Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book shelving

As well as needing to construct more (a Saturday task), unpacking books offers opportunities for distraction.

The first has come as a second opportunity to engage in a purge of things unread or never to be read a second time (and that, in some cases, you wished you had never read a first time). As I went about this task, I felt a further tightening of what I might in the future read. This was not of the same kind as when, a few years ago, psychotherapy fell out of my attention. This was quite a dramatic and particular divestment of a long standing interest that only Jung, Robert Johnson and Helen Luke survived, and primarily for their central interest in religion (rather than the mechanics of therapy).

This time it was not whole subjects that disappeared but certain strands. I do not expect, for example, to read early texts of Indian philosophy or the lives of Jain saints. I might carry an image of a person who might do this (or should) but I think now I can safely say that the need is to go deeper in spiritual exploration rather than continue to expand. Islam long since fell away, so Hinduism (and Jainism) can follow. Even within Buddhism, I think I can primarily concentrate on the two polar strands of Pure Land (of ‘other power’) and Zen (of ‘self-power’) in both Chinese and Japanese traditions.

Nor do I feel any need to keep reading contemporary fiction for the sake of being contemporary. This need has been on the wane as to reading for a long time but not always as to buying. I do have a strong intuition for the novels that will resonate and I add authors slowly (and usually only after being overwhelmed). Nor do I feel any need to fill up gaps in my knowledge for the sake of the gaps. There is no sense that I want to be educated into any canon (traditional or alternative). I have silenced any qualm that I have never read D.H. Lawrence (with apologies to Margaret if you are reading this) and that I find James Joyce a monumental modernist bore! I am aware that all is (or can be) change and any opinion may change in time, what I find myself shedding is any embarrassment over my current opinion!

I can keep my diet of ‘management books’ light unlike either philosophy or history, they rarely manage to help me think either about people or organizations.

The second has been moments of reaffirmation. This is intrinsically much more interesting. Yesterday it was the turn of Martin Buber. I rediscovered a remarkable book on Buber called ‘I and Tao’ that explores Buber’s deep and idiosyncratic encounter with Taoism that led him (like Merton and Ursula le Guin) to make his own versions of Taoist texts, in his case of Chuang Tzu through which he sort both to be authentic witness and creative interpreter. Since my own love of Taoism has been deepening (with reading John Blofeld’s oeuvre and the Tao Te Ching before sleep), it struck a resonate chord. I dipped in and marked it for a future re-reading. I keep returning to Buber – if I have a ‘master’ it is he.

The third is to be reminded of unfulfilled promises. I had made a New Year’s resolution to re-read Dante and read Goethe’s Faust. This sounds on the face of it very canonical! But they both emerged out of personal memory and felt sense which reminded me that I have a very feeling driven attitude to reading that has often conflicted with a ‘super-ego’ of what I thought I should read. I expect this gives me a very personalized and eclectic pool of knowledge (and the shadow of a reluctance to engage with anything that does not make that felt connection, even when it might be helpful or necessary)

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