Unexpectedly Marking Time

As I was reminded over the last few days, a good stomach bug will knock your intentions flat. Among other things, that means I’m currently at the same reading point I was when I closed my books early Thursday evening. Hence, the emergence from nausea hasn’t involved liberation from José Lezama Lima’s florid prose, an end to John Macquarrie’s gentle reprovals or confident metaphysical declarations, or greater knowledge about the former Yugoslavia. I do have a couple of thoughts, though, about the first two items on that list.

1) I tend to notice when an author makes frequent use of a particular word– and in Lezama Lima’s case, three are really hogging the floor and overstaying their welcome: “whiplash,” “rosette,” and “Malpighian.” (I’m guessing the latter has to do with Marcello Malpighi, who, according to Dictionary.com, “identified the capillary system” in the 17th century.) The final term, especially, is doing nothing to increase my estimation of the author’s style; every time it gets used, it and the sentences around it increasingly take on the aspect of a striving adolescent who thinks insertion of big vocab words makes him sound smart, mature, and intriguing. In particular, it throws me back to teaching days, when there was always That One Guy who’d ask a ridiculously convoluted question two minutes before class let out. When I asked my advisor how he handled such things, I felt like a much less horrible person when he admitted that his first instinct was to think, “Fuck you.”

2) Macquarrie continues to make comments that just don’t seem to fit into any sort of general social reality occurring past maybe the mid-20th century. In a book published in 2004, we find weird author-dating phrases such as “icons have now become largely aesthetic articles and are collected by the chattering classes, much as postage stamps are collected by schoolboys.” (1) Even in my childhood and teens, when I was part of a thriving letter-writing world, I didn’t know a single person, boy or girl, who still got giddy over stamps. And although there are plenty of religious people out there who would see nothing wrong with the theologian’s assertion that Dionysius “was correct in viewing the universe in a hierarchical way,” such presumptions of insight into Realty continue to dissipate the seriousness I’m granting this guy’s volume. (2) Macquarrie knows his historical stuff– but it’s often infuriating to have to listen to it.

So yeah: I’m incredibly grateful to be upright, and to be able to look at words without feeling as if said activity will cause me to cough up even the thought of the smallest nutrient. But I’ll be even more appreciative when I can move on to different sets of words.

(1) John Macquarrie, Two Worlds Are Ours: An Introduction to Christian Mysticism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 106.

(2) Macquarrie, 94.

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