Perhaps revisiting our youth is dangerous business. So dangerous, that our present narcissism prevents us from getting too close.
Did I find traces of my younger self within the pages of Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden? Certainly. In fact, I immediately recalled the titillation of discovering this gem within a small German book store, paying what had seemed an exorbitant amount, and reading it boldly; or rather, trying to be bold in the absence of anyone to care. I was only sixteen, living as an exchange student in a small village in Rheinland-Pfalz. I had wanted to explore the world, to become worldly.
Initially the cover had drawn me in. The plot had sounded so sophisticated and risqué. And yet, in the end, it was the every-day descriptions that stimulated my imagination- the food and cocktails, the setting and dialogue, all described so richly with excruciating detail. I remember thinking, how truly amazing that such mundane objects and actions could become so exquisite, making me feel so strangely alive.
Upon my most recent read- I have to admit that I have picked this one up several times since my first introduction- I still felt the same sense of stimulation. However, this time it wasn’t the minute details that dominated my attention. Clearly, they still felt electric, but I now understood that the energy was not their own. Instead, it was radiating from the underlying tensions of the characters and their respective relationships. And ultimately, it was the fragility of the situation itself, or perhaps the inevitability of its ruin, that charged every detail with a heightened sense of sharpness.
This theme of inevitability took on a prominence both within the central narrative and also the stories within a story that I had barely skimmed in earlier reads. The idea that once set into motion, our interactions build towards some unstoppable crescendo. And although there is a nobility in exhibiting restraint, discipline, holding to the belief that we ultimately have control, in the end we must allow our lives to run their course. This recognition in turn creates a sense of detachment, which is perhaps a self-indulgence or instead a protective shield. But regardless, once the crescendo is reached, there is simply no going back.
As I reflect on my self-imposed challenge (see “The Big Reread”), I have indeed found traces of my former self within the book’s well-worn pages. And have also witnessed the distance I have come. Through my experience I now appreciate the impact that relationships can have, projecting their colors onto things and places, as if throwing their energy like patterns on a screen. And yet in many ways I am still that same explorer, trying to be bold, and still drawn to the humming tensions that play out just under and around the surfaces.
*This post is part of an ongoing series associated with “The Big Reread”, posted on October 11th, 2014