Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (with a tangent on star ratings)

The last entry that I'll share from my 2004 travel/reading journal is about the book I liked best from that period: Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines. I added a star to the entry, which was my code for "outstanding." That was before I kept a Shelfari account and got into the habit of using a 5-star rating system. In case you were wondering, I don't use stars on this blog because I find them too crude for evaluating creative work. Star ratings can be used to gage popularity and polarity, so I think they have their place in conversations about books and reading. My goal is to share more specific information about books, so I avoid the shorthand of star ratings.

Anyway, these are the patchy notes I recorded in May 2004:

Look up Rilke - Third Sonnet to Orpheus. [I don't remember if I did this then, but I did just now: it's online here.]

Pascal - gave opinion that all of our miseries stemmed from a single cause: our inability to remain quietly in a room. One reason he found for the restlessness of human nature is the natural unhappiness of our weak mortal conditions: so unhappy that when we gave to it all our attention, nothing could console us. The one thing that could alleviate our despair was distraction, yet this was the worst of our misfortunes, for in distraction we were prevented from thinking about ourselves and were gradually brought to ruin.

Chatwin wonders if our need for distraction, our mania for the new, is an instinctive migratory urge akin to that of birds in autumn.

"All the great Teachers have preached that Man, originally, was a 'wanderer in the scorching and barren wilderness of this world' - the words are those of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor - and that to rediscover his humanity, he must slough off attachments and take to the road."

- sedentary peoples more aggressive than migratory ones

My notes leave out the framework of The Songlines. I remember it being mostly a travelogue of the Australian outback and the musings of a British author about Aboriginal culture. It gave me things to think about and I love books that do that. While I worked on my wwoof hosts' farm, I pondered what I had read. Nowadays, I wear headphones and listen to audiobooks while I garden. The drawback to this is that I'm missing out on thinking/daydreaming time. Is my craving for stories simply a need for distraction? Will my epitaph be "Ruined by Books"?

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