Contemplate that word.
Contemptible word, that word.
Plan. Plan. Bang.
It could have been Christmas, a family event anyway. His father slid the gift to him. They liked sliding, the somewhat slippery floor was one of the main fun factors of their family house. Wrapped in the colors of the American flag the package stopped dead between his lionesque slippers gifted on another such occasion to be worn on occasions like this, one of the first times they were out (and so he felt as well). Looking down at the package – he had raised in anticipation – he felt like he had a choice. It was weird. The screaming colors flashed silently. The environment of all smiles faded away. He felt: this was between him and the package. The package stared him defiantly in the eyes. ‘O-Pin Me.’, it shouted without raising its voice and with a mispronunciation so slight it had to be intentional. It was terrifying. He felt pinned to the ground.
At only sixteen years of age, he knew this was it. Choice. The. Sounded like the name of a band. Continue reading
“I was glad when you hit me,” Mack went on. “I thought to myself – ‘Maybe this will teach me. Maybe I’ll remember this.’ But, hell, I won’t remember nothin’. I won’t learn nothin’. Doc,” (..)
J. Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books 2009, Cannery Row, p. 496.
But he did learn. He was made to learn. Somehow learning is a sad thing because learning is leaving something behind and speeding away from it and that is why it is so common not to want to learn. Learning is picking up speed without knowing where you are getting to faster. There is a deep universal melancholy for a state of innocence which is a state of non-learning: the status quo.
“It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary.”
John Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 410.
Why quote a crooked sentence out of a book full of exquisitely rounded ones? Because it is the idea that counts. The formulation of the idea helps but is not the essential part of why something resonates. Formulation fetishism is probably the predominant attitude in assessing the value of writing but in the end it is a lot like preferring The Harlem Globetrotters to the Dream Team.
What is the ‘it’ in the quote? What can a friend make unnecessary? Surely not a man’s right to kill himself. It must be the desire to exercise the right. That’s what it is to be a friend: to acknowledge your friend’s autonomy without leaving him or her alone in expressing it. Everything comes back to the Principle of Charity, including applying charity to a sentence with a, let’s assume, unintended twist. It is with language as it is with the main characters of Cannery Row:
“J’en faisoy un secret; et moy, qui ose tant dire de moy, ne parloy de mon argent qu’en mensonge, comme font les autres, qui s’appauvrissent riches, s’enrichissent pauvres, et dispensent leur conscience de jamais tesmoigner sincerement de ce qu’ils ont. Ridicule et honteuse prudence.” M. De Montaigne, Essais, Livre 1, Flammarion 1969, Chapitre XIV, p. 105.
(amateuristic English translation: “I made it a secret; and I, who dare say so much about myself, did not speak about my monery except in lies, as do the others, who make seem they are poor when they are rich, or make seem they are rich when they are poor, and discharge their conscience of ever saying truthfully what they own. Ridiculous and shameful prudence.”)
I am rich. Worse than merely being rich, I became rich by complying to the social pressure towards a profession which was almost sure to make me rich; and abandoning what hope I had from achieving something meaningful in the line of things that were of real interest to me.
Shame on me?