The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. MARCEL PROUST

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Labyrinth Of Literature

Spiral path at Château de Choisy-le-Roi, France. (Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

Recently I've had more time to read than usual — a case of enforced immobility due to a sprained hamstring. And it's made me realise just how much I love books (though I suppose I always knew that). Reading wakens me up, proves I'm alive, stimulates and provokes me. It stretches my horizons and reveals other lives, other worlds, other points of view and perspective. Equally it also goes inward, deepening the mind, refreshing the spirit and invigorating the soul. It illuminates things within myself I didn't know were there; it reconfirms things I'd put to one side and forgotten. It's a beacon in what can sometimes seem the darkness and boredom of routine life. It tells me that we are not alone in the world, that we are all in this together, struggling through as best we can.

It's also really come home to me how one book leads on to another, how one writer suggests a further one, how one textual clue has you chasing a second clue which provides a third clue and so on, ad infinitum. Literature is a connective web, an endless maze, a labyrinth in which you can both lose and find yourself.

For example, reading a narrative on DH Lawrence a few weeks ago led me to Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu and Thomas Merton. And from Thomas Merton's journals I see that I've scribbled down in my notebook the names Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian; Shantideva, the eighth-century Indian Buddhist scholar; Julian of Norwich, the English Christian mystic; Eugenio Montale, the Italian poet, prose writer, editor and translator; René Char, the twentieth-century French poet; César Vallejo, the Peruvian poet described variously as 'the greatest universal poet since Dante' and 'the greatest poet in any language'; and DT Suzuki, the Japanese author of books on Buddhism, Zen and Shin, who was instrumental in bringing these philosophies to the West — all referenced in Merton's text. And if I investigate all these fascinating religious and poetic byways, where will all these extra new writings take me? Truly, literature is an infinitely exciting world of discovery and exploration.

(If you interested in my accounts of reading Lawrence, Merton, Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu — and more recently Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud — do check out the latest posts on Turnstone.)  

8 comments:

George said...

I concur with everything you say about literature, Robert, especially the role that it plays in reassuring the individual that he or she is not the first to walk down the many treacherous roads of life. In my moments of greatest doubt, greatest despair, literature has provided me with the support I needed to go forward. Oddly, I often think that some of the best friends I've made in life are with the writers (and sometimes characters) I've encountered only in books. And, as you say, what a beacon those books have provided! They have sent us out to uncharted waters when we needed exploration and discovery, and they have always brought us home — the inner home — when we needed the comfort of a safe harbor.

Dominic Rivron said...

It would be interesting to start a "mind map" drawing, with Merton in the centre, all the writers you mention being branches extending out from him, and build it up as these writers spawn other writers, and so on (One could use pencil and paper - or I bet there's free software out there one can use).

Ruth said...

Such pursuits are thrilling to me too. As I mentioned to you, as I read Don Quixote I am gathering cultural references — Strauss among them — and the experience is rich indeed.

Vagabonde said...

You express, in better language than I could, what I feel about reading. Of course I don’t read many poetry books or books on Christianity – I did that many years ago and now am interested in other subjects. But I do get involved in my readings, and one aspect which you did not mention, is that it makes me travel, really. For example I just finished reading a book by Eudora Welty and found out that she lived in Jackson, Mississippi, most of her life. Her house has been left the way it was when she passed away in 2001. Well, my next trip will be to Jackson, so that I can visit her house. I have done that many times – went to Key West, Florida, after reading a book on Hemingway’s cats, then we bought a book written by him in the gift shop there - a Moveable Feast. A Moveable Feast mentioned Gertrude Stein. So next I read the biography of Gertrude Stein. At that time I saw that the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York had gathered all the paintings that Gertrude Stein collected in a special exhibit. So we went to New York just to see it, and so forth - as going to Luang Prabang, Laos, after reading about it. Little books can turn into long journeys.

The Weaver of Grass said...

That's just how I feel about it too Robert. I wish I could work out a sensible cross-referencing systam for all the things I want to remember from various writers.

The Solitary Walker said...

Many thanks for all these thoughtful and interesting comments.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

The last four I studied in detail as I worked to get my degree in Modern languages. I love the way the European authors painters and musicians were so interconnected after the Dark Ages. I will give the other two a try and see where that takes me. Thanks.
Hope you are better soon.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Heidrun. I'm much better now.