14 February, 2008

of leeches and love: for us there is only the trying

I suppose it is appropriate, on this conjured holiday of hearts, to talk of one of my most prominent loves: literature.

I don’t know very much about myself, but I do know this: literature wins me over like nothing else. Nothing can bring me to such states of joy so rapidly, to states of peace so gently. I keep coming back to books because, ever since I started reading at three, they have been a warm and reliable sanctuary. When people disappoint, books do not. (It is a perilous thing to believe.) I am annoyed when other people talk about loving books because I know they can never love them as I do. How hazardous and pretentious, yes! But it feels so true most of the time.

I was thinking today, while sitting in my Literary Theory class, that I would be unshakably happy—almost dangerously so—if the rest of my life was spent only taking English classes. Sitting at the feet of intriguing, self-important scholars and lapping up the timeless language of great authors—nothing on earth sounds more appealing to me.

And yet there is a meek shade of sadness, for I feel convinced—deep down—that I shall never be either of them. I will never be an intriguing scholar and I will certainly never be a great author (my life is too happy and I’m not bisexual or schizophrenic. At least as far as I can tell). I say these things not to elicit protestations from people—Of course you can write! Surely you could be a scholar if you wanted!—but merely because I feel them strongly and am quite persuaded of their validity.

What it comes down to is that I’m just a poser. Or, even worse and even more accurately, a leech. Feeding off the genius of others to satisfy my hunger for good, true and enduring literature. It’s an icky characterization, but it’s an even ickier discovery of self. No one wants to be a bloodsucker. But maybe it is ameliorating to at least know and acknowledge that you are one. I freely admit that I live off of the beauty of literature. Yet it will never be symbiotic relationship, for I do not have anything to contribute.

So while it may fracture my heart that I can never be like Woolf or Armitage, I at least understand myself. I understand where my path ends. Here: You shall not pass beyond this line, for leeches can not enter the sacred of the Scholar and Author. You can keep bloodsucking on the perimeters, though. Not exactly cheering, but it is good to find one’s boundaries.

That does not mean I resign myself to only reading and reading and never writing. I write too much; I have four ongoing diaries and several unfinished short stories scattered around me. But it just means I know my limits finally. I know that I will not invent a new genre or write the next great American novel. My job is only to fill in the gaps, according to Eliot. Listen to what he says (so perfectly! So clearly):

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

-- T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker” in Four Quartets

So Happy Valentine’s from a self-professed and contented parasite.

Reading: The Diary of Virginia Woolf (1915-1919) and Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis
Hearing: “Jezebel” by Iron & Wine and “In California” by Neko Case
Eating: chocolate, of course

1 comment:

Rob said...

And I am convinced-deep down-that I will never win a Nobel for science. The expectation is preposterous. I don't know why it affects me but it does. What else is there?

I'm not sure I've posted here before, but recently I have been thinking about this a lot.

I hope the smaller things, at least, have been alright.