Friday, May 10, 2013

An Ode to the Norton Anthology

I'll share a secret with you. Whenever I feel stuck in my thinking or writing, I pick up my Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. I simply love this book, I like the way it feels in my hands. I like its weight, color, texture, smell. I like how its pages feel under my fingers, and the sounds the pages make. I like how delicate its pages feel. It's always something of a sensual, or alternatively spiritual, experience. I've never had such a seductive volume. I always go to this book for inspiration and it never fails me. When I feel trapped in my own thinking, I randomly open a page and read it. I always find something to stimulate my gray cells. There is always something to inspire me.
Lately, I felt a little stuck again, not so much because of a writer's block but rather as I told you in my previous post life kept happening, leaving me all depressed and drowning in sorrow and self-pity (you should know by now that I like dramatic :-). So I picked up my dearest book. The first part of my ritual is just to play around, open random pages, reading random sentences out loud etc, a little foreplay with the book, if you forgive my french :-). The second round is choosing a writer and reading that section. And the writers never disappoint like real people. More importantly, I always find something, some idea, some quote, some example, some phrasing, some metaphor to inspire me and help me with my writing as I read. I use this book as a magical book that tells me what I need to hear whenever I need some help.
This time I read the section on Oscar Wilde. I have reread Wilde's De Profundis recently (what a beautiful phrase, out of the depths. It sounds to me like something I would have said or thought. I love this book.), so I thought it would be nice to read his section this time. When I read his words "to disagree with three fourths of all England on all points of view is one of the first elements of sanity," I thought 'Oh my God. It's exactly how I feel about Turkey, especially since I came back but he puts it so clearly.' But more about how my own culture proved to be toxic to my sanity and spirit later. That's a whole different story to tell. When I read Wilde, it always feels like he puts my feelings and experiences into words so accurately and elegantly. As ridiculous as it may sound, so much so that I feel angry as if I have the ownership of those words and feelings and as if he steals them from me. I even feel angry at myself that I fail to articulate those thoughts and feelings myself. In short Wilde drives me crazy, for it seems to me that he expresses thoughts and feelings and experiences that I can only vaguely see in my peripheral vision. But those images I kind of catch a glimpse of are crystal clear to him. That clarity of vision I envy immensely. The elegance of his words, I envy even more. But this envy and anger does not diminish the intense pleasure of reading Wilde. It feels like talking to an old friend and it is delightful.
As if Wilde knows what I'm working on right now, he talks about autobiography and writes "the highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography" and I say "You must be reading my mind. But I have to admit that I came to the same conclusion but my starting point was autobiography not criticism." As I continue to read, I start as Ernest as I participate in the dialogue between Ernest and Gilbert and leave the conversation as Gilbert. I'm converted. Of course, I say "the one duty we have to history is to rewrite it" and I continue "Yes, from the soul" Gilbert "That is what the highest Criticism really is, the record of one's own soul" but I ask "Why do you use capital letters? I'm against capital letters in principal" He tells me that's just a detail and I should admit that deep down I melt with delight when I read the lines "His sole aim is to chronicle his own impressions" I blush and think "Damn, he knows me too well"
I accept defeat and show no resistance anymore. Ah, that sweet surrender. Yes "if you wish to understand others you must intensify your own individualism" and yes "the spirit of disinterested curiosity" and yes "the contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming--that is what the critical spirit can give us"  
"Ah, Oscar. You are as charming as ever." :-)



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