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Czech authors are magic. Each one I’ve ever come across has charmed me senseless. Here is the first page or so of Bohumil Hrabal’s “Too Loud a Solitude“:

For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper, and it’s my love story.  For thirty-five years I’ve been compacting wastepaper and  books, smearing myself with letters until I’ve come to look like my encyclopedias — and a good three tons of them I’ve compacted over the years.  I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.  My education has been so unwitting I can’t quite tell which of  my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that’s how I’ve stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years.  Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liquor until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.

 This  book is an exploration of the mind of a… nutcase… or… a genius.  It’s poetry and brilliance and soulful sentiment.  Read it.

This is the preface for Anne Carson’s book “Eros: The Bittersweet.” I began reading it on the bus this morning and after reading this passage I had an intense lightbulb moment. Not that I really learned anything… it’s just that I relate to experience through metaphor more than anything… and this just happens to be a really good metaphor:

Kafka’s “The Top” is a story about a philosopher who spends his spare time around children so he can grab their tops in spin. To catch a top still spinning makes him happy for a moment in his belief “that the understanding of any detail, that of a spinning top for instance, was sufficient for the understanding of all things.” Disgust follows delight almost at once and he throws down the top, walks away. Yet hope of understanding continues to fill him each time top-spinning preparations begin among the children: “as soon as the top began to spin and he was running breathlessly after it, the hope would turn to certainty but when he held the silly piece of wood in his hand he felt nauseated.”
The story is about the delight we take in metaphor. A meaning spins, remaining upright on an axis of normalcy aligned with the conventions of connotation and denotation, and yet: to spin is not normal, and to dissemble normal uprightness by means of this fantastic motion is impertinent. What is the relation of impertinence to the hope of understanding? To delight?
The story concerns the reason why we love to fall in love. Beauty spins and the mind moves. To catch beauty would be to understand how that impertinent stability in vertigo is possible. But no, delight need not reach so far. To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.
Suppression of impertinence is not the lover’s aim. Nor can I believe this philosopher really runs after understanding. Rather, he has become a philosopher (that is, one whose profession is to delight in understanding) in order to furnish himself with pretexts for running after tops.


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