books, community, culture, history, literature, spirituality
“Privation and suffering alone can open the mind of a man to all that is hidden to others.”—Words of the primitive Eskimo shaman Igjugarjuk, as quoted in Joseph Campbell’s Primitive Mythology
The day’s work is done. After numerous friendly exchanges with co-workers and customers I return home, dine with the family, fall asleep while downstairs my wife and son watch The Polar Express—Christmas only days away—then wake as the house tucks itself in.
Thoroughly refreshed, I am in the mood for a short walk, the temperature outside being unseasonably mild. Passing by the Omphalos Cafe I notice a light in the window. I tap on the door and am admitted by Xenon, who quietly, smilingly ushers me inside.
“How’s it going?” he calmly intones as he prepares teas for the two of us.
He sits down and we immediately resume the chat we were having when I last visited a month or so ago. We talk quietly sitting in comfortable chairs at a table in the back room, surrounded by books, and you could say our conversation is fueled by those volumes—but it is not about them. It is never about books.
He, like I, doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about books…or I should say somewhere along the way we both lost our veneration for them. With access to the Internet, most if not all are replaceable within a week at most. And neither of us care a jot for the silly digital-paper debate being waged.
No, what is paramount for us is the living experience that the men and women are striving with all their being to convey through the medium of words, which happen to be contained in those objects we label ‘books’.
“I don’t give a shit if they’re carved in bark,” I was saying a month ago, “but this idolizing of books, this pedestalizing, cannot be good for us in the long run.” “It’s symptomatic of something….unhealthy.”
Both of us are aware and both see a connection between a collapsing over-civilized Roman Empire and the burning of the great library at Alexandria towards the year 400 AD. (Both of us having read Oswald Spengler’s underground classic, The Decline Of The West.) Books become superfluous when millions are starving, destitute, and despairing. A new message is sought, a new Truth in the crumbling, decaying misery that slowly spreads from the dying heart of great cities.
Words are born anew, living words not yet contained between the covers of books that bypass the minds of lost, despairing souls and go straight to hearts, rekindling hope and dreams, joy and love.
Those are the type of things, among others, we discuss at the Cafe. “Get a life!” some people might say.
Life is ALL there is.
A great post, as usual, but I don’t know if I agree! Books, after all, are the repositories of our knowledge, our culture, our hopes and fears, our wildest fantasies, and our most concrete plans. They hold our ideas and ideologies, and allow us to rediscover them, even if lost to us, centuries later. They create a discourse that exists not only in the present, but across time. And of course, what we learn from our books allow us to live lives that are richer, deeper, and with open eyes.
Oh I love this. Beautiful, eloquently put, Kris. And of course I most heartedly agree–most, but not whole, that is. By the way, I’ve cracked open a beer to respond to this one. “…somewhere along the way we both lost our veneration for them.” Because at a certain point, if we, you and I and anyone else for that matter, want to have our say, I mean truly take part in the dance, all the books need be tossed aside and our own book or song be unearthed. Hear Henry Miller: “A year ago I thought I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen away from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.” And then he goes on to write a dozen books, including one titled The Books In My Life. Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses is utterly immersed in books, musing his way through the labyrinthian day, ’till he is laid out by the British soldier and learns simple human compassion at the hands of Leopold Bloom. It’s Nietzche’s parable of the camel, the lion, and the child: the camel is a workhorse, the lover and hauler of books, the lion roars “books no more!”, and the True words are sung by the sweet innocent child.
A thousand thanks for the comment, and I love your enthusiasm, but at heart I know all those books lie within us, waiting the moment when our voices will sing out and join their’s in the chorus of Life! Man, must be the beer singing.
Beverly Penn said:
I have to say I agree with the above comment. There are a lot of worse and more prevalent problems in our society right now than the lonesome reader — who is already a dwindling statistic to begin with. I think that books are so much more than the corporeal object — they contain the words, thoughts, and questions of those past, and are thus a transport not only from one time to another, but from one mind to another. So we do not ‘pedestalize’ the book itself, but the narrative within. You speak of preferring the internet for information, which is by all means a very useful tool, but the problem is that the internet always gives you precisely what you are looking for. If you type in a question, you get that specific answer. With reading, you are led down an open path of which you know little, and often end up seeing things you never intended to. Believe me, I love perusing the web for information, but it just doesn’t have the same effect as literature. My students spend so much time online, and so little reading, and I see the negative effects in their writing and analytic skills. The book forces you to think differently, outside of your typical thought process. So while I agree that there are other ways of attaining knowledge, attacking the book (of all things right now, when fewer and fewer people read) is unnecessary.
Alright Bevy, you’re taking me to task. And I love it! But as I said in some other post somewhere, there are no problems! Life is not a problem to be solved, it is something to be lived to the utmost fullness. I speak of preferring the internet? No ma’am, what I meant to say was that should you lose or desire a book, as I did Elie Faure’s Dance Over Fire And Water, definitely not readily available in any bookstore or library near where I live, within a week it was delivered to my door. They burned a few books on Wall Street? Who gives a shit, they’re easily replaced! Sacrilegious some might say, but true.
I wrote the post mainly as counterbalance to the book love-in that goes on daily in the blogosphere. A sort of sticking it in the collective eye, just to have a little fun with it. Of course I love books, but it’s the Life contained, conveyed, not from one mind to another, but from one soul to another (the best ones anyways.) Where did I read about the Shaman who came shuffling into a bonfire gathering ass-first, just to shift the polarity away from the grave? After a heavy post I felt like throwing a curveball, sorry if it dusted the shelf a little bit.
As for the teacher-student thing, again from a book, I love the scene in Faust where Mephistopheles impersonates Faust and urges the would be student to abjure all that is alive and vital within him to knuckle down to books, books, books.
Much thanks. One last thing. You say you love Joey Campbell: I so look forward to the post some day in the future where I quote him extensively lambasting the current state of our educational system. He does so in volume four of his Masks Of God series. I remember the day decades ago now when I was dropping out of the Liberal Arts College. Someone had posted a quote on the board to the effect that education was just an indoctrination process and that the teachers had nothing really to teach because they were just the best examples the indoctrination. Sick of the whole schooling thing I wrote the Pink Floyd lyrics: “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control,” telling the guy next to me that everyone in school would go home that night and comb through their books to come up with highfalutin’ quotes to adorn the comments section the next day, which was exactly what happened.
Drop out! And above all, do it joyously.
Cayman Thorn said:
Empires are a whorish escapade. You sir, are always a smile. I love your writing.