Thursday, October 06, 2005

On never finishing bloody anything

I remember once, during the very brief mid-year holidays in second year, that I – much enamoured of the image I had of the endless leisure time that was to be available to me, now that the dastardly semester was, finally, over – went to the local library and got out about nine books, thinking that I would read them all within a week and a half. They were things that interested me at the time – things I felt that I should be reading, or would like to read. There was Kafka’s The Castle and America; Zizek’s The Ticklish Subject (I don’t believe I’d ever read any Zizek previously); a book on French philosophy in the 20th century; an “Introducing”-type book on Sartre (with cartoons); and, though I can’t remember the title, a book by Henry James, whose Washington Square I very much enjoyed reading in Year 11 – indeed, I often think back upon the time in which I read this, in the last part of the long Summer holidays before the year commenced, as presenting an ‘ideal instance’ of enjoying literature: this was one of the few times that I have given myself freely to the reading of a book, and read without calculating in my mind what percentage of the pages I have consumed so far (though this ideal provides the flavour that the word ‘literature’ bears for me, whenever I think to myself that I am a person who enjoys literature). In any case, it came to me vividly just now, as I opened the pantry hungrily at 5am, sneaking about the dim house whose windows cannot escape dawn, that all I read of this ‘unnamed’ Henry James book was the one-paragraph biography on the first page, but that nevertheless, I was presented with a discrete moment of joy, when I found in this paragraph the phrase: “James had a desultory education”. Desultory? I made the effort and dragged out the dictionary – and to my delight, found that it meant ‘to be always turning from one thing to another, without finishing’. How wonderful, there is a word for it, I thought – and immediately, felt as though I’d pinned a previously uncategorised, never-before isolated part of my character. Desultory.

Even now, I must start reading at least one new book each week. But I very rarely finish any. I use Metcards as bookmarks for this very reason: I need a hoard, a stack of the things, to keep abreast of all the tomes that I am but sixty (or more frequently, twenty) pages into. I enjoy getting a sense of books, reading the blurbs and prefaces. I enjoy beginnings, but rarely reach endings. Also, I am increasingly given to wanton sprees of book buying – a sort of retail therapy. Perhaps I believe, somehow, that if I own the books, that I am one step closer to owning the ideas therein. Accordingly, I came across the insight, or perhaps formulated the hypothesis, not so long ago, that I only fetishise those books (that is, their physical presence, glorying over their existence, their typescript, the thickness of their paper) that I haven’t read.

Finishing asides:

1. I really hate this blog layout. It’s much too neat and compartmentalised.

2. I’ve been reading Proust. Can you tell?


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6:23 am  
Blogger shrover said...

Hmmm... comment spam... I do love it so.

I start reading Proust at the end of first year uni cos I thought that's what literary people did. I recall telling someone I was 'reading Prowst.' Only realised later of course that I was making a dick of myself and should at least pronounce the name properly. Anyway spent the summer holidays desultorily (that word again) reading Swann's Way. Struggling through Swann's Way more like. Barely made a dent by the end of the holidays, resumed it next semester holidays, and so on. Managed to get through Swann In Love and the whole of Within a Budding Grove over the course of my university career... never made much of an impact on the second penguin volume, though.

Not so long ago I bought a nice leather-bound version of Swann's Way, Second hand. Re-read it, loved it, got all proustian, went and bought a biography of Proust.

And of course in the time-honoured fashion I stopped a quarter way through.

I'll get back to it one day. I mean in spite of how I read it, I do love it - the humour, and the insights into romantic pain... one of those wonderful things that makes you see you're not as completely fucked up as you thought you were.

Sorry for the long post.. Proust gets me going like that.

5:46 am  

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