Saturday, November 21, 2009

`The Vital Part of Any Doing'

“Every Sunday afternoon of my childhood, once the tediousness of Sunday school and the appalling boredom of church were over with, corrosions of the spirit easily salved by the roast beef, macaroni pie, and peach cobbler that followed them, my father loaded us all into the Essex, later the Packard, and headed out to look for Indian arrows. That was the phrase, `to look for Indian arrows.’ Children detect nothing different in their own families: I can’t remember noticing anything extraordinary in our family being the only one I knew of that devoted every Sunday afternoon to amateur archaeology.”

The long-extinct automobiles set the temporal scene – 20th-century United States, probably prewar. The voice is Southern – conversational, elegant without affectation, with the limber discursiveness of a natural storyteller. As the opening sentences of an essay, they charm without slavishness. The temperament is not uncritical (“appalling boredom”) but possesses a capacity for fondness and gratitude. Writing Friday’s post on collecting sent me back to “Finding,” the finest essay by a master of the form, South Carolina-born Guy Davenport, collected in The Geography of the Imagination (1981).

Of course collecting can be driven by lust, gluttony and avarice, among other sins, but it also represents a wish to discern patterns, to order things and cherish them. A reader asks in a comment on Friday’s post, “Could we argue that this is what writing is? Collecting? I would.” I suspect Davenport would as well. He called himself a maker of collages, and every writer collects memories, words, experiences and the convergences of all three. The art is in the arrangement. In “Finding,” Davenport says “…I am grateful for the unintentional education of having been taught how to find things (all that I have ever done, I think, with texts and pictures)…”

There’s no arguing that a blog is a mutated form of collecting, rooted in the charming custom of keeping a commonplace book and the near-universal human urge to find, collect and share. My favorite sentences in my favorite Davenport essay go like this:

“And I learned from a whole childhood of looking in fields how the purpose of things ought perhaps to remain invisible, no more than half known. People who know exactly what they are doing seem to me to miss the vital part of any doing.”

1 comment:

Lee said...

I do like that Davenport quote, which expresses something of the reason I write. I must read the entire essay.