Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Notes on My Desk

I've just finished days of reading Dante's Divine Comedy and the scholarly reading that accompanied it. Post-it notes on my desk remember pieces of thought for me until I can write them here.

...Dante wrote to authenticate himself: poet, Florentine, legitimate, yet present though exiled. Writing as a means to authenticate oneself brings to mind the want of a witness and the thought that to write is to compose oneself as a document, to invest "being" into material text - whether into ink or bits, onto paper or screen, and before many or no one at all. To write is then to substance(iate) - to become "real" in a medium that outreaches the boundary of skin. Dante wrote so commandingly as to overcome great spans of time, and I am easily intimidated by the thought that, unless I have something in some part equally profound to say, I have no business writing. But as I type out these words, I remember my Aunt Ester's letters to me from more than twenty years ago, saved in a drawer and well-worn from reading. ...not Dante, and not for countless audiences across time, but "she" is in those words. Her voice lives: authentic, real, and present.

...In a discussion addressing the sin of false council and the state of Ulysses in hell, lecturers Cook and Herzman suggest Dante's discussion fundamentally addresses the issue of trust and the "sin" that comes from too great a reliance on one's own experience as guide. Excuse this painfully inadequate framing, but it is Cook's summary statement that made it to a post-it note on my desk: "In fact," he states, "it's really not an issue. Everybody trust something. The question is what do you trust? 'Nothing beyond my own experience, beyond what my senses tell me' refuses everything beyond one's own experience and excludes faith altogether. Part of learning you're not the center of the world and that the world does not revolve around you is coming to terms with the idea that human knowledge is limited, and human experience is limited, and you simply have to trust someone or something." To believe otherwise is to inevitably offer the (false) council that one's own experience alone is a reliable measure for critical judgment ... at least according to Dante via Cook.

It is the "center of the universe" thinking that grabs my attention - the thought that the world revolves around me, and I note the "cure" Cook takes from his poetic reading: sound judgment follows only in realizing the inescapable condition of having to trust somebody or something beyond the reach of my own being. And I ask myself who or what I trust. There are some big, "easy" answers that come quickly to mind, but the question gets more interesting when I get past the rhetoric of public presentation. What I find myself most trusting is what I will call "my neighbor" and fact that she will share the road with me, pay for the services I deliver, stock grocery shelves with food, and generally respect boundaries. I count on his civility for all the permission I take to "be free," and I trust him every day with hardly a thought for the depth risk engaged. Maybe my less-than-sunshine life should have taught me more caution. It didn't. Lucky me.

... last post-it treasure: Dante's guides shelter, encourage, and provoke him as he navigates his own redemptive climb. It occurs to me that they become that "just enough" measure of safety necessary for Dante to be bold, secure in person, and certain enough to keep going. I consider my own life and the "guides" who make me feel safe enough to be brave. Thank you.


Winston said...

Hmmm... some heavy stuff in there, Mary. I do believe that we are authenticated by our writing, only if and to the extent that, we are honest and true, first to ourselves, and then to any potential audience. As I have thought from time to time over the last couple of years about the writing that I do in my blog, and have joined in several discussions about why we blog, the authentication idea keeps coming back to me. This is actually the first time I have found the stimuli needed to shape some words around the concept. Thank you.

hestiahomeschool said...

>>It is the "center of the universe" thinking that grabs my attention - the thought that the world revolves around me>>

I think most of us tend to see the world from an egocentric standpoint--it is part of being human. Perhaps for me the best cure was to become a mother, three times over. I learned to see the world through the eyes of a child, and to eventually see that all the children in the world are mine.

love, Kas