Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Past Imperfect as Role Model for Present Imperfect

In your attempts to keep track of your own past, you've become painfully aware how much of it you've lost, giving you the sense of trying to keep cats from escaping and puppies to mind you. This self-awareness of the multifarious nature of time and substance has behaved like yet another animal form, if a pigeon coming home to roost can be regarded, even in metaphor, as an animal.

The direct and proximate causes of your observations emerged and continue to persist as a result of a simple list, one of the sort you are in the habit of making. One such list would be the ten things you'd hope to mention in a lecture or its variation, the ten questions you'd pose to a particular class during a specific lecture. 

Another list has been, until the events in play here, the ten books you wish to read neat, the one on top being the one you read next, the one or ones at the bottom being those you've placed on the list as a result of reviews, relevant essays, or their relationship to a subject or author of interest.

For various classes, you've compiled lists of mainstream novels, mystery novels, novels of speculation, noir novels, and novels which span one or more genera. Small wonder then that you should fgind yourself curious to see the results of a list of the hundred novels that have had the most significant influence on the person you were when, at some point toward the last quarter of 2015, you began compiling the list.

Soon after compiling the list, you found yourself teetering on the edge, then falling into the void of a new project, which was a brief five- to six-hundred-word annotation for each of the hundred novels. Thus the project, which needed only two more things, a breakdown of the hundred titles into subsets, which came easily enough, and then the challenge to the reader, the very notion of which meant you saw this as a book you knew you were committed to taking to conclusion, along with the challenge to whomever shall read this work, "These are my hundred. Which are yours?"

The existential senses of growth, loss, and the natural transmogrification attendint on any project did not beginto emerge until you'd reread several of the books on the list, then began to write about the nature and quality of their influences on you.

Rereading, however pleasurable, is also dangerous; doing so often causes you to see things about the novel and yourself you'd not noticed before. The trap you were springing on yourself began in earnest some years before, when you began teaching courses in literary theory and engaging in furious, long arguments with the academic Ernest Sturm. 

At some length, you came upon and were quite taken with another academic, Caroline Levine, whose magisterial work on narrative form, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network caused you to spend considerable time examining narrative format and your own vision of self, story, and hard-wired response to narrative.

Instead of arguing with scholars with opposing views of a topic, Levine spoke of her reading of a particular narrative . You began to follow this beyond the mere use of an approach but as a part of a broader approach from which you began to see any given narrative as a text in evolution, sometimes to the point where the forces prompting the writing of the text were obscured by time to the point where some details might be lost to modern readers.

In similar fashion, ytou saw how your own evolution as an individual could well cause you to have missed things in earlier readings or, not having missed them, misunderstood them and only now were able to get close to the author's intent.

If you were not confident of gaining fresh and remarkable insight from rereading, you might well ease up on rereading because of the revelation of the callow nature of your youth and earlier readings. This binary approach is resident in all who read, experience, and venture opinion.

The past at once frightens and fascinates you with its reminders of who and what you were and how, even though the past cannot be changed, your vision of it and your relationship to it can be better understood.

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