4.15.2009

Pick me! Ooh! Pick me!

All those who fear G-d will receive the prophet's warning, but all those who disbelief, shall be cast into terrible fire where they will neither live nor die. This doctrine, which G-d commands thee to preach, is that taught in the ancient books, the books of Abraham, and of Moses, who were faithful Muslims. --From the Koran, in translation

Last night I was reading Walt Whitman again because a student had come into my office with her head about to explode: "I can't sleep since I've read Whitman," she said. A bit ironically, I suggested she read Whitman's shorter poem, "The Sleepers." Then I read something else in my complete-Whitman, from his prose works, from a short piece titled "Thoughts Under an Oak--A Dream." Here's what I read that prompted me to post this:
Seated here in solitude I have been musing over my life--connecting events, dates, as links of a chain, neither sadly nor cheerily, but somehow, to-day here under the oak, in the rain, in an unusually matter-of-fact spirit.

And of course, participating in the words, I tried to do the same: I asked myself, how do I find myself here? Why am I reading this? A student responded to an assignment. I answered the student, but her question stuck in my head. I returned to Whitman, but found what I wasn't looking for... then responded with a question.

What chain of events leads us to read what we read? -- that is my question today. For the moment, forget experiences, places, "real-world" decisions. Just books. How do we decide what to read next? (Do we decide?)

Has anyone noticed that in its three incarnations, "my blog" (A Voyage Thither, Q-Majin, Both Wearing Black Masks) has shown noticeably little interest in the Koran, despite a pronounced interest in the holy texts of every other major world religion?

But I say in response (not defensively): I feel that I do not choose what to read next. What to read next chooses me... and the Koran is still waiting. And now, as I begin to wonder why it has waited so long (Does the Koran respect me? Fear me? Think me immature?), I see that I will need to approach it with reciprocal care. I have danced this dance hundreds of times. For example, I have approached Joyce's Ulysses unbidden more than once, only to be turned away before reaching page 50. Among the luckiest pieces of history in my reading experience was the fact that Moby-Dick never approached me until I was in my mid-twenties. If I had read it sooner, either it would have turned me out, or (possibly!) the results could have been disastrous.

There is an inevitability to all of this. Who has written the decision? Who has delivered the sentence? Who has constructed this reading list?

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