02 March 2012

Following Up

I live down the block from a Barnes & Noble emporium. Up the street is a fairly extensive half-price bookstore. And downstairs in my home there is an large assortment of reading material. But I have nothing to read, and I am seriously disoriented as a result. More than disoriented: I feel vulnerable.
I wander aimlessly about picking up book after book only to set it down again after a few pages. Passage to India, by E.M. Forster. My copy of this novel must be almost forty years old, and my handwriting marks the pages, but I don’t remember anything from prior reading. I can’t read it now. Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. I think this year is some kind of anniversary associated with Dickens. One lovely summer I received money to read novels by Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Henry James, but I am not interested in entering any of these worlds right now, and especially not that of Charles Dickens. On Lionel Trilling’s recommendation I read some Jane Austen—Emma and Mansfield Park, and though satisfying, they have not led me anywhere, nor offered me insight into any newer world to which I might wish to journey.
Perhaps that is the issue with the books: I don’t know what world I want to enter because I am so uncertain of the world in which I now reside. I am restless, unsettled and unfocused, and reading would require a commitment to enter into a world that requires some attention, and I don’t seem to have the attention to devote. I pace the house looking for reading material to distract me: news magazines, The New York Review of Books, Jewish Forward, The Nation, and I read again the gossip journals my children love to read about who is pregnant (and by whom), who has been seen wearing what clothes and with whom they have been intrusively observed. I have studied rather carefully in In Touch what one hundred different stars look like without their makeup! I think they look just fine, actually.
I recognize this disquiet stems from a periodic personality disorder, a serious neurosis that I must just live on through the way I weather storms that pass over the home and threaten to tear it apart. Soon, I hope, I will saunter through a bookstore and light upon exactly the book I require, and I look forward to entering the world that will engage and change me. But right now this disquiet remains too disconcerting.
Though I was engaged in last night’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. I do not know if I will ever have the opportunity to hear this piece in concert again: it requires a full orchestra, a chamber orchestra, several choirs, including a boys choir. There were a lot of people on stage and the boys choir sings from somewhere behind the audience as this celestial and peaceful presence in the midst of death. Britten incorporated the poetry of Wilfred Owen in the Requiem, and though the piece is liturgical, Britten has offered it in a context that mirrors his pacifist position. The final words of the Mass, Requiescant in pace Amen, referred to the war dead, one of whom was the poet, Wilfred Owen. Since Owen’s death in 1918, exactly one week before the armistice, there have been many war dead. They too begged “Let us sleep now.” In peace. I thought the performance emotionally full, and I returned home moved and sad. As I have said, somewhere downstairs in my basement I think I have a vinyl copy of the Requiem purchased as a statement of my anti-war sympathies. I don’t know that I ever listened to it completely. But sitting in the audience last night I was mesmerized, enthralled and emotionally shattered.


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