A Wonderful Essay on Re-Reading

Hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily. The essay is on the ways in which one changes as a reader between 25 and 65. There is the aspect of learning to recognize what is not really such great art:
Perhaps, when you first read them you were only pretending to admire what you’d been told to admire. But also your tastes change. For instance, at 25 I was more open to writers telling me how to live and how to think; by 65 I had come to dislike didacticism. I don’t want to be told how to think and how to live by, say, Bernard Shaw, or D H Lawrence or the later Tolstoy. I don’t like art – especially theatrical art – whose function seems to be to reassure us that we are on the right side. Sitting there complacently agreeing with a playwright that war is bad, that capitalism is bad, that bad people are bad. “You don’t make art out of good intentions,” is one of Flaubert’s wiser pronouncements.
But then there is also the discovery of the right way to understand a writer you had dismissed at first. In this case, E. M. Forster.
So what made me change my mind? It began from a quite unexpected source, an anthology of food writing. There I came across Forster’s description of the breakfast he was served on an early-morning boat train to London in the 1930s.
It is a wakening that I doubly recognize from Chesterton. First, because I had part of the experience myself. The first of Chesterton's works I encountered was The Ballad of the White Horse, which struck me as a grand poem of battle with some annoying and distracting straying into Christian theology. On repeated re-readings, I came to recognize that the "strays" were really the main point of the work; and finally, I realized that they were not only the heart of the work, but the place where the greatest insight and meaning were to be found.

But I also recognize it from something Chesterton himself wrote.
With all this human experience, allied with the Christian authority, I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the church right; or rather that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach. Celibacy is one flower in my father's garden, of which I have not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day.
One day, on one re-reading, the author of the essay found a sweet and terrible name in an anthology of food writing. So we might also, and in quite unexpected places.


Eric Blair said...

Quite interesting.

Texan99 said...

I liked E.M. Forster on first reading and still do.