Monday, July 11, 2011

`What, in the Beginning, We Are Not'

Among my readers is a retired English professor in his eighties who lives in Wisconsin. His health is a challenge and lately he’s lived with skin cancer, neuropathy in his feet and a knee replacement. He can no longer drive a car but this is the man who reads, on alternate nights, a Shakespeare sonnet and something from Keats’ letters. I should note that on top of the armoire across from my bed stand, left to right, three volumes of Shakespeare, Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm, Boswell’s Johnson, and two volumes of Keats’ letters. Dave Lull writes of our friend:

“He's still as interested in ideas and literature as he's ever been, though he said again that he's reading few new books (mostly those of a few favorite crime fiction writers) and is doing a lot of re-reading.”
But for the crime fiction, Dave could be describing me. The blinkered may indulge in pity for the retired professor, for the narrowing of his life, but that would be foolish and condescending. Books don’t heal, but they do sustain. Can the same be said of television or video games? James V. Schall, S.J., writes in The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking (2006):
“We need to surround ourselves with books because we are and ought to be curious about reality, about what is. The universe is not of our own making. Yet it is all right for us to be what we are, because the universe is potentially ours through our knowledge. In knowing, we become the other, become what we are not, as Aquinas taught. But in doing so, in coming to know, we do not change what it is that we know. We change ourselves. Our very intellectual being is intended to become what, in the beginning, we are not.”
Schall is eighty-three years old.


Anonymous said...

I have been reading as a hobby for more than 50 years. The older I get, the fewer new books I read. The gravitational pull of familiar books is strong, the pleasure of rereading immense.


zmkc said...

I think reading is, if not a skill, something you need to do regularly, in order to get the most from it; with all the instant, less mentally demanding distractions we have now, fewer and fewer people find the time to read deeply, unfortunately.