Just One More

One those passages you read (you? I read) and check the front cover in case I finally wrote that book I always intended. If I hadn’t been reading.

You find yourself wondering why you’ve never read Frazer’s Golden Bough, even though you realise this is just another way of putting the question you are always asking yourself (why haven’t you learned to speak Chinese? or Arabic? or Hebrew? why don’t you play chess? why can’t you do differential calculus? why don’t you play the piano?) only making it in terms of Frazier is the easiest, most readily available form that the question takes, and the most likely to lead to the wrong answer as will (because you could read Frazier, and no doubt by the end of the day you will have made an attempt to do so). But this well only be a means of stalling, a means of putting off actually answering the question. Because the reason you don’t, or haven’t done these things is not found in doing them. Because what you are really hoping for and wondering about when you ask the question about Frazer is not something that will ever be answered no matter how many books you read or languages or instruments or sciences or games you learn. You keep coming back to square one (“I think I’ll read Frazer today,” or “it’s time to learn the saxophone”) because that’s where you want to be, the only place you know how and where to be, even though the only thing you know about Square One is that it’s only any good as a place to depart from. But that’s just it: you’re always departing. As if you feared that any form of arrival at all would be a terminal step, and after that there would be nowhere left to go, motion would stop, and you too would be, at last, finished. But as the prospect of infinite departures is too overwhelming to contemplate, it is easier to think that there is always just one more step to take (the last language you’ll ever need to learn, the last book you’ll ever need to read). There is always going to be just one more. And this is the truth upon which all things depend and in which you must pretend to believe in order to live. And so your arm reaches down Frazer from the shelf with the confidence that this time you have stumbled upon that for which you have been searching all along.

David Carl, Heraclitus in Sacramento. iUniverse (2009)

Taste Follows the Line of Least Resistance

I don’t recall why I ordered David Carl’s Heraclitus in Sacramento, which particular reference in a footnote or suggestion on Twitter led to its arrival on my shelves a year or so ago. So far, it comprises fragments of thought, what the narrator terms lucubrations, a word I like a lot for its definition as compositions or studies that smell of the lamp.

Perhaps it is just what I need to pull me out of the reading funk that set in after finishing Doctor Faustus. I’m also reading Woolf’s diaries, intermittently, possibly the finest way to read them, also fragments of course.

I’m taking notes from most pages of Heraclitus in Sacramento. Here follows a lucubration that shall be my evening’s meditation:

When she hears a person say, “I don’t know what art is, but I know what I like,” she can’t help but think that the very courage of this affirmation (the courage of one’s taste rather than one’s convictions) belies its force. For this is not an aesthetic claim but a rather naive assertion of individuality and freedom from ideology which ignores exactly what art is; an attempt to open up perception as an awareness of just how pervasive, invasive, and insidious such ideologies are. Even granted one does know what one likes (ignoring, for the moment, how limited and ultimately irrelevant a standard this is by which to evaluate or judge works of art), has it ever occurred to the bold individual to inquire into the source of these likes (and by extension dislikes)? A genealogy of taste which any artworks of the modern period might serve as excellent starting points, reveals how socialised, how dependent, precisely how unfree such radical claims of individual freedom are. “I know what I like,” may as well be a confession of which fashion magazines one subscribes to, what one watches on TV, and what movies one has been to recently; for the idea of beauty is more often imposed from without than it is sensed from within.