18 June 2012


Thoreau somewhere talks about awakening to the anticipation of the day. That day dawns only to which we are awake! For me the day always begins with the taste of the coffee that I love to brew in the quiet of the early morning. There is a pattern I have set to this time of day. Alone in the darkened house (in the summer this dark is only metaphoric) I turn on the water to heat and fill the French Press canister with hot water. Even in the summer the glass container retains a chill from the evening. I also fill my mug with hot water as well. As you can tell, I like my coffee hot. I am always a bit guilty by this frivolous use of water. Sometimes, I don’t know what to do with my privilege.  Then I place four scoops of fresh beans in the grinder and press the machine on. The noise is harsh but I have gotten used to it: not a pleasant sound but a familiar one. And certainly one with some necessity.
I return upstairs for morning ablutions, and when those are complete (they are not complex) I dress and go down to the coffee and the day. The water has risen to 208o (the appropriate temperature for such business I have been told by those more careful than I), and first emptying the warmed canister of its water, I now place the ground coffee into it and pour the water over it. I stir the mixture and place the plunger lightly atop the liquid. I set the timer on the stove (I am obsessive) for the recommended steep-time (at least four minutes but between the stirring and the plunging and my own impatience I settle on 3 minutes 45 seconds), and then attend to some kitchen details: putting away clean dishes and emptying the sink of dirty ones. I take my prescribed medications.
When the coffee is ready I push the plunger down and pour the brew, add a splash of half and half and head out to the day’s possibilities.
I love to think about writing in the morning. As I write my mind opens like the flowers when the sun strikes them. When there is no pressing matter (a paper, a missive, a particular issue that has puzzled my dreams) I write to let the water drain out of the sink. I (who is the ‘I’ whom I have mentioned four times thus far in the paragraph? Are they all the same identity?) look down at the drain and see what remains. I write.
It intrigues me that the first essay I read in Zadie Smith’s collection Changing my Mind is about Nabokov whose novel Pnin I am reading. It seems that this is also one of Smith’s favorite books: she says that she has reread it half a dozen times. The subject of the essay is not Pnin however; rather, Smith is concerned with the conflict between Barthes’ declaration of the death of the author and Nabokov’s assertion of the authority of the author. Barthes raises the reader to the level of creator of the text and the latter insists (almost dictatorially) on the absolute creativity of the author of his/her work. As Smith says, “the only perfect tenant of the house that Nabokov built is Nabokov.” What s/he means is that there is meaning in the text that the author places there and that the skillful reader can move closer and closer to that meaning (the reality of the text) with constant rereadings. “For he felt his own work to be multiplex but not truly multivalent—the buck stopped at Nabokov, the man who had placed the details there in the first place. His texts had their unity (their truest reality) in him.” There is nothing in the text but what the author has placed there. But I think then that only he (in this case Nabokov) could understand his novels, and he should have hated the critical essays that followed upon his work and tried to interpret it.
But I wonder, when would a reader feel confident that she had arrived at the ‘truest reality?’ When all of the details had been detected, and the picture completed, the question of what the picture portrayed remains. And why this picture? At least with Pnin I can say that though Nabokov has written the book, the narrator is not Nabokov. The narrator is someone who knows Pnin, and therefore, the integrity of the narrator becomes a problem for the reader. All of the details derive not from Nabokov but from the narrator, and I suspect that the narrator knows something that Nabokov does not yet know. Pnin may be the subject of the narrator’s interest, but I am interested in the narrator’s interest in Pnin.
I think that if the writer wants the reader to know exactly what the writer knows then the writer expects what can never be: I can understand why Nabokov hated Freudian interpretations because they took power away from the author. I think the author writes out of curiosity, and the reader reads out of her curiosity. I discover a great book when what the author is curious about elaborates on what I am curious about; or when the author’s curiosity stimulates my own. It has been a long, long time since I wondered what a book meant rather than what it revealed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so enjoy reading your blog. Some of what I read, I find myself reading multiple times to make sure it is making sense to me. Other times, it feels as though it was written just for me as it stirs a distant longing that I didn't even realize existed until I read the words! And still there are times, just as when I read this latest entry that I enjoy it even without understanding some of it...and ask myself "how can this be?" I have little background knowledge in the topic which makes me wonder if I am reincarnated????? It's akin to listening to certain types of music in different languages...I can be moved without knowing the words or the intended meaning of the composer.

The vicodin haze I am in from a recent foot surgery could have something to do with it this time but what about the other times???
It's certainly perplexing to me but challenging as to why I want to keep coming back to particular posts to reread and ponder.

Thanks for the stimulation and stirring.

20 June, 2012 22:40  
Blogger Alan A. Block said...

Interesting that you mention listening to music: I have written a symphony.

21 June, 2012 06:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10 July, 2012 02:52  

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