01 August 2012

Why the Question?

Where have I been? Without a question. I think I’ve been active: I run most mornings; eat a good breakfast; follow my course on line, comment on papers; do laundry; even go regularly to the movies—recently saw Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse, an interesting film about a total loser. (I was going to write “a somewhat interesting film” but then realized I would have to explain what I meant by the qualifier “somewhat” and I didn’t want to do that because I’m not sure I could offer a satisfactory explanation). I drink coffee with M. and then dinner with M, and devote the evening to reading. I can account for my days, mostly.
The reading is steady and eclectic. The books accumulate and pile up on the tables, but I’m not sure what I’m looking for in the books that I read. The puritan in me refuses the motive of simple pleasure, though I do think I take pleasure in my reading.  But the reading ought to lead somewhere and the question points the direction.
Without a question there is no direction. The choices I make at any one time are random and, therefore, disconnected. I have claimed that in my active  inactivity I am filling the cup until it runneth over, but really I feel more like I can’t connect the dots. Without a question I don’t seem to go anywhere. As Dylan says, “It feels like I’m moving, but I’m standing still.” The question is what impels movement, though I understand it could also lead to immobility. I ceased to find a question.
So . . . there is a line towards the end of Tobias Woolf’s novel Old School. Interestingly, whereas this novel began with the description of the narrator and his classmates (the chapter entitled “Class Picture”), it ends with the biography of Archibald Makepeace, the former dean and teacher. This last chapter, “Master,” makes no mention of students but does recount Makepeace’s movement into the profession and his tenure as a teacher. The novel is predominantly about writing and writers—the narrator becomes a writer, and the novel offers some idea of motive and process—but the novel is also about teachers.  And I think that Woolf offers Makepeace as the quintessential teacher; what makes Arch a great teacher is his vulnerability and his flaws. Impulsively, he had left the school when the behavior of one student’s deception shone too much light on his own, but the final line of the novel quotes from the parable of the prodigal son: “His father, when he saw him coming, ran to meet him.” Arch’s return to the campus as a teacher is the return to home. “Teaching made him accountable for his thoughts and as he became accountable for them he had more of them and they became sharper and deeper.” Teaching is about learning, and Arch is a learner; literature is the event in which he engages. “It was the nature of literature to behave like the fallen world it contemplated, this dusky ground where subterfuge reigns and certainty is folly, and Arch felt like some master of hounds as he led the boys deep into a story or a poem, driving them on with questions . . . until at last the truth showed its face for an instant before vanishing into some new possibility of meaning.” Literature is the answer to the question posed, and literary criticism is the attempt to discover the question to which the novel is an answer. It is, after all, the question that is central; the question is the only answer. Arch is a seeker. Arch is a teacher.
I have been unable to realize a question. And that is where I’ve been.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh...written just for me once again as it nudges my soul and stirs my thoughts. Hang out with me; I have a cache of questions. I'll share.

01 August, 2012 11:30  

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