Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book revealing

Newly arrived in Swiss apartment, shelves assembled (two in the living area, three in the study, two in one of the bedrooms) and now where to put which books becomes the question.

Konrad Adenaeur, Germany's post-war Chancellor, first act on entering a new house was to inspect its owner's bookshelves. I do the same at the first opportunity, probably more surreptitiously than he. I expect many people do. 

So what would I like people to see? And is it what I would like people to see or a genuine reflection of who I am?

As I happily went about resolving these dilemmas (and there is something satisfactorily physical about sorting, carrying and re-arranging books), I began to notice another pattern that I have noticed before but has never quite struck me with such force (not least for having sufficient space to lay out all the books I have bought with me).

I am both an intuitive reader and one that falls in love. 

The first is illustrated by how many 'subjects' might be covered by only one book. Since the books I have read that turned out to be false trails tend to have been disposed of, this does not illustrate a simple superficial skimming (though I have every temptation to accuse myself of this) but that in reading that particular book I have seen something I have needed, valued and reading more would add knowledge but no more 'insight'. I thought of this when handling Bebek's 'The Third City' - a remarkable and virtually unknown exploration of Plato in the light of the sophia perennis. It might have lead one down a path of Platonic scrutiny and discovery but rather it confirmed, gave frame, to what I had seen of Plato (reading him at university) that I use to this day but feel no urge to add to! 

The second is the small number of clusters around, usually, an author or a theme. With all of which I have vivid memory of my first 'encounter' and if not quite 'love at first sight' a bibliophile version of the same. Thus, there was Martin Buber, most of the key texts, and a number of secondary studies of that key 'framer' of my understanding (such as it is) or the 'prayer of the heart', book after book, on that key practice at the heart of Orthodox spiritual life and my core practice that I fell in love with when reading 'The Way of the Pilgrim' and in Metropolitan Anthony found a living teacher.

Then I was struck at just how personal this collection is - it has no 'external' ought associated with it - that I 'ought' to know this or that. Thus, for example, it is perfectly clear to me that in order to understand 'English literature', one ought to have read Milton (say) and that several of the people I do read have exercised great intelligence (and fortitude) entering Milton's imagination and responding to it both as poets and critics. This is wholly admirable but I cannot do it (and I have tried). In truth, though I could no doubt hold forth for a while on a potted history of English literature, I do not fundamentally care! I have no desire to be (in that sense) an educated person.

That last sentence might be a simple one to write but has probably taken all of my decades to screw up the courage to admit! I read out of love and essentially to help me navigate towards holiness (incorporating the felt wholeness of being a person) and that helps me act intelligently towards the care of the world. That is all that really interests me.

Is this, I wonder, the shift that Jung describes between the first and second half of life. After establishing oneself in the world, you turn inwards, towards a deeper crafting of meaning, and that, in this case, the library I have now got is a reflection of this turn - the 'ought' books having passed away (populating Oxfam shops in abundance)!



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