Exploring Interests

Yesterday, my eldest brother sent me a link to some philosophical gems left by the Chilean writer, Roberto Bolaño, who died twenty years ago. It took me a while to process Ten Ideas by Roberto Bolaño (though I admit to remaining a bit puzzled by some of them), but they were sufficiently intriguing to prompt me to explore a bit more about him. One of the pieces I read, lamenting the fact that no one has written his biography yet, twenty years after his death, offered this interesting observation: “Bolaño wrote often of the role of courage—and its dark sibling, cowardice—in the lives of writers.”  Bolaño’s  last novel, published posthumously in 2004, entitled  2666, is described as a fragmentary novel which, according to Wikipedia, is “a novel made of fragments, vignettes, segments, documents or chapters that can be read in isolation and/or as part of the greater whole of the book.” The idea of a fragmentary novel appeals to me. I can imagine adapting an assortment of my writing into such a beast, though the product probably would be rightfully regarded as an incoherent mass of competing ideas. But, back to Bolaño’s writing: I have read nothing of his work, but what I know of 2666 appeals to me. Again according to Wikipedia, “2666 explores 20th-century degeneration through a wide array of characters, locations, time periods, and stories within stories.” The English translation of the book, though, is roughly 900 pages (compared to 1100 pages in Spanish). I can get thoroughly wrapped up in learning about people whose literary lives parallel the literary life I might wish I had. But my self-diagnosed ADHD (or simple laziness or lack of discipline) makes a 900-page book seem an almost insurmountable challenge. I know I have the capacity to write such a voluminous monster (I have proven it with this blog), but I can do it only in small fragments.  Reading such a lengthy literary product requires me to take the same approach: just a little bit at a time. And my memory of books (and films, etc.) is terrible; so I would forget the contents of the first ten pages by the time I reached page 90.

Reading about Roberto Bolaño led me to take a few detours, including one in which I read a good bit about Karl Marx. Marx was a philosopher, sociologist, economist, and political theorist, among his other roles. His best known literary works, Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, presented his political and economic theories, which have since driven countless political movements, including several that thrive today. Too many people, I think, consider Marx a dangerous revolutionary (well, he did call for a workers’ revolution…), without thinking deeply about and analyzing (without bias) the theories that underlie his calls for action. I cannot claim to be intimately familiar with Marx and his works, but I know enough to believe him to have been a remarkably intelligent, perceptive, and socially aware man.  I could go on for days, writing about ideas and people I know very little about; but I won’t.


The problem with societal stagnation is the fact that people tend to believe they have no power to change economic, political, and social systems. And they are right, in the absence of one or more charismatic leaders who can attract and maintain a large, committed following; people willing to seize the political control that will enable them to enact change. Unlike Marx (I think), I have very little confidence in the average citizen’s ability to think and to understand social philosophy. Wait. I said I would not go on writing about such stuff.


I walked outside just now. Though the temperature is a bit warmer than I would like, the breeze and the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind were pleasing to me. If not for chiggers and snakes, I might go walking in the woods, stopping occasionally to soak in the quiet serenity and enormous power of nature. Standing on the driveway, though, cleared my head and prepared me to engage with the day. I might once have said “conquer the day,” but I know that grandiose assertion is utterly absurd. All I can and should do is participate. The desire to control is an emotional characteristic that leaves one wanting more; feeling insufficiently in control. Real control is embedded in a person’s ability to engage; and to decide whether to accept the control others with to impose.


I am alone now and will be alone for several days to come. Mi novia has gone for awhile to pursue her own interests and obligations, leaving me in solitude. This aloneness is oddly comfortable; if Phaedra (the cat) went off on vacation, I could abandon all my obligations and simply be. I can do that anyway, with only an infrequent interruption to feed and water Phaedra. I have mixed feelings about solitude, though. While I crave it and need it and enjoy the freedom of aloneness, it can be too constant and too lengthy. As much as I must have solitude, I want periodic injections of social interaction. A few hours of conversation on the deck (or inside, if the heat is too much), offset by many more hours of quiet aloneness, may be ideal. This morning, I am off to breakfast and coffee with my men’s group from church. When I return, the solitude will return with me. But my mood changes rather frequently. I might want solitude now, but I may not want it to last for long—provided I know it will return. I cannot read my own mind sometimes. Ah, well, such is life. Time to get dressed and wander off for coffee.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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