Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"There Is Simply Too Much to Think About"

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. 
–William Wordsworth, 1802
The world is too much with us, and there has never been so much world.              –Saul Bellow, 1959
To say that the world is too much with us is meaningless for there is no longer any us. The world is everything. … What is happening everywhere is, one way or another, known to everyone. Shadowy world tides wash human nerve endings in the remotest corners of the earth.  –Saul Bellow, 1975
And think of us now, forty years later, awash in the internet, 24/7 news cycles, and countless means of communication!

Forgive me, Martin Amis, for stripping these quotes out of your recent profound and complex review of the late novelist Saul Bellow’s collection of non-fiction, There Is Simply Too Much to Think About, edited by Benjamin Taylor. But I wanted to share with my readers that what you identify as a literary problem is also a spiritual one with which most of us are familiar.  I daresay you might agree.

You identify “distraction,” “noise,” and “crisis chatter” as themes of this “pruned and expanded” version of Bellow’s 1994 collection, It All Adds Up. My readers bear witness to those themes in everything from the media to politics, as well as some expressions of worship and religion. But, as you write, quoting Bellow: 
“It is apparently in the nature of the creature to resist the world’s triumph,” the triumph of “turbulence and agitation”—and Bellow’s corpus is graphic proof of that defiance. 
Just, as you say, channeling Bellow, the writer must not lose “eternal naïveté,” always seeing as if for the first time, the reader should welcome George Santayana’s understanding of “piety” as “reverence for the sources of one’s being.”

What you describe as Bellow’s implication that “the essential didactic task is to instill the readerly habits of enthusiasm, gratitude and awe” without falling prey to over-interpretation of literary texts should be heard by all who interpret sacred texts.

What has checked and chastened my own earnestness when it comes to things religious and academic are family members, friends, lovers, congregants, and colleagues whose common sense often makes me laugh at my own seriousness, even if I simply think what they might say!  As you finally quote artist and critic Clive James: 
Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. Those who lack humor are without judgment and should be trusted with nothing. 

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

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