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Being a dreamer

I think I’ve been throwing around that descriptive a little too uncomprehendingly, and I have never doubted its positivity.

To me, being a dreamer meant  that you spend more time in your head and are prone to fantasizing of other worlds and alternative lives or environments, some more realistic, others completely not.

This is the kind of dreamer I am. However, I’ve recently realised that there is after all a downside – I don’t like it when my dreams start to turn into reality. I want to take the opposite course. I want to reject it and run away. And it is not fear, it’s the misery of getting what you want.

Truly, there is nothing worse than getting what you want to a dreamer like myself.  I live on hopes and dreams, what will I live on if yet another is destroyed by turning itself into a reality? Reality can never live up and I will have lost.

Sometimes, it’s not so bad, of course. Sometimes you get used to it and there are days when you are pleased and praise yourself for having made a very good choice. But other times you just want to get rid of what you obtained to return to the blissful state that you were in when only dreaming of it.

A few months ago, I made myself an Instagram account upon a whim. Sometimes I scroll through other people’s pictures. Who has not heard that social media depresses people because they feel their own lives are inferior? Well, it doesn’t seem to work on me. Instead, I use it to cheer myself up. It inspires me to dream on dull, dreamless days. I notice someone has a fabulous flower garden, and I dream of my own, and make a mental note of the design. I notice someone more beautiful than me, and am full of admiration. I notice someone has an awesome bookshelf and dream of the time when I will have a similar one.

Dreams are the most important things to me in life. I am truly unhappy only when I don’t have anything to dream about, anything to be inspired by, to look forward to, to hope for.

So getting everything I want must promise great unhappiness indeed.

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Today looks like the last day of summer. The wind is so strong but also so warm. I spent the morning reading The Secret Garden, and must praise it as one of the few 19th to early 20th century children’s books that doesn’t suffer from excessive sentimentality. It is what it describes. Magic. The style does exactly what the words say the garden and children are doing. Growing, transforming. It’s an ode to the transformative potential of the individual and to nature.

I hope the fair weather holds until I get my work done and can go out to enjoy it.

Not knowing how to read: Shelley’s Matilda

I was reading Mary Shelley’s Matilda today – a novella about a 16- to 20-year old girl, whose mother died at childbirth and whose father ends up developing an incestuous love for her, which leads him to suicide and her to becoming a lonely exile wishing nothing but death. This death quite quickly comes in the classically Romantic way of her getting consumption.

I’m writing of this because I didn’t like the novella particularly much. I usually love melodrama and Gothic elements, but this suffered from an overdose of gloomy vocabulary and didn’t seem well-contained.

The narrator is a 20-year-old girl. Her style is amateurish. Some of her thoughts, her high emotionality and glorification of death would bring to mind any average teenager of a gloomier disposition. Her thinking in extremes certainly reminded me of myself, and her style of my own style (if let loose).

But here’s the problem, and it’s a weird problem to have. I wanted to read a better-written story, while this was all over the place and didn’t seem believable. It was as if Shelley had tried to put a Greek tragedy into a contemporary setting and format, and it turned out…… a little silly? Excessive. Implausible. Maybe it’d have worked as a play. Even the long monologues had something of the style of play to them.

And yet it is not implausible, because this is how a 20-year old can think, particularly when on her deathbed, having little life experience and being an emotional person. So. My problem was that I expected a less emotionally overflowing and more refined writer. When reading a work of fiction, I expect the storyteller to have style. I’m sure that if this had been the diary of a real person, I’d have approached it differently and been touched by it. Because I wouldn’t expect good writing then. Right now, I felt it to be clumsy and couldn’t empathise with the characters. This again is strange because when I’ve read some other 19th century first person narratives, I’ve caught myself thinking the opposite – would a boy as young as this really be able to tell the story so eloquently? Would someone so little educated be such a good writer? I can’t currently bring specific examples, but I’ve felt those thoughts often. It’s not believable that all the narrators featured in these first person narratives of the 19th century had style. Some must have been as bad as Matilda, but well, she was sweet. Her style was sweet. And I wish she had had a less deep nature, so she could have moved on, but deep natures never can, can they?

The plot has potential though. I think I have some weird tendency to like a thing more for its potential sometimes than for what it is. Unrefined gems. Old wooden houses and creaky floorboards and people who sometimes wear ill-fitting clothes. I like the scope for imagination. What it could be. As it is, I didn’t care about this story, but it might make for a good tragic poem or play if one wants to preserve the melodrama.

But here of course the fault is in me and my expectations for literature. If the character never existed, if it’s fiction, I expect style and wisdom such as an average person of this particular type wouldn’t possess. And when I’m given it, a part of me rolls her eyes and feels inferior because when I was THAT age, I would never have been so intelligent and rational, or so good. These narrators of the 19th century seem such ideal people sometimes.

One thing I did like though. There were some flashes of great understanding of how life and people work. This. And I also enjoyed reading about the poet guy’s suggestion of how to move on and what to devote one’s life to if personal happiness is not an option. I’ve been trying to give the same advice to a friend, but no one ever listens to good advice, do they? I liked meeting, albeit in fiction, someone else who shares my views. I hadn’t seen it around before, not in this form that so closely copies my own philosophy.

Overall, it was an okay read. 3 out of 5.

Practising what I preach

One should read books one can love, I mean.

And well, I chanced on something I loved from the second page onwards. My recent Jean-Christophe infatuation took 200 pages to develop.

I will keep the identity of this author secret at this point, lest I change my mind and come back to this later to blush at my rash adoration. But….

…..the style is wonderful – rich, lyrical, intelligent, decorated with references to classic works of literature, it is like a more “alive” version of Byatt for lack of a better comparison. I now wish I could be reading this in the original.

 

(What’s the point of this declaration? No point. Just recording an enthusiasm.)

Book impressions: Jean-Christophe I

In my book destroyment post, I mentioned my ugly old editions of Jean-Christophe. I do exaggerate for effect quite often, but as one can see below, I was truthful, wasn’t I?

"Get thee off the shelf and on to the table. You will have your picture taken for the blog. Please be good and try to look romantically and artistically aged."

Get thee off the shelf and on to the table. You will have your picture taken for the blog. Please be good and try to look romantically aged.

These were published in 1958. They have been repaired with adhesive tape in places, the covers are somewhat loose, there’s pages sticking out, some staining, and general wear and tear. I got them for free at the library’s book give-away day.  Since I was so enamoured with the first book, I naturally checked whether there were any newer editions available so I could replace mine.

There weren’t. But what should I come upon but an advertisement on a local forum. Some person seeking other individuals who had read and been deeply impacted by Jean-Christophe, with a half-apologetic “I’m seeking kindred spirts, you know” at the end. If it hadn’t been posted 10 years ago, I’d have replied.

I don’t think I’ve ever come upon an ad like that on a local forum. A person seeking soulmates based on a book they liked? Yet I can totally see why this particular book.

It tends to inspire and pull into itself if you can at all relate to the main character’s aspirations and temperament.

I’ve been yammering on about Jean-Christophe on the blog for a while. I would apologise for it if I was sorry, but I am not. I want to write of what inspires me at a particular moment and sometimes it just happens to be one and the same thing. It took me more than a year to finish the first volume because I’m weird. The more I like a book, the more likely I am to put off reading it, and go for something else instead. I want to draw out the enjoyment of it.

The first book consists of four volumes and focuses on Christophe’s childhood and early adulthood. His struggles with an alcoholic father, the death of his grandfather, his developing musical talent and fame, his disappointments, humiliations, numerous infatuations, rebellion against falseness and unearned high status in society and in music.

Speaking and thinking truth

The final volume, Christophe’s rebellion years, was where I grew to dislike Christophe a little. Part of the charm of this book is that we are very similar, both highly emotional neurotics, passionately idealistic, who love life but hate what society is doing with it. Our personalities make us be tossed about by life, but we love it still, and find meaning in it, somehow. Just as he was crying by the river, face in the dirt, and was consoled by the awareness of “life” in the grass and birdsong, I’ve been consoled by the winds and the mists on similar days. Yet I couldn’t relate or like this Christophe who had nothing but contempt for every musician who didn’t share his preferences or was less talented, the Christophe who was difficult and alienated everyone with his frank nastiness. I didn’t like the pleasure he took in hating and destroying under the guise of speaking the truth.

I would not disagree with him. My understanding of music is very poor, but I too could relate to his sentiments on singers being full of affectation and theatrical performances being ‘unnatural’, with middle-aged ladies playing Hamlet. I would not disagree, but the manner in which he did it and what the results of it were – is truth in this form wise or necessary?

Truthfulness towards ourselves and towards others is one of the hardest things to successfully execute. Christophe failed and alienated everyone. When I start reading the second book, he will probably achieve a better compromise than that witnessed in the final volume where he had become a complete outcast as a result of his frankness.

Maybe the compromise could be that you remain truthful, but do not hate those with inferior abilities and discernment. A kind of sympathy rather than contempt? This might soften the harshness and antisocial way of expressing one’s truth.

However, the falseness one sees around ourselves has rubbed me the wrong way for a very long time, and inspires rebellion too, so I found Jean-Christophe’s frankness inspiring as much as I found it excessive and distancing.

I too have been comparatively more sincere and unversed in the art of social pretense, so I have a soft spot for such frankness, a kind of rational appreciation, even if emotionally I may recoil from it.

*****************

Christophe rebelled against people who only make a pretense of liking music, but don’t love it.

There’s always been a lot of that about. It’s pretty classic to complain about upper and middle class people attending concerts or art exhibitions more for the prestige than for the love of the thing.

Of the countless girls who show themselves as great book lovers on social media, posting pictures of themselves reading a book in the wild, how many actually read that particular book? Isn’t it more often simply a decoration to get a good romantic look? Because reading books is romantic and if you want to ‘do’ the dreamer type convincingly, you got to have a couple of pictures of yourself reading, preferably on the beach, on a mossy stone near the ruins. I have no doubt some professed book lovers are sincere, but I have as little doubt that some are just putting it on as an element of their public image. And believing in it. That’s why Christophe alienated people to this extent. They believed their own lies.

I’m not above this either. I can create a good public image and in job or university interviews it has served me well. I can believe in it too. Don’t we all do this to some extent? I regret to say, however, that I’m a lot less intelligent and a lot less well-read than I appear. With the pace at which I read books, I couldn’t be all that well-read. I take it as a compliment when people assume I’m familiar with the authors they refer to, but frequently I am not and need to google not to lose face.

I think reading this book made me a lot more aware of my own lies to myself and this is what I’d like to reduce. To dare be a truthful version of myself. To find that truthful version from underneath the exaggerations and image-making. It has always been my goal to be authentic, but reading Jean-Christophe reminded me of how far I am from it still, how lost I’ve become.

The love of a thing. It really ought to be the primary guiding force for enjoying and selecting art to enjoy. Not curiosity, desire to understand and know what people are talking about, or the desire to appear educated. Pure love of a good book, film or musical piece. Not put on appreciation or faked interest. Genuine curiosity is of course different, but even that never beats love.

Maybe one way of uniting truthfulness with pro-sociality would be through a kind of trickster figure? As long as the tricks are friendly. And then there is comedy, of course. Laughing with, not at. I often feel that the only chance I would have of speaking absolute truth would be in my creations, because there I would not be limited by character. I could express all my contradictory truths and inclinations without causing dissonance.

I suppose what I would like to move towards is truthfulness even if it harms my self-image or disadvantages me. Today I caught myself once again denying a truthful assessment of character because I didn’t want to appear pitiful. I didn’t lie while denying it, but I diverted conversation to behaviours that I do possess and which contradict it. Yet, the former assessment was true too. I just happen to suffer from excessive pride and a disinclination to show weakness.

I think our Western society is suffering from the same problem. We attempt to eradicate and deny self-harming truth. It goes as far as the academia and science. We don’t want some hypotheses to be proven correct. We want to do away with truth that does not fit our desired image of ourselves and our humanist ideals, what we’d like us and humanity to be like. This would of course require a separate post of its own, so I won’t dwell on it further.

 

(Some more thoughts coming when inspired…)

Book destroyment

Destroy + enjoyment.

These are my favourite books from when I was a child, and remain among my favourites even now. Sadly, they look terrible.

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Of course our parents told us not to damage books, but what can you do. There is a distinct correlation between the more a book was loved, the worse state it ended up in. I plan to replace them all one day, unless overcome by irrational sentimentality urging me to preserve these ugly editions.

I am really in two minds about this sort of active interaction with books.

When I was a full-time English student, I also enjoyed writing into books, underlining bits and arguing with authors if they irritated me. I’ve not been doing that at all any more because to the current me, it seems a shame to ruin books, it seems disrespectful. And yet, I found it fun to take a look at my old favourites and see what parts had resonated with me enough to underline.

Anne of Green Gables was the first book in English that I bought together with Oscar Wilde’s collected works. I have no memory at all what made me buy it, but it was to become one of the influential books in my life.

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I found no logic in the sentences I had underlined in my Anne, except that they refer to her imagination:

cookery

If you want a misery to pass faster, do like Anne:

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Next up is my Keats. He was my introduction to the Romantic poets and led me to see that there had been people who thought similarly to me. Of course, right now my take on the subject has become more nuanced, but at age 21, it felt like home-coming. My soul mates! Anne and the Romantic poets! It didn’t matter that they were fictional or dead. Not when you are used to thinking there is and never was anyone like you.

I think I was set on analysing Keats’ use of dreamy words and underlined all instances of “ethereal” and other words that sound distinctly dream-like, such as “eglantine”, “forlorn”, “myriads” “dryads” “nymphs” “gossamer” etc.

myriads of

ardent listless

I love those lines still. But my most favourite line by Keats is the following:

two luxuries real

It gave me such a chuckle. Keats seems completely oblivious to how amusing this pairing is, and that is why I love it the more. It was really his letters, rather than his poetry, that gave me this feeling of belonging with the Romantics

 

The following is a somewhat later extract from a biography of Patrick Pearse where I argue with the author. Excuse the handwriting. I can do better, but this obviously didn’t seem like the place.

pearse argue

 

I admit I found it fun to explore such books. Yet I still feel hesitant about taking up the habit again. I’m currently reading – took a break for a year – Jean-Christophe and often want to underline parts or comment on something, but I seem to have grown completely out of writing in books. I don’t want to ruin them. However, my Jean-Christophe is an absolutely ugly old edition I got for free, so maybe for ugly old editions or cheap new editions of no particular beauty I should take it up again. I’d definitely use a pencil rather than a pen, though.

Late night reading

This is great stuff:

Do not think of what will be in a year, or in ten years. Think of to-day. Leave your theories. /…/ Live in to-day. /…/ If you are good, all will go well. If you are not, if you are weak, if you do not succeed, well, you must be happy in that. No doubt it is the best you can do. So, then, why will? Why be angry because of what you cannot do? We all have to do what we can…. Als ich kann.”

“It is not enough,” said Christophe, making a face.

Gottfried laughed pleasantly.

“It is more than anybody does. You are a vain fellow. You want to be a hero. That is why you do such silly things.… A hero!… I don’t quite know what that is: but, you see, I imagine that a hero is a man who does what he can. The others do not do it.

“Oh!” sighed Christophe. “Then what is the good of living? It is not worth while. And yet there are people who say: ‘He who wills can!'”…

Gottfried laughed again softly.

“Yes?… Oh! well, they are liars, my friend. Or they do not will anything much….”

They had reached the top of the hill. They embraced affectionately. The little peddler went on, treading wearily. Christophe stayed there, lost in thought, and watched him go.

 

(From my favourite book)

I was disappointed by this English translation. I have an edition in my native language and this paragraph is much superior there. The above reads like something I might have written. I find it hard to resist improving it. But what can you do, I’m not going to type up this quote in my native language and I wanted to record that idea somewhere. It was at once new and instantly strikingly relatable.

Sunday

I must be getting old. Really old. My greatest dream is no longer an exciting and fun life, but one of peace and quiet. It feels bizarre to think back on this time last year and remember how I longed for exciting things to happen. Now, quite typically to any human, I long for nothing else but my release from such misfortune.

I was reading Hoffmann again. It so happens I’m foolishly in the middle of 5 books at the same time, so nothing ever gets finished. Hoffmann strikes me as one of those authors who is too rich to be consumed in one reading. He makes my head spin. His vibrant fantasy world is marvellous in small doses, but when I reach page 25 or thereabouts, I feel I need a break. Too much of the bizarre upon the bizarre mingling with the realistic. His writing reminds me of some very rich Baroque fabrics, with plenty of red and gold.

It is not a bad thing. Some books and writers are not suited for reading in one sitting. Typically the more philosophical and intellectual ones. I haven’t yet experienced it with a fantasy author, but I don’t often read fantasy either. Hoffmann just happened to bewitch me with his Cat Murr and his Romantic values. Continues to do so too, but I guess he is yet another author who is best read in small portions.

To hope and dream

God should honour the man who invented sleep, for he must have been a smart fellow; still more honour, however, should be paid to the inventor of the dream. Not the dream that arises from our minds only when we lie under the soft blanket of sleep — no, the dream that we dream our whole lives long, the dream that often lifts the oppressive burden of earthly cares upon its wings and silences every bitter woe, every dismal lament of disappointed hope, being itself a heavenly ray kindled in our bosoms both to inspire our incessant yearning and to promise its fulfilment.

(E. T. A. Hoffmann, Princess Brambilla)

It had never in my life occurred to me, before I read this, how fascinating, utterly wondrous, is our capacity to hope and dream. What survival advantage or psychological value could it possibly have? To hope and dream. No other creature hopes and dreams.

Book impressions: The Golden Pot

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E. T. A Hoffmann is a German Romantic author. If I had to compare him to another Romantic, it would be E. A. Poe. In particular, the imaginary world created in the Golden Pot reminded me of Poe’s The Domain of Arnheim. This is a lesser known Poe story about bliss, to put it in one word. It contains over-the-top dreamy descriptions of nature and landscape. Although not his most celebrated story, it’s the one Poe work that truly stayed with me, along with Landor’s Cottage.  One of the reasons was the beauty of the setting, the other the ideas in it. The author’s philosophy is that the attainment of true happiness is possible if we have something that is our life’s work. A project we can constantly add to and perfect, something that never runs out or becomes completed. In this story, it was a landscape garden. But it could be anything. A farm, an epic novel, a fantasy world, a sculpture. Something one creates. It resonated with me very much, as I too have experienced that “the only thing worse than not getting what one wants is getting what one wants”. Having everything you ever dreamt of has rarely made anyone happy long-term. There has to be something you spend your whole life walking towards, but I suppose, there also has to be belief in its final attainment. Otherwise, it cannot be a happy pursuit.

What connects The Golden Pot and The Domain of Arnheim is that they both describe a paradisal dream world and show imagination and creativity as the keys to the magic. But, cutting the idle meanderings of the mind short, on with Hoffmann only.

I really got into the novella when the allegory behind it revealed itself to me. It happened some time in the middle. At the beginning, I was unsure of who were the villains and who the heroes, whether the witch-applewoman was right and the salamander was up to no good with Anselmus, or vice versa. I also didn’t know what to make of Anselmus as he did seem quite unstable to me at the start. I mistrusted the salamander and had more faith in Veronika.

But then – the allegory unfolded itself to me – it was a battle of idealism and imagination versus rationalism and common-place living. Anselmus got shown the magic world because he was sufficiently pure-hearted and capable of believing in magic and love. When his faith waned, he was denied the entry, but since he could not exist in the ‘real world’ either, he regained his faith and was returned to magic and beauty.

What I consider praiseworthy and fresh is the portrayal of the down-to-earth people who have no faith in otherworldly things. Typically, in a story with such opposites, the fantasy world  is elevated and the ‘real world’ and its inhabitants are ridiculed and shown as inferior. In Hoffmann’s story, however, Veronika, her father and his friend are depicted more as distinct, but not necessarily lesser humans. Even Veronika’s love for pretty earrings and status didn’t strike me as a harsh criticism. She was very young, and young girls have silly fancies. She seemed quite brave to me in her efforts to win back Anselmus’ love (and possibly his sanity). So overall, I really this aspect.

Book inebriation

I didn’t touch Jean-Christophe for a while due to exams. Today,  I opened it again while passing the time by the river.

What a book this is and the things it does to me. I’m so grateful to the author for having written it and for the fact that it is three volumes of 600 pages each. I love, love this book.

I love it so much I feel our identities with the titular character are merging. I read it for 4 hours today and it has left a distinct mark on my mood and character. I’m highly strung and in a rather ‘passionate’ mood. I want to kick stuff, run around wildly, argue with someone or do anything that corresponds to the torrent of life that this book evoke.

Life.

Not the calm connectedness of my last post, with its pastoral tranquility, but a tempest of the heart. A wild, wild thing.

The joys of being a highly sensitive empath. I must ration my consumption of this novel. Right now, it has left me with a feeling that I experienced all these things myself, the tumultuous ups and downs of Jean-Christophe’s life. And I feel exhausted emotionally. And his neuroticism and passion have fused with my recently calmer moods and re-awoken the old haunts of the mind.

What a mood, what a mood. I wish I could take someone along who shared my intoxication (for life, art, or beauty) and we could drive off to some pretty private spot and read poetry. And throw dandelions in the air.