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Becoming Finished






Isn't it strange to become "finished" towards a particular author? I always remember a statement by the under-rated mystery writer, Ross MacDonald that he could often "get around" a certain author after a time, see where they were coming from, what they were up to with their words. But, said MacDonald, he could never "get around" Faulkner or Shakespeare.

It takes me a long time to get around an author, especially if they have guided or taught me something vital. It's funny: I kept up a rather one-sided relationship with the most influential teacher I had in high school until he died. (His English Class used S. I. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action - essentially a primer for General Semantics. Beautiful.) I clung to Colin Wilson for years after I realized that he was just re-animating the dead-horse of the Outsider over and over. I read all of the galloping ghosts of the vital-will-to-power-Shavian-Life-Force just within the reach of our all too human habituated robot selves. I flogged myself like a true penitent for some time. I still cannot sell off my collection - which is substantial. Turner, Campbell, Paglia, Berry, Read, Dahlberg, Borges, Steiner all hold hallowed places. Their books line my shelves like old friends/teachers. I often re-read these days, mostly with a smile that would make Cervantes proud: How I tilted towards those windmills and kicked the spurs deeper.

After years of working in the book mines, I figure, with typically truistic wit, there are The Books and then there are The Books About Them. Primary and Secondary texts, if you will. (I say this and immediately become Hegelian in considering a synthetic Third Book. Grammars of Creation being such a beast for me.) As much as I have derided the Derridians, I have such a love of the Secondary. Those Who Can't that sing the praises of Those Who Can. A fascinating tension. I have always had a goading shame when I realize that I have read dozens of books about a Book that I have never read.

But to finally read The Book! Ah God, I tell you: to remember hellish scenes from the Aenied, sublime passages of the Divine Comedy, the laughter in the Quixote, elegant tracings in Descartes, Zarathustra and Heidegger, the illuminations of the Gita, Dhammapada, the scope of Les Miserables... I could go on preaching to the choir, if not the Preacher; but it is these read memories that enrich the meaning of my being to the core.

Still I am ashamed of what I have not read: Grossman, Broch, Sholokhov, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Mishima, Kawabata, Mahfouz, Kazantzakis and, even Dickens all gaze down from my shelves with haughty reproach. I deliberately avoid their spiny stares as I sneak through a Gibson, Crichton, Dan Brown or a Dan Simmons. I cannot read more than a few "shallow" books before I am compelled by some internal exorcist to return to the "depths." (The Power of George Eliot compels you! The Power of Goethe compels you!)

Yet, I am such a fool at times. I've probably told you ten thousand times that I define wisdom as doing something stupid ten thousand times and then, on the ten thousand and first time, not doing it. It takes a lot of "experience" for me (more shallow books than I care to admit) before I start back towards the Buddhistic Right Depth.

This "wisdom" that seems to come from simply enduring existence reminds me of the old Chinese curse: may you live an interesting life. All too often these days (the ten thousand iterations having come to term on quite a few items of late), I notice the sticks and paper mache before I see the magic of the dragon. And this is not to say that I haven't found those sticks and colored pieces of paper enormously (in the Strunk and White sense) interesting. But Goddamn, how I long to see the dragon, the real fire breathing, flying, fucking THING and believe...

I hasten to add that I am no cynic: I love the revealing "wisdom" that endurance has brought to me, even more the wisdom of intensely lived existence. However, I have no enthusiasm or energy for the bounding, wide-ranging distractions of my puppy-dog youth - all that ass-sniffing and cat-chasing. An old dog dreams of all the bones he buried and the day he'll dig them all back up. Let the cats fuck all night, it's not even worth a Goddamned Bark.

My immersions and glancings into popular (better perhaps contemporary) culture leave me with the chemical after-taste of snack food in my brain, a near-constant sense of dissatisfaction and still abiding hunger. But I am happy for this. For my mental plate is full of meat and bones. More than I can ever consume/digest in my life. A shipwrecked survivor on a deserted island with the carcass of a white whale. All for me. The oil-soaked brain alone will take me years to chew up.