Re-reading — what really goes on

Going through old journals I found this enlightening little chat. Food for thought.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

 All right, nearly 7 a.m.. Joseph, I posted your communication about the night you and I connected, when you were injured at Gettysburg. I can see that there was much you wanted to say as recently as last year that I was not yet in a position to understand, or maybe you just didn’t want to break the flow.

 That’s right. Both of those things. Think how much better you understand the process since you went through the “perception versus story” theme. It unexpectedly answered a whole lot of things you never expected to get an answer to!

 It did that. Writing the date at the top of the page here, I realize it has been a year since I went up to Gettysburg for the first time.

 A lot happens in a short time in your life, notice — and then you go back to other things and chew your cud on them until you’ve become something different.

 Interesting way to see my life. That’s what Henry [Thoreau] did on another scale, isn’t it?

 Different terrain inner and outer, a very different life, but sure. Some people call that reflection and it is what is chiefly getting more and more missing in your time. That’s one thing that happens when you reread books you’ve already read many times, like the Lanny Budd books you started on again — you are sort of comparing who you are now with who you were the last time you read them.

 That’s not quite clear to me.

 Suppose you take any one well loved book. Take Lost Horizon, for instance. But it could be anything. The first time, you read it as a speculation. You’re prospecting, taking a chance on it.

 The second time, you are maybe going over the ground again to pick up what you’ve missed or didn’t understand the first time through. But any time you reread it after that — or re-watch it, like “Casablanca,” say — you are obviously doing it to live there again. And every time you live there again, it’s a different you even if you start right in the minute you finish it!

 So, you reread it in 1990 and in 1996 and in 2000 and in 2010 or whatever — you are not entirely the same person reading it. You might say that various versions of you meet in that same activity. It is as if the book, or the movie, or whatever you’re doing again — it could be visiting a place — are holding the place for various versions of you to meet.

 Now, although this is an unfamiliar point of view, it isn’t describing anything unusual. It isn’t something special, it happens to anybody who goes back over old ground. It is what can happen at high school or college reunions, though there’s other factors involved there because there are so many people interacting, and the essence of it is activity not reflection.

 But you see, this is one reason for your aversion to television, one you’ve never much noticed. There’s no reflective quality to something that isn’t repeated.

 What about reruns?

 You are joking, but not entirely. Did you feel bored, watching reruns of your favorite programs, or did you feel comforted, or rather, comfortable?

 Hmm. I’d have to think. It was a long time ago. I don’t remember if I used to watch TV just because it was a favorite show — and was a habit — or if I would turn it off if it didn’t interest me. For one thing there were a lot of us, and only one TV. But I see the point. If I didn’t care about the reruns there wouldn’t be any point in watching it.

 What happened with books was that you were living and reliving in that world. Television made it harder to do that because of commercials — that is, interruptions not when you wanted to stop but when it stopped. Reading a book could get interrupted, but mostly you could choose when to pick it up or put it down. And this is the secret of it. You, in a certain mood, would “feel like” picking up that book. It might be as simple as your being bored. For whatever reason, you’d pick up a given book. You would then live with it for awhile. While you were living with it, your surface attention would be devoted to reading the words, drinking in (constructing) the pictures. Often you would be reading halfheartedly, almost as routine, almost absentmindedly, and this is when other things were going on.

 You describe that much like an altered state.

 It is an altered state. Reading, watching TV or a movie, you are partly in the sensory world, partly in the intuitive world, so to speak. What else is that but an altered state? And in such altered states the other side can sneak in, or tiptoe in, or be seen out of the corner of your eye — choose your analogy. But the same thing is different — the process is different — if the material is new and has to be absorbed for the first time, and thus requires more of your attention, so you can’t daydream behind the scenes, so to speak.

Re reading, watching the same thing again, is a way of various of your selves, “separated by time and space,” getting together and sort of adjusting to each other.

A very different way of seeing something that looks pretty simple. I have wondered sometimes why — having so many books yet to read — I spend so much time rereading, usually novels but not always.

3 thoughts on “Re-reading — what really goes on

  1. Hmmmmm….. I am learning. I gathered that this is a guy from gettysburg. Was he a soldier? Was he killed? How does he know so much about TV?

  2. Apparently those on the other side, when they communicate with us, know what’s in our minds, and therefore in essence, they know whatever we know. If you’re talking to someone for whom you have ambivalent feelings, it can be uncomfortable, believe me! Not much use for tact on the other side.

  3. As I read your article I had an ah-ha moment. I find I have a similar experience, not with re-reading, but with re-watching the TV shows I viewed as a kid. With so many of them available on cable and now the web, I find it very reflective to watch the show from an adult perspective, and analyze why it appealed to me as a child.

    Often I find the ones that I found most appealing as a kid had quite a bit of substance to them (I think the quality of writing was much better then, as the writers probably came from stage or screen backgrounds — nowadays everything seems so derivative).

    It’s also interesting to see how much propaganda to push society’s values was sometimes in them. And of course, some which were just foolish then are still just foolish entertainment.

    I hadn’t realized that this gives the adult me a chance to visit with the young me, but of course that’s what is happening.

    Thanks for sharing this,
    Bob Keefe

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