Friday, March 26, 2010

Have a little Patience

In a comment to my last post, new reader Andy W. offers some welcome kindness, while noting that he seems to have discovered the blog at a particularly slow moment in its existence. True enough. I have not been able to devote time to blogging lately, though there is indeed much on my mind, many pieces gestating.

And as far as being awake goes, that old struggle, being awake enough to read, to think, to write, this past month has been terrible for me. But the first week of this month was the worst. I looked out at the world through a sheet of gauze, with a dull, perpetual, sleeplessness-induced ache in the back of my head. I was just able to make my way, semi-coherently, through daily meetings at work as we continue to dig our way into an awful requirements document (are they not all awful? why do I have to read such non-writing?). But real reading was out of the question. Real writing (ha!) was equally out of the question, but in truth, my available time is such that I rarely devote much of it to writing anyway. (As far as the blog is concerned, half-begun sketches of posts abound in draft status, but this is nothing new.) No, the real problem that week was reading. I have been deeply frustrated in recent years whenever I have been too tired to read on my commute. Time lost forever, and there's only so much of it left.

But it occurred to me then how futile this frustration is. And it occurred to me that I have been, still, a deeply impatient reader. In the past I have described my period of despair, when I was an unfocused reader, seemingly interested in everything, casting a very wide net, getting nowhere. My reading, now, is much more directed, but direction doesn't imply discipline. Oh, sure, I have been disciplined in that I have taken on a book, and read it. I have given myself specific goals (Proust, for example), and met them. Taking on a particular book and reading it is fine, but by itself that doesn't mean I'm going to be able to think or to attend to that need to write.

It happens that the day before this awful week, as I was doing some housecleaning, I decided to listen not to music, as I normally would, but to an episode of "Entitled Opinions" having to do with Nietzsche that I'd downloaded many months before. "Entitled Opinions" is a show out of Stanford University hosted by Robert Harrison, generally concerned with philosophy, poetry, ideas. I'd heard about it through Stephen Mitchelmore and had previously listened to the two fascinating conversations with Andrew Mitchell about Heidegger, which had been particularly recommended by Stephen. The Nietzsche show is also a conversation with Andrew Mitchell and deals primarily with Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Admittedly, amid the clamor of cleaning I wasn't able to listen as closely as I'd hoped, but I caught enough to be interested and to decide to try again to read Zarathustra, which I'd tried and failed to read before. The experience of listening to this show fresh in my mind, I decided to use my sleepy commute time in the following week to listen to other "Entitled Opinions" shows I'd downloaded. In particular, I listened to two enjoyable shows with Marjorie Perloff, the first a conversation about Ezra Pound, the second about Yeats, each leaving me much more likely to read the poet in question.

What emerged from the experience of listening to these three conversations, from hearing the poetry, from considering Perloff's recommendations and Mitchell's take on Nietzsche, was a deepening of my longstanding desire to really engage with both poetry and philosophy. What emerged from this week of utter exhaustion, in which I was unable to actually read much of anything, was a kind of epiphany in place of the usual frustration and impatience. I realized that if I'm ever to read the difficult, complicated works I've long been deferring, whether it be poetry, or philosophy, or specific works such as Marx's Capital, I need to go ahead and read them. I may as well read them now. I'm not, as the saying goes, getting any younger (I was 40 yesterday). But what really hit me was the crushingly obvious fact that I need to be more patient. There are still so many books that I want to read that I think I retained the tendency to plow through books, as though ticking them off of a giant list inside my head (and then, of course, dutifully adding them to the list on my sidebar here, as if that meant something). But it does me no good to read Capital or Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Being and Time or The Space of Literature if I don't get out of these books what I want to get out of them, if I retain little from them, if my engagement with the text is superficial. What would be the point? To say I've read them? No: I want to read such books for real reasons, reasons of my own, but real enough. My desire to read Capital is to help me understand capitalism, which itself is not just to add to my store of knowledge, but which matters to me in the project of living my own life. I will need to read it slowly, taking notes, writing. The same is true of philosophy. And with poetry, I feel the need to engage with the poetic form in some fashion, come to terms with it, as writing that is more focused, more attentive, more in play than so much prose. As a species of thought, a working through of language.

All of this requires patience, patience I have generally been sorely lacking. So, ironically, in response to a week in which I was largely unable to read, I am planning on, and have been, reading less, but, I hope, better. For one thing, this means no more forcing myself through a page or a chapter when my eyes want to close. I hope, too, that this patience will be reflected in my writing. In light of that, blogging will likely remain on the weekly or bi-weekly semi-schedule it's been on of late. Which isn't to say I won't immediately post something tomorrow. [I confess that the title to this post is a reference to the Guns N'Roses song. I can't decide whether I'm embarrassed to admit that. You're just lucky I didn't start whistling.]


Jacob Russell said...

Inthree months I'll be 69... a kind of one-year-less marker for me.

It over till it's over.

We take on the tasks we choose--without knowing whether we will be able to matter whether we're 20 or 70.

Only at 20, we're in thrall of unasignable probabilities. As if we knew.

We never know. So what's the fucking difference?

Always assume: there is no time to waste. There is all the time we need to do what we must... so long as we don't squander it.

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of welcome kindness, I just want to say that I find your posts consistently thoughtful, thought-provoking, and wise (even when I don't entirely agree with you -- I'm the "jeffdavis" who commented on your One-Dimensional Woman post a while back). Engaging with your writing has helped me to think through other writing and other aspects of my life more clearly; it's not unlike the engagement with poetry and philosophy that you talk about in this post, and I value the experience.

So, you know, thanks.

Richard said...

Thanks, Jacob. It's always good to remind oneself of that basic truth.

And twirlip, or should I say Jeff?, thank you for reading and for the kindness. I'm glad you have enjoyed reading. (Feel free to comment more often!)