For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 29 February 2008

This Reading Life (2)

The sage-like figure of Goethe looms over German literature like Shakespeare does over ours. This from his Italian Journey...

...knowing that life, taken as a whole, is like the Roman Carnival: unpredictable, unsatisfactory and problematic. I hope that this carefree crowd of maskers will make them [my readers] remember how valuable is every moment of joy, however fleeting and trivial it may seem to be.

Similarly, Tolstoy is the writer who towers over Russian literature. I've read Anna Karenina, but I'm ashamed to say I have yet to read War And Peace. I see I haven't noted down the origin of this Tolstoyan quotation...

Admit that human life can be guided by reason and all possibility of life is annihilated.

And while we're on Russian literature, Anton Chekhov, who penned some of the most sublime plays and short stories ever written, observed...

Every person lives his real, most interesting life under cover of secrecy.

The opening sentences of the Prologue to Bertrand Russell's Autobiography reverberate in the mind long after the book has been put down...

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I must have been subconsciously following Mark Twain's advice when I walked the Camino towards the end of last year...

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

And finally two quotes about the power of language, and its potential force for good. The first from John Berger...

One can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannnot be hostile to man.

Developing this theme, the distinguished academic and Bob Dylan critic Christopher Ricks writes in his fascinating, deep and detailed book Dylan's Visions Of Sin...

Words trust, and they can keep faith. They are built upon faith, the faith that people will tell the truth - or at any rate that people may betray themselves when they are failing to do so... A language is a body of agreement, and acts of trust. A word is not a matter of fact, or matter of opinion, it is a social contract. Like all contracts, its life is a pledge and a faith. (And, like all contracts, it can be dishonest, suspect.) Songs and poems likewise keep faith alive. They "strengthen the things that remain" - words of the Book of Revelation...

As Dylan aficionados will know, Dylan quotes these Biblical words in his song When You Gonna Wake Up from the album Slow Train Coming. Unlike many, I never did turn against Dylan during his evangelical, religious phase - and some very good songs did come out of this period, for instance Precious Angel...

I've really enjoyed leafing through my old notebooks of quotations. I hope some of the sentiments struck a chord with some of you. Perhaps I'll do the same again some time...

2 comments:

am said...

I like the idea of revisiting quotes you have saved from what you have read. Hope you do that again sometime. When I inherited my mother's books, the ones I have kept are those in which she had left bookmarks and notations.

When Bob Dylan became a Christian, I was bewildered but kept listening to him anyway.

I went to see him in concert during the "Slow Training Coming" time at a old theater in Seattle. The tickets that the group of us bought turned out to be for seats which were about as far from the stage as imaginable. I decided that I wanted to get as close to Bob Dylan as possible and so during one song I walked down to the left side of the front row seats. There was a place with a few steps up to the stage, and I sat down there to listen. I couldn't believe that I was about 25 feet from him. He still seemed to me to be a million miles away.

At that moment, someone from one of the front row seats threw a red rose onto the stage. The look of dismay on his face was painful to witness as he moved backwards in startled reaction. It was not that long after John Lennon had been murdered.

My guess was that he was feeling equally vulnerable. He moved from the center of the stage to the right side for an extended time, while his band continued to play.

The second time I saw him from fairly close was in Vancouver, B.C. I am guessing that that it was sometime between 1995 and 2000. I walked up as close as I could get to the stage as he was singing "Girl Of The North Country" as an encore. My impression was that of his extraordinary generosity in sharing himself in the way that he does. That was the last time I attended a Bob Dylan concert.

In closing, I especially like the tribute album from 2003, 'Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan," with him joking and then singing with Mavis Staples.

Thank you so much for the thought about "strengthen the things that remain."

The Solitary Walker said...

The red rose reminds me of the fab video from his Australian tour some while back - with Tom Petty, and the great Beaumont Tench on keyboards (my instrument too, but I'm not so great!)

Was very close - two rows from the rail - at Brixton Acadaemy, London, a few years back, when he gave a very rare live rendition of 'Mississippi' - but all I remember is the sweat rolling down his face..!

Love that Gospel Songs tribute album too.