Letters on Rilke, Part Two

Jul 26

Cont’d from previous post: I needed to go where there was no path, this much was certain to me-at least in the way that anything can seem certain to an adolescent boy. The young man learns what he can and then tosses it away so he can find something of his own. Life is taught as a firm thing. It is something with boundaries and formulae. There is a way to doing things and sets of expectations and responsibilities. Our ambitions are encompassed by what our forebears bequeath to us, and naturally, respecting our ancestors, we go the way they went. We keep to our economic class, our standard of education, our religious and political dogma. On occasion, however, a happy crisis shatters the world-the stage props fall and are destroyed beyond repair. And we find ourselves with the added task of set-construction.

This occurred to me, through a set of circumstances that bear telling elsewhere. Events in my life added to the melodrama that is attendant to teenage years, making it more desperate and unknowable than I could have previously imagined. It was, I would fantasize, like living through a war or a natural disaster and then making my way through the ruins. Post-apocalyptic literature seems to be somewhat vogue today-it resonates with us, not just because of fear and apprehension of the future, but because it has already happened. We’ve lived through an Armageddon of ideals. The wars of the past cetnury destroyed civilization-have no doubt about this. We are only now starting to rebuild. Wars put paid to our pampered notions of civility, and laid bare the true extents of the human condition-down along dark contours the lineaments we are only now beginning to fathom as it has finally been long enough. The past can still speak to us, but only because it is at enough distance we can listen.

This was no less for true me-tradition was torn and shredded, blown apart by the explosion of being. Church and State were both irrelevant institutions as far as I was concerned. It was oddly liberating. Having lost most of what I had before, I found myself free to explore unfettered by any but the worst of societal expectation. Truly, there was no path here-this was not on any of the maps my forefathers left me.

The Hobbit Habit was an independent book-store before there was a word for such a thing. In an age before mega-bookstores and the Internet, most places to buy books were still independently owned affairs. Usually, they had familiar stock divided into sections not to dissimilar to what you’ll find in Barnes and Noble today. But, perhaps because it was a university town, this store was somewhat different. This wasn’t apparent at first: when you walked in, the first covers that greeted you were science fiction and fantasy paperbacks. I went in-at first-to round out my collection of Michael Moorcock’s various fantasy series. However, as I walked deeper into the store, other things came to my attention.

The cover of one book was decorated with a gilded diagram of spheres and paths connecting them.

“That’s a good one.” the store owner advised….To Be Continued…

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