This is the second newsletter of Book Lovers sent on August 16, 2015, highlighting Kundera images that I really like: novel as an observatory to embrace human life, the curtain of the pre-interprated life. It also includes a great piece from Confucius share by Genaro Bardy.
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[...] in the modern world, abandoned by philosophy and splintered by hundreds of scientific specialties, the novel remains to us as the last observatory from which we can embrace human life as a whole. -- Kundera, The Curtain (p105)
I have been asked: what is the mission of your newsletter? The first answer that came to my mind was “giving people excuse to read”: I know so many people (me included) who wish they read more.
Seeing the world as it is
Reading, especially reading novels, remains to us the last observatory from which we can embrace human life, said Kundera. Reading is ripping through the curtain of a pre-interpreted world and reveal the world as it is:
“A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world. Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore through the curtain. The world opened before the knight errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose. Like a woman who has applied her make-up before hurrying to her first tryst, the world, when it rushes toward us at the moment of our birth, is already made-up, masked, reinterpreted. And the conformists won't be the only ones fooled; the rebel types, eager to stand up against everything and everyone, will not realize how obedient they themselves are; they will rebel only against what is interpreted (or pre-interpreted) as worthy of rebellion“. -- Kundera, The Curtain (p114)
So helping ourselves to read more is a hell of a mission. And I figured out that this is not the newsletter’s mission, it is more the mission of the newsletter readers.
You didn’t subscribe to know what I was reading. You subscribed to make you win your own reading mission, to rip through the curtain of a pre-interpreted world, didn’t you?
So how do you manage to read more?
First, you need to know what to read. But I don’t think that’s the real issue. We all have a great reading list waiting for us.
Second, you need to have the desire to be reading, which means going from a rational will to an emotional desire: the urge to open a book and read. I believe this desire may come from the enthusiasm that comes out of a good quote.
Third, you need to eliminate the forces that prevent you from reading. Indeed, our reading time are in competition with Facebook and Netflix and so one. But I believe the key is to be surrounded by readers so reading is a structuring part of the world you live in.
This is why I believe that much in the Facebook group Book Lovers (invite your friends!).
Seeing the world as it could be.
But there is something else.
Reading is seeing the world as it could be. The specific object of what Hermann Broch [a 20th-century Austrian writer, considered one of the major Modernists] liked to call “novelistic knowledge” is existence. And in my view, reading should not only give us knowledge or a better understanding of humanity (characters’ motives & beliefs, impact of the environment and the situation we live in), it should also make us become more human.
What makes us more human you ask? Humanity lies in meaning.
What makes us more human is adding our physical world a layer of contingent meaning: associating ideas, emotions & values to phenomena.
Thinking that “perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage“ (Rilke).
In a word becoming more human is accepting the daily poesy of our lives.
Reading is helping us to go through life composing our own music & motifs.
[Human lives] are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven's music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life. […] Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress. […] It is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty. -- The Unbearable Lightness of Being Kundera
So I’ll do my best to select quotes from great novels, poems (and non fiction) that had the greatest impact in my understanding of the world as it is and that made me grasp some of the world as it could be.
I hope that could help you fulfill your mission: reading more, seeing the world as it is, seeing the world as it could be.
And as I mentioned in the #1 newsletter, I really want it to be collaborative, so the second part of this #2 newsletter, doesn’t come from me but from a reader and a friend of mine, Genaro Bardy, a great photographer (discover his work: naro-photo.com). His quote comes from a book from Yu Dan who talks about Confucius' Analects that extend our weekly theme: how to become the best possible version of ourselves. He then shares with us a picture that he has taken echoing back to this text.
Be the best possible version of yourself
Confucius’s student Zilu once asked his teacher how he could become a junzi [a Chinese philosophical term often translated as "gentleman" or “wise man”].
Confucius told Zilu: ‘He cultivates himself and thereby achieves reverence.’Cultivate yourself, and maintain a serious, respectful attitude.
Zilu’s reaction to this was: ‘Just by doing this, you can become a junzi? Surely it can’t be that simple?’
Confucius added a little more: ‘He cultivates himself and thereby brings peace to his fellow men. First make yourself a better person, then you can think of ways to make other people happy.
Zilu was plainly not satisfied with this, and pressed him further: ‘Is that all?’
Confucius continued: ‘He cultivates himself and thereby brings security to the people. [...]
What Confucius tells us to focus on first is not how to bring stability to the world, but how to be the best possible version of ourselves.
To ‘cultivate one’s moral character’ is the first step towards taking responsibility for the nation, and for society. Confucius and his disciples struggled hard to be ‘the best version’ of themselves, but their aim in this was to better carry out their responsibilities to the society in which they lived.
Confucius said: ‘Men of antiquity studied to improve themselves; men of today study to impress others.’(Analects XIV)
[...] Someone who has genuine respect for learning studies in order to improve his or her mind. Learning from books, learning from society, learning as we grow from childhood to old age, from all of this you will learn the ability to hold on to happiness.
First make yourself into a loyal, educated and knowledgeable citizen, then, armed with all this, go to find your place in society and your role in life. The aim of studying is to complete the process of finding your place and improving yourself. And what is ‘studying to impress others’? It is the acquisition of knowledge as a mere tool, a skill that will help you get a job, or some other purely personal benefit.
Confucius never said that you have to be like any one person in order to be a junzi. As he saw it, to be a junzi is to be the best possible version of yourself, based on where you are right now, beginning with the things around you, and starting today. [...]
This reminds me of a little story: Three tailors each opened a shop on the same street. Each of them wanted to attract the most customers. The first tailor hung up a large sign, on which was written: ‘I am the best tailor in the province.’When the second tailor saw this he thought he would go one better, so he made a larger sign that read: ‘I am the best tailor in the whole country. ’The third tailor thought: Am I supposed to say that I’m the best tailor in the whole world? He considered the matter for a very long time, and then put up a very small sign. It drew all the customers on the street to his shop, leaving the other two establishments deserted. What did the third tailor’s sign say? ‘I am the best tailor in this street.’
-- Yu Dan - Confucius From The Heart (Ancient wisdom for today's world)
The photo isn't directly linked with the previous text.
Yet I've read the book during a trip, as I was taking pictures for a client -the first assignment of my young life as a professional photographer. After months of wander, repeated failures, weariness, this reading has began what I consider now as the major shift to what is now my place in the world. And I cannot dissociate this book and its teaching with the road I've taken now, and some success I've achieved since.
The teachings of Confucius are very simple rules of life in appearance, individually applicable, for anybody. I've always craved personal development and this book has profoundly touched me.
I wouldn't have taken this photo if I hadn't read this book. I shot it not long ago, I hope it conveys the magical moment I experienced at that time. It was dawn and I was hiking near Saint Agnan's Lake. After a day of rain and a very long walk, the night was cold and the sun was already warming the forest and the lake, that provoked the haze.
I like this picture because it is calm and magical, for me it symbolizes fullness which is what Confucius speaks about. Indeed, I could find fullness by other means but nobody could have taken this photo because I was alone. And this picture may be the best possible version of myself.
My book(s) recommendation(s) of the week?
Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
A short extract:
“Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
The articles that most impacted me this week
1. Simple rules for a complex world, written by Donald Sull & Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, published in the Harvard Business Review. An incredible article that investigates how to think, plan & act in a world of uncertainty. (They also published a book on that topic!)
2. A tribune by the screenwritter Billy Ray, published in Medium.
I love his call to action and the analogy he used:
“Do you remember the movie WALL-E, the brilliant Pixar film?
He’s in a dangerous world and he’s one of thousands who are supposed to clean it up.
But, there’s something special about WALL-E. He finds this little tiny sprig which might one day become a plant. He guards it, and saves it, and preserves it on the chance that it might some day turn into something beautiful.
Well, Hollywood is that dangerous world and you are WALL-E.“
Shouldn't we be Wall-E ourselves in our lives?
Looking forward to having your feedbacks and your impressions after the readings.