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Meno, Socrates’ fresh victim in Plato’s “Meno”, is (as Solnit rightly points out) Royally kerfuffled by our Master of Reasoning. But not entirely before he, Meno, utters his infamous paradox, which Solnit uses to introduce her theme in Chapter One.
Oddly, she doesn’t acknowledge that this initial (and, one presumes, central) quotation is a paradox. “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” This genuinely is unanswerable.
Perhaps Solnit is deliberately kissing reason goodbye, because Chapter Two–the first of the Blue Distance chapters–is full blown impressionism; her apparent native dimension and tongue.
I think that impressionistic prose is at its best as a sort of sub genre to poetry. Like poetry, it requires the author to sort of be willing to abandon both reason and [literary and societal] tradition (even if these are returned to). It gives pleasure in and with its loveliness (even very dark loveliness), and passages of this chapter are truly lovely.* Impressionistic prose flies nowhere near as high as poetry, though.
It seems I’m going to write stuff here chapter by chapter. Sorry.
*Helene Cixous and other European feminists I can’t remember by name use impressionism as a weapon, but that’s another story.
Now I am the proud owner of not one but two copies of Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost, both straggling in from Amazon through a flurry of snow yesterday. (One copy easily accessed in it’s good old brown manila envelope; the other in one of those white, deceptively flimsy envelopes you first try to open with your incisors; then with your molars; then with a chain saw).
(I will give one copy to my friend ,Tom, who has always been hair-raisingly open to gifts and other things from that Solnitzian door into the dark .(p. 4) Perhaps he will want to ask Hector if it’s ok for him (Tom) to join us.)
So, Field Guide. I know that as a reader I am annoying to some simultaneous other readers of any given text. I generally read slowly and bear down on every word (thank you, H. James), extracting the savor of each sentence while keeping in mind the bigger picture/s the prose develops. Readers who go right for the big picture—and usually also the larger strokes that make it up, can feel reined in by my gait.
For example. On only page 5 of her Field Guide, Solnit quasi-rhetorically asks: “How do you go about finding these things that are in some ways [?] about extending the boundaries of self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” WHOA! This is big. It begs many questions indeed. Such as (but only most obviously) am I someone else than I am at this moment here if instead I’m in Siberia, and then again another self out of a cloud of empiricism in Saks Fifth Avenue? Actually, the question’s not ridiculous given her sentence as it stands.
I call sentences such as Solnit’s quoted one “provocations.” They themselves are ambiguities causing our reader brains to do some of its own work before the author’s commencing to unpack them (the unruly sentences) in the writer’s own terms which we’re reading for, thus to our edification. The fair play assumption that the author will do this.
You know how if you’re riding your horse, and it’s proceeding at the stipulated canter, head center, and it momentarily cants its head slightly askew, and you know it’s just gotten new ideas about what we’re going to do? Well, right after Solnit asks (I repeat) “How do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” she cants askew and gallops from this to Oppenheimer and to Poe. No carrot at the barn for you, Rebecca!
Harsh? Of course. It’s a book, for crying out loud.
I am on page 10. Where are you others? Shall I put things aside and wrap this up in order to carry on with y’all?
Hector Vila invited me to join this exploration of “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.” I ordered the book from Amazon and never received it because it got lost. I have reordered, but meanwhile I’ve been thinking, and I have especially recalled one of five occasions of getting lost in my life. So I will include it, albeit it not Kosher to do so. Maybe I’ll find a chapter to match it? This particular incident, as I will soon say, tore all my familiar sense of my Self out of me. So I submit it as an experience of being really lost. Thus:
My phone rings in funky harmony with the dryer’s buzzer going off. This sends a micro-wisp of pleasure through my mind.
On the phone is my daughter Kia, sounding cheerful: ”Hey, Ma, how you doin’?” Too cheerful. Exponentially too. So then I find out she’s sitting next to my younger son Karl, who is unconscious, in an ambulance headed for Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York city. Karl is unconscious. Karl has had a stroke: he is unconscious. Prognosis, as they uselessly say, unknown. Karl has had a stroke; forty years old. Unconscious in the ambulance to Columbia Pres.
My daughter abandons the Cheer-to-Protect-My-Mom and sobs extremely hard.
My elder son Yani has been dispatched to pick me up, and together we’ll.
I wait for Yani out in the driveway, which I am I am tacking around like a Roomba. All that has been Me in all domains of my Self’s being has fled out of my husk. (Only but my autonomic nervous system seems to be hanging in there because my heart.)
I glom onto the fact that here is one preternatural particular pebble in the driveway gravel. It’s about the size of a chickpea and has a greenish tinge. One half is smooth and ovoid; the other half sharply fractured away. All this waiting time he may be dead. I’m looking keenly at that pebble when Yani drives up.
The very many many cars on the West Side Highway are all driving to unique particular somewheres. I spit on all those lives in our way. Plus which also: What is happening now inside my daughter and son here? I must: I have to. This is a time of how to do anything now.
That night everyone gone home but he and I. ”Not out of the woods yet” they say. Almost all night I very very gently hold his bare hand. Forty or not, his Mom holds it.
Nurses never come in to see Karl. They’re off in their monitor room watching critical monitors instead.
I stop one other nurse in the hall and PULL her: ”You’d better come and see my boy. See him. Please. He’s not your fucking blips.”
She waits till I stop crying and she brings me a useless cup of tea.
There isn’t one thing I can do all the night so I very gently hold his clay heavy hand.
There is no way anymore for me to be his mother who helps him; to demand help for him; for anyone to help me help him.
The word “miraculous” was hurled around the hospital a lot, and we all loved it. There was lots of shaky joy. It took awhile afterwards for everyone to be OK. Of course it took Karl longer. They told us he has a hole in his dear heart the size of a pinprick; that 30% of all people have this wee hole but most never know. That people who have such a stroke as Karl had are then really disabled, or else they die.
So I ask Karl, four years after his stroke, how he feels. He tells me that when he plays the bass in any of his bands, his left pinky feels a little stiff. I tell him to suck it up.