Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Literature and Spirituality, or, Yet More Navel-Gazing

This is going to be a difficult and awkward post to write.

I majored in English Literature because I liked to read and was going to graduate in a year and had to major in something. I liked and was pretty good at writing papers, because I looked at them as problems to solve, not opportunities for intellectual inquiry or reflection (this because I was/am lazy), but I never liked discussing books. I thought relationships to books were singular and personal*.

My favorite writers are John Cheever and John Updike because they write about the magical in the everyday and the everyday in the magical, and because they seem to marry the Catholic and the Presbyterian, the two forces to which I've been most exposed, in interesting ways, and because they write sensitively about complicated characters and approached what it is to be human with love and no fear and because damn can they write**.

And it dawned on me today, as I was reading one of my favorite passages from Rabbit, Run:

"Every employee hated Kroll's; yet they left it slow as swimming. Janice and Rabbit would meet in this chamber, with the dim light and green floor like something underwater, and push at the one unchained door, push up into the lightm and walk, never admitting they were going there...hand in hand tired walking gently against the curent of home-going traffic, and make love with the late daylight coming level in the window. She was shy about him seeing her. She made him keep his eyes shut. And then with a shiver come as soon as he was inside her, her inside softly grainy, like a silk slipper. Lying side by side on this other girl's bed, feeling lost, having done the final thing; the wall's silver and the fading day's gold."

that that's my sense of spirituality right there - the fall from grace coupled with not expulsion but grace, redemption. Forgiveness. The belief that the world is a good place, and whoever is watching it is good, too.

And this happens again and again in their writing, especially with Updike, on a stylistic level even - maybe especially - when it's being contraindicated by the plot.

Here's another. Rabbit's about to cheat on his wife with a likeable hooker:

"He asks, 'Should I pull the shade?'
"Please. It's a depressing view."
He goes to the window and bends to see what she means. There is only the church across the way, gray and grave and stony. Lights behind its rose window are left burning, and this circle of red and purple and gold seems in the city night a hole punched in reality to show the abstract brilliance burning underneath. He feels gratitude to the builders of this ornament, and lowers the shade on it guiltily."

I could think about this book forever. So. I want to teach a course called (I just paused for nearly two minutes, trying to think of a course title that wouldn't use a colon) "Narrative and Stylistic Spirtuality in the Works of Post-War, (Probably) Alcoholic Male Writers From New England."

I've always identified a little too much with Rabbit for my own comfort. All this about a loving God could just be me subconsciously wanting to get away with stuff in this life and the next.

*Or this is what I told myself; more likely I didn't like discussing books because I didn't think about them and so had nothing to say about them.

**although this morning on the train I read this sentence from Rabbit, Run (at the very beginning, when Rabbit's playing basketball): "His arms lift of their own and the rubber ball floats toward the basket from the top of his head." and I thought "that should be 'the rubber ball floats from the top of his head toward the basket.'" At that moment, I tell you, I became a woman. Or all my heroes were dead. At any rate, it was a moment and a feeling I think he'd appreciate. Also, his grandson goes to school with Mike's daughter! And his son, according to Mike, looks like a homeless person who startles him every time he addresses him at a T stop.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:23 PM  
Blogger dave said...

Yeah. I'm so "sure you'd be interested in How to buy & sell everything."

But at any rate, here's an idea: I'd like Updike more if he died in the 70s. Or at least as late as 1982.

Also, if we shared a birthday, which I do, with John Cheever.

12:57 PM  
Blogger j. ondioline said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:13 PM  
Blogger j. ondioline said...

Buy and sell everything, yes. Think of how long it would tahe.

Why would you like Updike more if he had died during those times?

6:09 PM  
Blogger dave said...

Well, just died. Like if he were the kind of writer that wasn't around inperpetuity. Those times are when Cheever died, and I guess I was thinking that Cheever's um "-ness" would be less were he still alive and grumpy and closeted.

11:09 AM  

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