Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Dusting my library

Once again, the weekend! There is freedom without tiredness. There is crisp, bright light from the sky. There is silence. This is the time to make a life otherwise wasted in making a living.

In my case, this means writing something more substantial than a blog entry. I have three projects to choose from – one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end.

Unfortunately 'end' does not mean 'completion'. It means 'abandonment'. In fact, it also means 'beginning' and 'middle'.

So I did some housework instead.

Apart from cleaning windows and floors, washing some clothes and generally getting things sorted out, I weeded out some books collecting dust on a lower shelf. This was not a good move. I found books I wanted to read. First, the chunky, cheaply-produced paperback edition of Conversations of Goethe by Eckermann: "the best German book there is" said Nietzsche (he died 86 years before the new one of course).

I’m not one to read something for anything other than pleasure. Or rather, I dislike everything which merely instructs me without increasing or immediately enlivening my activity. Ever since reading Kafka's travel diaries of 1912 (the Summer before he wrote The Judgement) and then visiting Goethe's Wohnhaus myself, I've been fascinated by all things Weimar.

Yet there was also Robert Alter's translation of Genesis. This was equally attractive as I’ve just read some breathtaking essays on the Bible (yet to be published). Beneath that was Émile Mâle’s The Gothic Image (Amazon says: no image available!) and Claudio Magris’ Danube, both of which seemed worth reading.

The first book took precedence. I sat down and read. On page seven, Goethe tells Eckermann to beware of attempting a large work:

"That is what injures our best minds, even those finest in talent and most earnest in effort. I have suffered from this cause, and know how much it injured me. What have I not let fall into the well! If I had written it all that I well might, a hundred volumes would not contain it."

This made me feel much better about my lack of productivity. Goethe goes on to advise Eckermann to leave attempts at major works until later life. By then, I would say, it seems too late. But maybe writing is always too late. It is too late in advance. This could be its main asset. Patience, belated perseverance.

3 comments:

  1. Make sure you've finished the dusting in time to watch the Melvin/McEwan love-in on the South Bank Show tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I didn't know about it until I read that. Did you hear me scream?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, read Danube. Instead of the Observer.

    ReplyDelete

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