“Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.” —Stéphane Mallarmé.
Ask any literature major about the purpose of life, and it might come out somewhat like this, depending on what he or she has just been reading …
I don’t believe I ever consciously decided to become a lit-major—I was simply born one.
But it wasn’t until recent years that I began to understand how a simple, flip term like ‘lit-major’ probably says more about my orientation to life, my attitude toward consciousness itself, than anything about what I intended my life profession to be at the time I entered college.
Choice? It felt as though there was nothing to consider. I was hungry for this intellectual mandate to read literarily as much and as often, as deeply and as intentionally as I cared to—pretty much most of the time. Simple as that.
Or was it?
Perhaps even more significantly, embedded in this orientation was simply my desire to know—to understand the world: how others thought about it; the ways they dared to express the business of living; how it fit my own experience to that point; and whether I might ever have anything to add to it, even in my head.
Abraham Lincoln said that “A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.” And so in that sense, identifying as a lit-major is—and was for me, only a beginning.
But what is more important than to start?
Well … then perhaps there was a sort of decision—just one so subtle that it felt more like breathing in order to stay alive.
Søren Kierkegaard wrote: “A decision … brings what is eternal into time. … A decision pronounces its blessing upon even the weakest beginning, as long as it is a real beginning. Decision is the awakening to the eternal.”
Sounds pretty extreme for something as simple as taking a literary path that will persist through a lifetime. But encountering oneself while awakening to the eternal pretty much sums it up—as long as you truly possess an open mind and are careful to choose the best minds to join you on the trip.
“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.” —E. M. Forster.
So … here’s to the journey!
Are you a lit-major too?
Italo Calvino writes in http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1986/oct/09/why-read-the-classics/
“The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory … ”
Perhaps we are what we read.