Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A life of rebellion ...against quiet desperation?

When I was young, we never seemed to have enough money for me to buy books.  Throughout my life in the old country, my parents, like most ones of their generation, had budgetary worries and with the household budget and accounting done in the presence of us kids, well, I knew well it was a luxury for me to buy books.

Thus, I relied on the local library, which more than fit my needs of those days.  Heck, that library even had Fahrenheit 451, and The Prophet, which are evidence enough that it was not a bad library by any means.  When we moved to the big city of Madras, I then made wonderful use of the libraries at the American and British consulates.

Attending graduate school at a university with more libraries than I could have imagined, with more books than I could have ever dreamt of, meant that I now had even less of an incentive to purchase books.

But, every once in a while, I do buy books.  And am always ready to loan them to anybody who is interested.  (There are a few books that are ultra-special to me and the fear of losing them means I shall never loan them!!!)  A student had borrowed my copy of Mario Vargas Llosa's Letters to a Young Novelist.  And it came back to me yesterday, which gave me an opportunity to scan through the book and re-read a few of my favorite sentences and paragraphs there.

Perhaps you wonder why I purchased that book when I have no plans ever of writing a novel.  Non-fiction essay writing shares in plenty with writing novels.  For that matter, the existential drive to be an academic has a lot in common with the angst that drives fiction writers.  Consider the following sentences that Llosa writes:

At peace with themselves!  Which is why I went through all those career changes--ditching electrical engineering, quitting professional planning--even though those, especially engineering, would have made me worry less about my financial well-being.  As I blogged a while ago, I don't want that life most people lead, which Thoreau noted:
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them
So, "what is the origin of this early inclination" to choose this vocation?  Why this nagging feeling that without pursuing this vocation we won't be true to ourselves?  Llosa provides an answer that sums it up really well for me: "The answer, I think, is rebellion."  A rebellion "against authority, the establishment, or sanctioned beliefs."  Yes, to rebel, even if seems like I have no cause!

This existence means that I never truly take a holiday from my work.  Why would I, when this is all I want to do?  Llosa writes regarding the literary vocation:
The literary vocation is not a hobby, a sport, a pleasant leisure-time activity.  It is an all-encompassing, all-excluding occupation, an urgent priority, a freely chosen servitude that turns its victims (its lucky victims) into slaves.
I live that kind of a life so much so that one of my biggest problem is that most teachers do not view themselves the same way.  Instead, they view their vocation as one that pays them so that they can do whatever else that really interests them.

Llosa also consoles me about my failures--having failed at getting promoted to the rank of full professor, not being recognized by my peers, ... when he writes about "confusing literary ambition with a hunger for glory and for the financial gains that literature affords certain writers"

This academic life of reading, thinking, writing, learning, and teaching, is, indeed, the best thing that ever happened to me.  Here's to hoping that it will continue for a while more.

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