20 February 2015

First Loves

I experience a great pleasure when I have the occasion to return to original loves; or perhaps it is more exact to say that it provides me great pleasure to recover those first enchantments. Actually, I hold the memories of a great many first loves, and I consider that maybe all loves are first ones. I mean, how do I distinguish between Denise, who sat next to me in the 4th grade and to whom I gave my newly purchased ID bracelet; from the Denise with whom I flirted (and even kissed?) at summer camp not long after the end of that momentous fourth grade. And what about Denise who I have always considered my first true date in  . . . well, it must have been high school, and with whom I intentionally met (though not on a date) many years later—many, many years later—when she passed through my city with her husband. We didn’t then reminisce but it was a joy to sit for a while in the present with my past love of the past.
            And then there is Denise who was my first true love and with whom I spent my entire senior year (and senior prom) arguing to distraction about whose version of “Lemon Tree” was superior, that of Peter, Paul and Mary or that of Trini Lopez. Though then we disagreed as a prefigurement of our eventual parting, many, many years later when we met again, she had gracefully (and gratefully?) come ‘round to my position. And I was still in love and remain so, of course. And there are so many Denises along the way and even one with whom I still live—all first loves.
            But today it is Ralph Waldo Emerson to whom I return because I have been reading him in the process of preparing for participation in a symposium (how gloriously Platonic) addressing the significance of study, a subject about which I have been thinking and writing for a number of happy years. In his collected prose works in an essay called “The Natural History of Intellect” Emerson writes: “A man is intellectual in proportion as he can make an object of every sensation, perception and intuition; so long as he has no engagement in any thought or feeling which can hinder him from looking at it as somewhat foreign.” For years I have accepted the strength of objects relations theory and the idea on which it is based: that we are the sum of our relations and that every object has the potential for my relation and use. I have learned a great deal by understanding the world as filled with objects available for my use, to consider how my sensations, perceptions and intuitions are objects I employ for purpose. This ability keeps me sane, an object category I spend a great deal of time considering, using, but questioning. Indeed, Adam Phillips’ book, Going Sane presents sanity itself as an object to be used. After all, we all know what it must mean to go insane, but what does it mean to go sane? I have learned through Phillips to redefine sanity (and my sane self?) because of the ability learned to use sanity as an object. And so it is a comfort to return to Emerson, a first love, and discover in him some sources in his for his work of some current passions, even as I rediscover in my life all of my past Denises anew in the present. As if there is some arc to a life that finally reaches to the circle.
            Because contained also within that Emersonian sentence I discover other first loves, for Emerson advocates that the intellectual is one who can make every familiar strange. I have for some reason chosen the road less traveled by, and it has indeed made all the difference. Some early loves:  Terry Eagleton’s collection Against the Grain, which taught me one powerful manner of reading; and Roger Simon’s Teaching Against the Grain, which taught me a great deal about the profession I had chosen; and bell hooks’, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, that supported me in my experiences of alienation in the classroom.

            These first loves remain always loved, and living again with RWE give me peace.

14 February 2015

The Library

As I unpack boxes of books I reveal an archaeology on my life. I remove the collected works of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, and uncover there the gift offered me by Kenneth Bloom when I had a parentally designed cosmetic surgery to remove birth mark growths from my lips. And though Kenny was an object of some ridicule in my social group, he was also the only one of them to acknowledge my recovery. I read the book from cover to cover.
            In another box is the complete set the works of Edgar Allen Poe, a gift from the Goldbergs on the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah fifty five years ago. How did they know I would major in English when I had informed every one else that I was enrolling in a pre-med program at whatever college accepted me. This years before I had any notion of what college to which I would even apply. I read most of Poe though not in that particular connection.
            There were boxes filled with my immersion in Terry Eagleton’s wide-ranging discussion of Marxism, of literature and culture, from whose influence I have never swerved very far. And then there is the accompanying volumes of Karl himself, specifically Capital, Volume I, which I studied with Michael Harrington at the New York Marxist School, and from which one night I walked the night John Lennon was shot; the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, the Communist Manifesto and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; all works from which I have drawn in my thinking and my writings. In the boxes and now on the shelvers are the books by those who developed from those of Karl Marx; George Lukacs, on the historical novel, Trotsky on literature, Hegel on the arts, Pierre Machery on literary production; and of course, of Walter Benjamin, and the many works of Raymond Williiams, including his trilogy of novels concerning the working class Welsh. And there are more.
            There were the thick tomes of literary theory that decentered me from my stance in New Criticism by the French Continental Philosophy: Jonathan Culler and Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. And more.
            I unpack a voluminous collection concerning the work of the American philosophical tradition, starting with the Puritans and Perry Miller’s two-volume study, The Puritan Mind, and the work of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, books that I have had to repurchase when the originals I originally owned began to fall apart, and from which I have never departed. And more.
            And works I bought to fuel my political awareness and rage, books, too that have begun to come unglued, like Naming Names by James Weinstein, and Democracy is in the Streets. Books that situated me in my time and defined for me the time in which I made a definition for myself. And more.
            There were boxes filled with the works of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, D.W. Winnicott and Adam Phillips, works into which I dove to pull out myself. Or to create myself, I was never quite sure in which activity I might have been engaged. And more.
            And the dozens of biographies and autobiographies that I have read over the years. Why do I read them? What did they offer me? And more.
            Alberto Manguel, in his book The Library at Night, that sits comfortably on my shelf, says “The fact is that a library, whatever its size, need not be read inits entirety to be useful; every reader profits from a fair balance between knowledge and ignorance, recall and oblivion.” I stand before my library and I am comforted. There are books I do not recognize.

            And I haven’t yet opened the boxes of novels into which I poured my hopes and dreams. Or shelved the books I have soon to purchase.