Monday, August 25, 2008

Reading Reconstruction for August

Yesterday, we drove my oldest back to college with all his gear for his senior year. On the drive, I finally got a chance to finish Brideshead Revisited.

"...he had, too, the exhausted but resentful air of one who fears he has failed to do himself full justice on the subject of Pindar's Orphism."
Just had to write that one out. ... a description of a classmate in the book... so I can say it to myself every now and then. Anything I say about his style would be heavy-handed, so I will just keep quiet. He is one of those writers like Wodehouse, Belloc and someone else I can't think of right now, who made me feel extremely American, very much like a new California winery. Here is an article about Evelyn Waugh.

I also got a good start on Becoming Attached, which turns out to be (in the first half at least) a sort of history of the theory of attachment, starting back with classic psychoanalysis and Freud's theories, and going up from there to show how difficult it was for early theorists to convince their peers that maternal deprivation did affect little children deeply and often permanently. It is an extremely interesting book to read.

Another book I just read was Do Hard Things -- I had been reading about it in various places, and when I found my library had it, I couldn't resist requesting it. My daughter read it too, and I agree with her take on it.

There was one more thing.... that's right! I finished the Spiritual Exercises. This probably doesn't count as a book reading, precisely, but if it did count as a book, it would be two books, since I also read Fr Hardon's Retreat with the Lord alongside.

I am still reading Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things by Madeleine van Hecke. I thought this would be like Sway, but it's more like a self-help book. Basically, the message is that understanding one's own blind spots and other peoples' should induce humility and understanding towards other people that do and think things that seem almost incredible to oneself.

One book I have requested, but which hasn't arrived yet, is Time and the Art of Living. I requested it because of Laura, who in turn got it from Susan. This raises the question of journalling -- every August I go through this questioning process, wondering WHY I think I want to maintain (however irregularly) four separate blogs. But I do think it's about journaling, and it is interesting to me that while I was pondering this, I came across Laura and Susan's posts, and also the final advice of Father Hardon in Retreat with the Lord:

Writing one's thoughts in a journal is highly recommended.
Still pondering though whether this means blogging, or whether there is really any purpose in having four separate blogs. Susan writes:

Over the years, I've often thought that I should keep separate journals for separate topics. That I should keep my spiritual ponderings and prayers separate from the journals of daily life. I've actually attempted to do that on occasion, but it never works. And as I read through this journal last night, I'm so glad it didn't. My journals reflects the reality my spiritual and daily life, the fact that they are interwoven and can't be separated into neat categories. They shouldn't be separated because it's all sacred.
I agree, and I feel the drain sometimes of setting up artificial categories between things that are basically integrated. And yet.... I have distinct purposes for each of my blogs, even if there is lots of overlap, even if I sometimes can't completely define each of the separate purposes; and I am afraid of muddling myself, I suppose.

One more half-thought. Susan quotes Robert Grudin, the author of Time and the Art of Living:

In writing your journal give primary attention to detail; for it is detail which organizes and preserves experience for your future self or some other reader. General statements like "We had a wonderful time" or "It was a dismal morning" make a mockery of the whole procedure, for they evaluate experience without recreating it. I kept long jurnals from ages ten to twenty-two, chronicling events and describing emotional states, but again and again missing they physical immediacy of experience, the tiny hooks by which experience could have been caught and held. I failed to record how we looked, what we saw, the minor eccentricities of circumstance which gave special character to a day. I ignored these elements not only through lack of training but through misplaced priorities. I mistakenly assumed that one could discuss the heart of things without discussing the surface of things.
I am wondering if this speaks to how difficult it usually is to make myself write out book responses, even though I'd really like to? I think what I most REALLY want to remember after I've read a given book is the meaning and context it had for me. But this is often difficult to organize or describe in a coherent way.

I think I write to try and GET to the particulars and their significance. The particulars themselves are endless, it's their selection that reveals the undertow. I suspect that that's why my writing is so often lacking in immediacy; because I am so often trying to struggle up to the surface and recognize what is meaningful, in order to record it.

Flannery O'Connor says something very much the same as Grudin, though about fiction rather than journalling -- that fiction writing is the art of the particular... .the universal has to be embedded or incarnated. Liam and I often discuss this, but I don't have time right now to find her exact words... off for Aidan's GI clinic and blood draws. This is a tangled mess to leave, but at least I wrote out that August reading list, and I guess the tangle reflects some of the tangle I'm trying to sort out under the surface right now ;-).

4 comments:

Susan L said...

Willa, I like your daughter's helpful review of Do Hard Things. I've been wondering about that book since I first heard it was going to be coming out.

I also like what Flannery O'Connor said. That's kind of how it is living the Christian life, I think. The universals and the eternal are imbedded in the daily, the ordinary. And that makes it more coherent and meaningful, personally and to onlookers. (I shouldn't type while I think, but here I am...)

Love your thoughts, as always,
Susan

lissla lissar said...

The things which recreate the immediacy of the past. That's quite wonderful. Sorry, caught by that last part of a great post. And I'm sorry to fall back on Eliot, again, but,

"Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony
(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,
Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,
Is not in question) are likewise permanent
With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better
In the agony of others, nearly experienced,
Involving ourselves, than in our own.
For our own past is covered by the currents of action,
But the torment of others remains an experience
Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition. People change, and smile: but the agony abides."

Just reminded me. That's The Dry Salvages.

Laura A said...

Willa, I think that if you have four blogs, there must be a reason for it. It strikes me that perhaps you take in a lot of information, and organize a lot of people, and having four blogs might help you to simply feel like it's organized. What Grudin and O'Connor are talking about is essentially an artistic exercise. One can also analyze thoughts abstractly, and you do that well. But there's no reason you can't do both.

Thanks for reminding me who said that fiction writing is the art of the particular. I read Mystery and Manners, oh, twelve years ago, and think it's high time for a reread. Brideshead Revisited is high on the reading list, too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Waugh's conversion story through your link.

It took me all day, reading here, leaving to do something, and then coming back, but I finally got through all the links to my satisfaction and enjoyed every one!

Willa said...

Thanks everyone. There can never be too much quoting of Eliot on here, Lissla. Laura, yes, there is a reason for that scattering of thought and I'm usually OK with it. Usually! My daughter does it too, and before we had blogs we both had half-written notebooks all around the house!

Susan, I am reading The Cloister Walk because it was on your reading list on your blog, and Norris says something similar about St Benedict's solid hold on the concrete and particular.