The world is too much with us; late and soon,Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—Little we see in Nature that is ours;We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;The winds that will be howling at all hours,And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;For this, for everything, we are out of tune;It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather beA Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
We need to be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors thoughts of so much omitted and so little done –of so many things forgotten and so many more which might have been repaired! There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.
~ Charles Dickens, in Oliver Twist
Why do we put up with developing ‘acquired tastes’? What acquired tastes have you come to enjoy? Coffee, wine, diet soda- lutefisk? The first time that you tried it and found it wanting, what gave you the desire to give it another try? Acquiring a taste for something reminds me of a recurring difficulty I had as I began my flailing efforts at a liberal arts education. I was asked to read all sorts of things. So many times I was told to expect grandeur only to find a bore, or worse, a wall of esoteric inaccessibility. Take an example I’m not terribly proud of- I hated reading through my first two Charles Dickens novels. I can’t remember which novels they were, but something clicked with David Copperfield. I finally saw the light.
For other books, the ‘click’ took longer to arrive. My perennial question became how do you tell a dud before you spend time with it? There are so many books worth reading, surely, so how do you know when you’ve been given jug wine instead of a classic vintage? Starting out, it is sometimes hard to tell. Charlotte is still my only Bronte, and I can only read T.S. Eliot with Google close by. I have, however, stumbled onto a principle that has assisted me in trusting the annals of time with something I don’t immediately appreciate that I probably should.
Imagine writing that seemingly obtuse opening chapter, composing that quirky score, or creating that set for the initial scene. I remember recognizing the usefulness of this principle by remembering my baptism into the art of saxophone. I was immersed in the world of middle school symphonic band, back when it was ok that your saxophone sounded like a lawnmower. I wanted to play everything that came across my path. After a gloriously short stint in a jazz band (we did manage to play in a coffee shop), I came to appreciate the complexities that accomplished players would display in all sorts of performances. The hours of grueling practice across a variety of genres made it easy to imagine myself in this band, producing that tone. My experience made awe a possibility.
Imagine writing the piece that you are trying to appreciate. What would you do differently? Would you be able create the same intrigue that the author has? Listen to Bethoven’s 5th, imagining that you are the composer- beginning with that smallest initial motif that continues throughout the piece. Many times- not every time- you’ll get a glimpse of excellence that bids you plod along.
Unless you’ve tried to harmonize a choral in the style of Bach, you haven’t a clue how perfect this music is- how subtle are the inner voices, how wonderful the harmonic choices, how superb the baseline! It’s great art! ~ Robert Greenberg
I finished Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov a few weeks ago. For me, the book came in the wake of Crime and Punishment, so I feel like I’ve had a solid dose of Russian prose. There is so much to say about the quality of Dostoyevsky’s writing, but the effects were so profoundly unsettling (yet joyous and tearful) that it will take weeks to unravel all the paths Dostoyevsky led me as an amateur traveler of literature.
Fresh in my memory are the Dickens-ish eccentric characters (though these are described with psychological depth); the sacred, humble, and happy faith of Father Zossima; and the tremulous rage that accompanies justice unrequited. Dostoyevsky masterfully taxes his readers with the portentous tensions of guilt and forgiveness, shame and confidence, suffering and peace, doubt and faith, and lust and purity. Nowhere have I have read such themes so wonderfully woven into narrative in a way that left me starving for resolution. I couldn’t help leaving each chapter with the feeling that Dostoyevsky was saying much more in every conversation, with each action. Dostoyevsky thought very deeply about these problems and it shows in his writing.
Reading The Brothers Karamazov re-awoke in me the craving for well written narrative. I want narrative that moves me, informs me, and forever changes the way I see the world. If one of you reads one of these novels next year, please let me know what you think! Again, after I have time to sort through my experience with these books, I hope to spend some time reflecting, in a bloggish sort of way, on the valuable role of literature in the life of a Christian.