it is possible to live astonished for a long time’ and it looks increasingly possible that you can die that way too. My epitaph must be ‘He wondered’….Let
us return. What man is, whatever man is under the eye of heaven, that I burn to know and that – I do not say this lightly – I would endure knowing. “

William Golding sheds some light for me on how to consider my own position , reminds me of the necessity to think, and to evaluate where my thoughts stem from to identify their validity. He is a glorious companion to share the perturbations and complexities of being human in a ‘naughty world’. I want to stay in wonder, to die curious.

The Poetry of Architecture, and the reason you don’t want to become a brand.

Art, blogging, craft, Life, literature, United Kingdom


St Marks

St Marks

Boy are you in for a treat today!!!  Recently I have been researching some Pre Raphaelite art as a favour to a fellow crafter, and in pursuing said research , I was distracted by a fabulous volume written by the critic John Ruskin, ‘Stones of Venice’ in which he praises the achievements of the massive numbers of common workers who laboured with skill, patience, and reverence on the great Gothic structures of medieval Europe. This treatise on architecture has been described not simply in terms of scholarship, but also as a work of art in itself.

I havn’t indulged to the degree of now being versed in the history or topography of archtitecture – I barely slipped over the surface- but the passages I have read can be understood as deeper messages than understanding that area of interest.  I will admit to having to overlook his many allusions to a Victorian God, but he was of his time and I am of mine.  Although I confess to a more agnostic outlook, I can see the virtue in believing in a connecting thread through time and space (albeit not Ruskins vision).

I hope you see value in the passages I have recorded below – ( a labour of love since I couldn’t copy and paste and had to type it out!)  It shouts loudly to me about ignoring the clarion call to give yourself a brand identity and express yourself in all endeavour simply with integrity, for the satisfaction that brings of itself.  Oh Ruskin!! I hear you!!!

…for it is necessary first to teach men to speak out, and say what they like, truly; and in the second place, to teach them which of their likings are ill set, and which justly. If a man is cold in his likings and dislikings, or if he will not tell you what he likes, you can make nothing of him. Only get him to feel quickly and to speak plainly, and you may set him right. And the fact is, that the great evil of all recent architectural effort has not been that men liked wrong things; but that they either cared nothing about any, or pretended to like what they did not. Do you suppose that any modern architect
likes what he builds or enjoys it? Not in the least. He builds it because he has been told that such and such things are fine, and that he should like them. He pretends to like them, and gives them a false relish of vanity. Do you seriously imagine, reader, that any living soul in London likes triglyphs? – or gets any hearty enjoyment out of pediments? You are much mistaken. Greeks did: English people never did,never will. …Very few faults of architecture are mistakes of honest choice; they are almost always hypocrisies.
So then the first thing we have to ask of the decoration is that it should indicate strong liking, and that honestly. It matters not so much what the thing is, as that the builder should really love it and enjoy it, and say so plainly. The architect of Bourges Cathedral liked hawthorns ; so he has covered his porch with hawthorn,- it is a perfect Niobe of May. Never was such hawthorn ; you would try
to gather it forthwith, but for fear of being pricked. The old Lombard architects liked hunting ; so they covered their work with horses and hounds, and men blowing trumpets two yards long. the base Renaissance architects of Venice liked masquing and fiddling ; so they covered their work with comic masks and musical instruments. Even that was better than our English way of liking nothing and professing to liking triglyphs….
..Half the evil in this world comes from people not knowing what they do like ; -not deliberately setting themselves to find out what the really enjoy. All people enjoy giving away money , for instance ‘ they don’t know that,they rather think they like keeping it; and they do keep it, under this false impression, often to their great discomfort. Everybody likes to do good, but not one in a hundred finds this out. Multitudes think they like to do evil ; yet no man ever really enjoyed doing evil since God made the world.

So in this lesser matter of ornament. It needs some little care to try experiments upon yourself; it needs deliberate question and upright answer. But there is no difficulty to be overcome, not abstruse  be gone into ; only a little watchfulness needed, and thoughtfulness, ans so much honesty as will enable you to confess to yourself, and to all men, that you enjoy things, though great authorities say you should not.

This looks somewhat like pride, but it is true humility, a trust that you have been so created as to enjoy what is fitting for you, and a willingness to be pleased, as it was intended you should be. It is the child’s spirit, which we are most happy when we most recover’ remaining wiser than children in our gratitude that we can still be pleased with a fair colour, or a dancing light. And, above all, do not try to make all these pleasures reasonable, not to connect the delight which you take in ornament witht hat which you take in construction or usefulness. They have no connection; and every effort that you make to reason from one to the other will blunt your sense of beauty, or confuse it with sensation altogether inferior to it. You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased by them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight. Remember the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance….

We won’t be alone admiring it ; it became one of the most influential books of the 19th century, inspiring William Morriss to re publish the chapter ‘The Nature of Gothic’ and prompting the narrator of Marcel Proust’s ‘Recherce’ to visit Venice with his mother enthused with Ruskin like spirit.


“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”

See the whole book here


Based on the original by John Ruskin in his architectural treatise, The Stones of Venice

Based on the original by John Ruskin in his architectural treatise, The Stones of Venice


Read to live, do not live to read.

blogging, books, Life, literature, United Kingdom

Joan Acocella, writing in The New Yorker, described Adam Phillips as “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer” , and  John Banville wrote he is “one of the finest prose stylists in the language, an Emerson of our time.  Reading briefly about the man, it appears that he has a sensible attitude to his own business of psychoanalysis, considering it to be only one of any number of tools to use in order to live, possibly better than one lived before. The other tools range from sky diving to dough making and I have the faintest suspicion that his very successful business in seeing clients is more about his curiosity than anything else. What I am trying to say is that I like his style, his ability to say from the beginning there are no answers to the questions we don’t know how to ask. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having a little look around.  What else are you going to do? Walk the dog – fine, that will be as worthwhile an occupation, but if the other is start a war, or self harm, then diving into the psyche may be worth the energy.  I digress, but then digression according to Phillipps “is secular revelation.”  Anyways, I was reading an article from the Paris Review which was made up of an interview compiled over a couple of years, and I was taken with some of his considerations about reading. Below are a couple of extracts from the interview,

Fortunately, I never recovered from my education, I’ve just carried on with it. If you happen to like reading, it can have a very powerful effect on you, an evocative effect, at least on me. It’s not as though when I read I’m gathering information, or indeed can remember much of what I read. I know the books that grip me, as everybody does, but their effect is indiscernible. I don’t quite know what it is. The Leavisite position, more or less, is that reading certain sentences makes you more alive and a morally better person, and that those two things go together. It seems to me that that isn’t necessarily so, but what is clear is that there are powerful unconscious evocative effects in reading books that one loves. There’s something about these books that we want to go on thinking about, that matters to us. They’re not just fetishes that we use to fill gaps. They are like recurring dreams we can’t help thinking about.”

“……..That idea was one of Winnicott’s most radical, because what he was saying was that solitude was prior to the wish to transgress. That there’s something deeply important about the early experience of being in the presence of somebody without being impinged upon by their demands, and without them needing you to make a demand on them. And that this
creates a space internally into which one can be absorbed. In order to be absorbed one has to feel sufficiently safe, as though there is some shield, or somebody guarding you against dangers such that you can “forget yourself ” and absorb yourself, in a book, say. Or, for the child, in a game. It must be one of the precursors of reading, I suppose. I think
for Winnicott it would be the definition of a good relationship if, in the relationship, you would be free to be absorbed in something else.”
……..An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.”

So now I have to go and discover Winnicott.  I love how reading does that – promotes the next interest to discover.  When I went to school we had a caretaker, Mr Jones, who manned the tuck shop and dealt with the onslaught of teams of hungry, raucous female teens.  Sounds ideal job for a bloke, but hey, I know different. Anway he had a cardboard sign that would change daily with a thought for the day.  The one I remember seeing most was ‘Eat to live, do not live to eat’.  I will change that one to ‘Read to live, do not live to read.’  What did Phillipps say about digression?



Mind over matter.

Art, blogging, literature

tom thumb


I am researching folk tales at the moment, and finding the history of  story telling fascinating.  These images are taken from magic lantern slides from the 19th century and are so utterly delightful and beguiling.  The story this one tells is Tom Thumb, and was itself retold by Charles Perrault in 1697, which at the time was published under his son’s name, as he was far too erudite a thinker , belonging to the Academie Francaise. I wonder what he would think about his long lasting legacy being those Tales from Mother Goose?   The tale itself is interesting, recalling different narratives within it.  Tom Thumb is the scrawniest of a bunch of boys born to a faggot farmer and his wife,  and the boys are abandoned by their parents who are too poor to keep them.  Tom keeps his brother safe from wolves in the forest, and leads them back to their home where the parents have had a change of fortune  and are delighted to see their children.  Soon poverty strikes again, and once more the parents turn the children out into the depths of the forest. It is the scrawny yet implacable Tom that keeps the brothers safe until they reach  a house in a clearing. Again there are hints here of Hansel and Gretel, but the occupant is no witch, but an ogre who plans to fatten tehm up overnight and eat them for breakfast.  Once again inscrutable Tom outwits the ogre and tricks him into killing his own daughters having mistaken them for the sleeping boys.  The brothers escape the ogre, who on discovering the trickery puts on his seven league boots  and hotfoots after them .  After some time the ogre has to rest, and after taking off his boots, settles into a deep sleep. Tom , hearing his snores, steals his boots which have magical qualities so they now fit the diminutive lad, and proceeds to the ogre’s wife. He convinces her that the ogre has been held captive and she must hand over the ogre’s wealth in order that he can pay a ransom.  This she does, and Tom returns in triumph.  Clearly the moral is not to underestimate the runt in the litter. Perhaps Perrault was telling the tale to the adults, as a warning not to neglect their children. Perhaps the tale should be retold today.

Perrault was retelling these stories himself, but the test of time has proved how successfully he did that, with wit and humour that continues to entertain today.  Just as the magic lantern slides.

Magic lantern images are here:

‘ that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’

Art, blogging, books, literature


“I know that character exists from the outside alone. I know that inside the body there’s just temperature. So how do you build your soul?”      Sheila Heti

We all start from this premise I suspect; exactly how do we experience what it means to be human? As opposed to being merely a productive unit, or animal or more commonly simply maintaining a sustained presence on the planet without falling into penury, debt or criminal behaviour.

I shall make this easier for you, at least in defining how the battle may be fought.  Read. Read more.  Read widely. Read thoughtfully. Did I mention reading?  Writers and artists have been mining their own characters and talents in attempting to illuminate the same question.  Some have come up with diamonds, others with less dazzling results.  Joseph Conrad wrote fabulous stories that were underpinned with a deep understanding of the human condition, and an observation of human activity that created classics.  Here he is on his own art,

But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom; to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition — and, therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation — and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.-

–My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

‘ that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’   That is a phrase that sends shudders down my spine.

David Foster Wallace is hailed as the writer of and for his generation,- his biographer D.T.Max writes ‘The only thing that seems clear from this novel ( ‘The Pale King) is that boredom is more than a harmless discomfort. The fight against it expresses a need to secure the vitality of the self at all costs.’

It is an irony that Wallace’s writing is  widely requoted as though he was the purveyor of Truth and Wisdom, mainly since his speech in 2005,“This is Water”, which he delivered as the Kenyon College Commencement address . In the speech, Wallace advises the undergraduates that they can choose how to make meaning out of their lives. In the tides of boredom that wash over us in our daily lives, Wallace declares that anyone who harnesses the power of his own attention is king:

“You can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness.”

Wallace took to literature in an attempt to grasp hold of his own life, his depressive episodes.  The current trend to read his novels as paths of truth is to simplify the man and the writer, but readers read, and writers write. I like this short passage by Wallace himself, on writing, Wallace tells Larry McCaffery in Conversations with David Foster Wallace. “In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.”


D. T. Max
A Life of David Foster Wallace
352pp. Granta Books. £20.

‘Je suis responsable pour ma rose’. The necessity of Love.

blogging, Life, literature, LOVE

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible
to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that
he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he
would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it.
You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible
for your rose. . . ”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would
be sure to remember.

This excerpt is from ‘ The Little Prince’ , the well loved, best read, most translated book to have come out of France, written in 1943 by Antoine de St- Exupery.  It came on the radio as I was driving down the country, and immediately took me back to being a young mother. Now I am a bit of an older one, as the boys grapple with the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthhood.

‘Je suis responsible pour ma rose.’  The little prince is reminded by the Fox that love binds us to the recipient, that with the privilege of loving, the ecstasies and the solace of loving arrive the responsibilities of providing love.  Our partners, our families, our friends and our work demand our patience, understanding and forbearance, as we demand theirs.  Love binds.

The Little Prince reminds us of that, and how barren our lives are without it.

‘ Je suis responsable pour ma rose’


For the full text online, go to the link

Reminder No.4 – Series One

blogging, Life, literature, philosophy, poetry