Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Through a Glass, Dorkly

βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι is rendered in the King James Version of the Bible as: "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

There is no getting around it: As we age, our individual point of view shifts. We look upon a person, place, or thing differently than we may have earlier. Even our wish list undergoes a sea change. At one time in my life, the top items on my wish list were atlases, comic books, licorice cigarettes, and tops (spinning tops). That was then.

It is a fact that as we age, our eyes have more difficulty adjusting to shifts in light; things take longer than they once did; we may be creatures of the night in an interior sense, but we did not evolve to become night predators (except perhaps in the interior sense).

What we once did as mere performance we now tend to disclose, to elaborate, even to argue. This is a part of what the scholar/critic Edward W. Said referred to as late style. You would see a splendid example of late style in operation were the motion picture version of To Kill a Mocking Bird be remade using the same script, with the character of Boo Radley being portrayed by a 2007 version of Robert Duval rather than the Robert Duval of the original.

Have I a late style? The question is the writer's equivalent of checking one's physical body for lumps--you know; cancer. I may not have a late style, but I have had cancer and that experience alone has had some effect on such style as I may have; it affects the way I see, feel, and write about things.

Many persons of my age are well advanced into a vision of things best described as curmudgeonly. Although no stranger to such visions, I see my curmudgeonly self being deposed by enthusiasm, which carries with it hope, charity, wild-ass optimism, even forgiveness. 

 Accordingly, as it increasingly behooves one of my age to exercise, it also argues forcefully that I keep at my chosen work, not so much for the result of the work as for the ambiance of it. In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna: "To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof." I take that to mean, among other delicious things, that if you go into your work with enthusiasm, you will meet the loveliest people, starting with yourself. You find your un-dorky self in that ambient landscape, and although the things you see may, from time to time sadden or sicken you, you will have found a late style that is evocative, elaborative, and in the best sense of the word, argumentative.

The best way to portray a character in a history, a biography, or a narrative entirely fictional in nature is to show that character in action, his or her attitudes toward the action at hand revealing more than any attempt at description.

The best way to have a MRI scan of one's own psyche is to compile a body of work, which may then be traced during off moments for clues relating to the health and life expectancy of that psyche.

"Oh wad some power the giftie gie us," Robert Burns suggested, "To see oursels as others see us/ 'Twould from many a blunder free us/ And foolish notion..."

Seeing our multiple selves--for we are indeed many--as other individuals as well as our multifarious self sees us is best accomplished through the work we do, not the work we do in order not to work. If we are ever to remove the cataracts forming over the lenses of self, we must experience the primal, drunken joy of laughter at our own human condition.

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