Sunday, May 01, 2011

`The Occasional Shock of Recognition'

Many of the best thoughts inspired by something posted at Anecdotal Evidence never show up as comments. I too am not much of a commenter (or commentator), and prefer the less formal, more elastic medium of personal e-mails, so I’m grateful some readers share my preference. Here’s a recent sample of readers’ reactions, starting with one written Easter Sunday by a reader in New York City:

“On Thursday my husband & I went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where the Magnolia Terrace was a sight to behold, despite the cold wind. Such a melting pot as you can hardly imagine, the high point being young Hasidic families, the women modestly & almost uniformly dressed in dark jackets & skirts, but the men -- outlandish huge round beaver hats & the strangest sateen dressing-gown-like coats. One would never see such observant people in (godless) Manhattan, so I have no idea if this is Passover finery worn only once a year, or perhaps their regular Sabbath garb.”

This is from a reader living an hour north of Toronto:

“I can’t even remember when or how I first found Anecdotal Evidence. I am pretty sure the search terms were: Lady Gaga, titties, steak sauce, emetic. But one or two of those key words might be off….I studied French and German at university, but (due to equal parts stupidity and cowardice) I ended up in the insurance and investment business after I graduated, working first as an advisor (read: salesperson), then as a technical writer and editor.

“About six months ago, like the man in Larkin’s Poetry of Departures, I chucked up everything and cleared off. I now hope to earn a modest living translating books that nobody will read.”

A reader in England writes about Thursday’s post:

“Awesome post! No, 'awesome' is a word I've never knowingly used and don't intend to any time soon. Isn't awesome to awe what dreadful is to dread and frightful to fright, wonderful to wonder, terrific to terror, and so on? The adjectives bleach but the nouns are colour-fast. I'd say awe itself was in fairly rude health, although a relatively recent military appropriation is shocking and awful.

“In the slightly truncated quotation you give from the The Orchards of Syon ('Memory finds substance in itself.'), Hill confines himself to stating what awe is not, though it's a telling enough negation. Fright and dread aren't peace either. The whole of section XIV is suffused with awe but it only comes into proper focus when it settles on what for many of us is its earliest source:

“`Later again, far higher on the fell,
a solitary lamp, notturna lampa,
night's focus focusing, LEOPARDI saw,
himself a stranger, once, returning late,
from some forsaken village festival.’

“'Awesome' might wax in usage and wane in meaning, but as long as there's a moon there will be awe, as well as the occasional shock of recognition.”

A reader of indeterminate residence, presently reading Paul Fussell’s Samuel Johnson and the Writing Life (1965), responded to Saturday’s post:

“Having over the years read all of the Rambler essays, marked up my copy profusely, I agree with Fussell, who admits to the reader: `Taken as a whole the papers of the Rambler are much too rich and complicated to be easily described.” Fussell, however, it seems to me, does a pretty good job in his examination of the essays.”

Of course, it’s always gratifying to receive thoughtful observations sparked by something one has written. But more importantly, it’s reassuring to know at least a few people are still reading, still writing, still navigating the intersection of books and life. They serve what William Cowper in a letter calls “a feast for an epicure in books.”

No comments: