Let’s talk literature, philosophy, history. Ask me who I voted for, let’s argue politics. Let’s refer to, but be unintimidated by, the voice of experts. Let’s make tea and become armchair archaeologists and paleographers and military historians, sifting through Petrarch’s letters and drawing up maps for ancient battles. Let’s roam widely among the humanities, confident in our right to be there because humani nihil a me alienum puto — nothing human is foreign to me.
It must be patently obvious that I’m a humanist. This is mostly because, despite my fairly solid grasp of Foucault, I don’t understand what it means to be anything else.
Most importantly, let’s talk about books.
Harold Bloom once remarked that we read because we cannot know enough people, and Harold Bloom is always right about everything. So, you see, I’m desperately in love with Konstantin Levin and Sidney Carter and Isabel Archer. Because I feel language viscerally, as a physical force: Shakespeare’s overhearing and Borges’ iconoclasm sting the tips of my fingers and the corners of my eyes. Because good reading is a slow, luxurious pleasure, powerful as solitude, erotic as intimacy, religious as truth. Because I know Proust and Balzac better than I know my friends, because I find threads of my own thoughts illuminated in Maugham’s stories, because I still expect to recognize Andrei Bolkonsky’s transparent grey eyes just beyond this next turn, on the other side of the glass, in winter. Textual symbols are more burningly, brightly, passionately alive than we are. They are timeless and absolute. They steal fire and exist beyond the north wind. Their suffering, their joy, is eternal. Their pride is fiercer, their love truer, their insights profounder. I believe in them. Artists and writers, who rearrange symbolic codes into wars and forests and meaning, are the only gods I’ve ever trusted with my spirit. You, too, can pause and listen when Rilke whispers across fields and moors, “You must change your life.” And the best part? That was written for you. It’s all for you.
So, let’s talk about someone else.