There is a quote by Nietzsche upon Philology, that goes something like ‘What is Philology? The act of reading slow.’ Now, I’d never consider myself a student of Philology, but upon retrospect, this seems to be what I’ve done most of my life. I’m sure that my man Friedrich didn’t mean that I actively read at a slower pace; but merely when I read, I pay very close attention to what I’m reading to try to get every morsel of knowledge and learning from it. This requires a good deal of effort and patience. My relationship with literature has been a two and a half decades long love affair, one which does not seem to diminish as I get older. For those that know me, I find happiness and solace in literature. Some of my closest friends and ageless teachers are authors whom I have never met, people and happenings that never happened and re-tellings of those that did. I find comfort with the learning that I garnered from literature. I do the same thing with music and films. To this end, I tend to process all three slow.
My reading habits have always been a bit, how shall we say, hyperactive. At any one time, I’ve usually got five books on the go and I’ve been doing this for years. I can’t really explain why, perhaps it has something to do with my short attention span or maybe it depends on what mood I’m in. As for what I’m reading, that also seems to be all over the map. Non-fiction, fiction, Comic books, numerous Wikipedia articles which I’ve bookmarked from an earlier time, I really don’t prejudice and I fail to see any distinction between them. To me, it’s all reading of some kind. Learning for me, is next to godliness. These days, I am hugely addicted to reading the Introducing Series by Icon Books publishing. There is something quite special and appealing to me about all of them. The authors are the cream of the crop, usually university professors who are highly knowledgable about their subject matter. Add to this some wonderful illustrations and you basically have ticked two of the boxes for me – Non-fiction and Comic books. Give them a look if you have the time, there is pretty much something for everybody and many an instance can be had by finding an unlearned piece of information about something you thought you were familiar with. Or just do as I’m doing now and take a stab in the dark with a subject or person that you have no prior knowledge of. I cannot recommend them enough. They are very good and their books on Jung, Sociology, Kafka and Chaos really stand out for me. There is much knowledge to be had at a somewhat basic level. I cannot think of a better series of books for being a launchpad to greater learning about certain subjects.
Yet, upon doing all my slow reading of the Introducing Series, certain thoughts have recently come to me; certain thoughts about my learning and personal growth. Thoughts about development and amount of knowledge in this information age.
Another quote passed by my way recently. It was from a Hockey player (don’t judge) and he was quoting Gandhi (seriously). It goes a little something like this-
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
An interesting thing to say. An even more interesting thing to apply to ones life. So, with this quote and the recent onslaught of my binge slow reading of books; something triggered within my infantile mind. I started to think about my life and how I’ve lived it so far. It would seem that I have been doing much of the latter and very little of the former. For some reason and only now, perhaps I’m starting to have a problem with it.
When I was younger, I was terrified of time. Before I even knew what the word meant, I certainly had some existentialist leanings. There was a period of two years in pre-teen life where I could barely sleep. At night, when other boys my age would easily slip into unconscious bliss, I would lay in bed, carefully studying the walls and my surroundings; frightened. The most terrifying thing to me was Time and that there is only so much of it for me on this earth before it was all gone. The thought that I would be spending six to ten hours of this limited time, unconscious to the world- seemed such a horrifying thought. I would obsess over the minutes and hours that passed, trying my best to stay awake for as long as I could. Many nights, I just didn’t sleep and would be exhausted the next day. But in my mind, I thought I had won; I’d beaten time by not allowing sleep to take my consciousness away from me, not for one second. It wasn’t a fear of death that made me do this, but a fear of not being able to control what went on with my mind. Today, I still have sleep problems, but that’s another story. Eventually, I got over this thinking. A psychologist helped. That and an overabundant sense of resignation that I still carry to this day.
I’m getting older. And I look back and everything that I’ve learned and every piece of information that’s come my way. Recently, I’ve come to think- For what? It almost seems to me that I’ve spent so much time and effort on the learning of things. Since the age of fourteen, half of my life, I’ve dedicated to learn like I’m going to live forever. I slow read many of the books people said were important. I’ve slow listened to much of the interesting music. I’ve slow watched, repeatedly, the films that you need to watch to say you know about film. Almost obsessively, I sought all of this out and consumed it and brought it into me, tried to make it part of myself. Why I did this I’m starting to wonder. At the time I thought it was for a love of learning, a love for art and it abundant aspects. To me now, it looks like I did this as though at some point I’d be able to create the Alchemist’s Philosopher’s Stone. To be able to take all these books’ information, this music and film and craft through sheer will the ability to spin my life into pure gold. Perhaps at some point I will be able to. I’ll touch on this in a bit. Looking back however, I think that most of this was the fear and anxiety that I had earlier in my life, somehow transforming into something totally different. It gave me an appetite to learn. At some point, I thought that I’d eventually know the most about the things that intelligent people found important. So, by getting the information, somehow someday, I’d be important.
I see this kind of thinking in many young people. It’s the information age, it’s all there and we can all get it anytime we would like. Our world is creating a generation of film critics, music critics and literary critics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The more people that we have with critical thinking skills, the better. But I just wonder if, like me, they really like what they read, watch or listen to; or if they are also trying to find the Philosopher’s Stone.
Yet, I don’t think this is working for me anymore. It might be time to change something. Come to think about it, this change has already been happening and upon reflection, I’m starting to notice. I worked at a video store for a good chunk of my life, I cannot even think of the amount of movies that I’ve seen. Now, movies are a love of mine and someday I’d like to make my own. It’s what I want to do with my life. But when people ask me if I’ve seen any great movies recently, I really can’t think of any. Deflecting the question, I usually mention some documentary or documentary TV program I watched on Youtube. Those I’m still watching because it’s those kind of things that I’d like to make. As for your current blockbuster or the newest art house essential, I’ve stopped going to those, let alone caring about them. At some point in the last three years, and I’m not sure how this happened, I just kind of decided that I’d gotten enough from narrative filmmaking. A Youtube video I saw not too long ago by Peter Greenaway (who is a great filmmaker and I will always watch his new films) seemed to confirm to me my falling out of love with watching movies. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, my mind seemed to have said ‘I think I’ve seen enough of those. Now what?’
The same thing seemed to happen to me with music. These days, I put on CBC Radio Classical music stations instead of any other new music stations. Again, my brain goes ‘Okay. Got it. Now what?’
While I am no longer laying motionless in bed, fully awake- I think some of that old anxiety has come back. The fear of time has returned but in yet another transformed state. This time, perhaps in a good way, at least- that’s what I’m trying to convince myself by writing this. Only now, while I’ve had the time to ruminate on it, do I think I know what’s going on. Allow me to throw in another Alchemy metaphor.
Solve et Coagula. It was the motto of the Alchemists. What it basically means, is to analyze a certain substance into it’s basic and elemental components, before bringing them back together into something totally new. To me, it almost seems like I’ve been doing a great deal of Solve. For half my life, I’ve devoted to reading and learning, to expanding my knowledge in the things that I thought were important. I’ve been endless breaking things down, trying to understand what makes something knowable, vital and maybe even sacrosanct. I have, for want of a better statement- been learning like I will live forever. My mind seems to want to do something else apparently. The time-fear is knocking again and it’s letting me know that it might be time to start with the Coagula. It might be time to start bringing in the elements and the essences that I have distilled and bring them in to create something new.
What to do. Where do I take this. Looking at my room and specifically at all my books, my notebooks and what I have to my life right now, I think I’ll start with them. The music and the movies will always be here, I carry them with me already. But my books, the things that I have within reach; They tell me that I don’t really need to go somewhere else to read slowly. Somehow knowingly, I’ve realized that one might have to turn further inwards and get knowledge from what one already has. Make these not unlike the Introduction series; the launchpad to further understanding.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to be burying my head in sand as far as learning and understanding. Life has a way of throwing new knowledge and experience at you whether you like it or not. And I will welcome it as it comes. Yet, with this and what I have already, it’s high time to get all of this into some form; allow everything that’s gone before to coagulate and spit itself out into the world. One thing that I certainly have not been doing enough of, is creating things. Foolishly, I used to think that knowing something meant as much as doing something. This doesn’t seem to be true to me any longer. Slowly, my mind apparently appears to have been making this transition a while ago and I’ve only just started to realize it. This conscious brain has slipped back into the tire-tread that perhaps, I’m not doing enough of ‘living as if I will die tomorrow.’
All this knowledge has to go somewhere. All these books, all this information. But it has to go outside of myself and into the waking world.