Saturday, April 25, 2009

Philosophy Made Me

As I read this article, "Against Readings," in The Chronicle Review, it reminded me of my own literary beginnings, which really began with philosophy. 
While studying fiction in grad school for creative writing, there was an expectation to treat the books we were reading as academic exercises. But I felt there was something alienating with literary interpretation; as much as I would have liked to have considered I had the potential to undertake that work, I had always preferred my own approach: unhindered reading, culling from a well of intuition, and drawing my own conclusions. I discovered that my advisors--steeped in and perhaps blinded by their academic backgrounds--often had a hard time with my open approach. 

Unless one is incapable of thinking deeply, carefully and thoughtfully about what they read, I have never understood why any approach other than a self-interpretive one makes sense. I think this rings true for someone like me who indoctrinated himself in philosophy out of curiosity and circumstance. Stuck every Saturday at the mall for two hours, after boredom with video games (or I ran out of money), I wandered the aisles of B. Dalton's and found The Myth of Sisyphus, Walden, the Tao te ching, Being and Nothingness, and Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness (believe it or not at a ripe fifteen). Eventually, there were generous readings of Emerson and William James. After the enlightenment of half a dozen courses that touched on these subjects in my undergraduate years, I ended up with some clever misinterpretations of Derrida via a whacked out architecture curriculum with undigested bits of Foucault thrown in for good measure until, searching for solace amid this despair, I finally discovered literature capital L (Henry Miller, Thomas Mann, Borges), landing in a no man's land of my own making. But I wouldn't have gotten there without philosophy. 

Early on there was no one to talk to about what I was reading--that would have to wait for college and some surprisingly astute teachers--I didn't know anyone who had read these works, and I wasn't finding copies of them in high school. I was secretly proud, and quietly uncertain, but somehow affirmed to have discovered my own rejected thoughts in their alienated majesty in books written long before I was born. 

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