How much sharpening does it take to become a pinhead?
I woke up with this feeling of thankfulness for having met such great people in Arkansas. It isn’t the sort of simplistic feeling of being embraced into a community, as is popular in media depictions of life in the Midwestern US, but more the idea that it was a big step on the way to making sense of the feelings that have been gnawing at me since I was an adolescent. It forced me to break my habits.
To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or the work of the artist’s hands, or the face of one’s friend.
Walter Pater, The Renaissance
I need to read more Pater. Dr. Jim Parins specialized in Victorian lit before moved into Native American stuff; I found out today that Dowson (the guy who wrote the poem that the phrase “days of wine and roses” is lifted from) was in the same circle as Pater, and they were seminal influences on Yeats, according to Bloom anyhow. Dr. Parins would know where to point me, I must look him up again soon. I haven’t talked to Dr. Murphy in a long time either; his specialty is Yeats, and he was really the first to make me feel like I had something genuine to contribute, speaking to me as if I were an equal. At least I still see Dr. Yoder each week; he looms like a monument to me in terms of his grasp of literary history. I always feel so small and ignorant around him. But he’s always encouraging and a powerful teacher. If there is one man’s teaching style I feel I can embrace, it’s his. But all these men share the most important quality of all for me: passion.
Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. With all this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have the time to make theories about the things we see and touch. What we have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy of Comte, or Hegel, or of our own. Philosophical theories or ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us.
I feel like big vistas opened up by meeting the men who introduced me to the span of literary history, as a way of thinking of human history and the task of recording some fragment of that experience. I often moan about the fact that I have made no real friends in Arkansas. But the truth is that I found something more important: colleagues that share a passion for getting to the heart of the matter, for feeling that heartbeat, and embracing the “short pulsation of an artery” that is life itself.
A short day of frost and sun. I could kill Pater for saying it so damn well. But then again, I suspect that he stole the core of the matter from Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” who stole it from . . . It’s all a long chain, that stretches back to a cave somewhere, by a river. People huddle around the fire and warm themselves through the light of shared ideas. Perhaps its just the sharing, not the ideas themselves, that provides the fuel to light our way.