Reading Away from Home
June 25, 2011
Reading may be the most individual of acts. Each of us does it differently, depending on motive, habit, taste, and intellectual curiosity. Furthermore it is influenced more than we realize by our surroundings.
When I’m at home I’m surrounded by a set of support structures which help me make reading the process I’m always striving to perfect. When, for example, I need to make a certain kind of note, the properly shaped card is ready to hand. When there’s a certain thought I want to drum into my brain, there are walls and boards I can post a note on so that I’m required to bring it repeatedly to mind. Almost always my computer is open and convenient for spelling out extended ideas. But when I go away from home, most of that is lost to me and I’m faced with the problems of creating a new system. Before I’m able to put it in place I feel seriously lost. Yet within a couple days I can usually construct a substitute system which serves me reasonably well.
At the moment, in an upstairs bedroom of a rambling old house in central Florida, I’ve fashioned a functional corner where I can read and write with a fair degree of efficiency. Beside my small straight-backed chair right now stands a bookcase in which I cleared a shelf for my laptop and my mouse. There’s no room on the shelf for the extra keyboard I use, so I hold it on my lap, a strategy which works fairly well. From the cluttered dining room downstairs, I hauled up a small stand that fits easily beside the bookcase, providing a workable surface for whatever book I happen to be reading.
The walls of the room are wood panels, not exactly to my taste, but convenient for posting small notes right by the bookcase. The paneling won’t be damaged by the tape I use to stick them up.
This morning, for example, I stuck up a note from my reading of the 12th section of Beyond Good and Evil, having to do with Nietzsche’s explanation that the theory of “soul atomism” derives from the notion of materialistic atomism. His argument therefore becomes that since the notion of materialism as an explanation for the nature of the universe has been demolished, then the concept that anything has an imperishable existence, such as the individual soul, has also become indefensible. In other words, there is nothing but a fluctuation force he chooses to call the Will, or the Will to Power. It does not confine itself to any permanent form.
We are all just impulses of Will, flashes of energy so to speak, which exist momentarily and then break down into some other pattern, which themselves are on the brink of extinction as soon as they come to be.
Nietzsche, of course, doesn’t know if this is true. It’s simply a thesis which fits with his theory of how humans ought to evolve, from the morality of custom into sovereign individuals, that is into beings who create their own values, but create them not arbitrarily but in accordance with a fairly strict responsibility.
You may well ask what this has to do with creating a reading space in a new room. I may not be able to answer adequately. The best I can manage is to say is that were I not in this particular configuration now, with my books and notes around me in my newly built corner, I would not imagine the Will to Power in exactly the same way as I conceive it at the moment. These surroundings afford me a different perspective, no more accurate or true than any other, but different, distinct, unique actually. They flow together to form a moment of the Will.
People have it in mind that when they read a book, regardless of how or where they read it, they are having the same experience as others who read that same book. That’s a mistake. Not only is every individual’s encounter with a book shaped by his or her antecedent thoughts, every encounter varies with time and space. The collective reading of humanity is a tumultuous phenomenon, similar in some ways to Nietzsche’s pulsating Will to Power.
It could be that since we can’t pin things down, we ought to give up trying as hard as we’ve tried in the past and align ourselves more vitally with the moment’s creations. Perhaps we can learn to get from them what there is to be got. I’m not sure how useful that idea is, but I am sure that I’m having it as I am because I’ve got myself placed in a different configuration of the universe than I normally occupy.
In any case, I like my little corner at the moment, the ceiling fan whirling over my head, the temperature outside rising, clouds amassing in a way that promises rain.
If anyone other than myself is to read this, I will need, in an hour or so, to take my computer down to Wauchula, eight miles south, park my car by the town hall there, from whence comes an internet signal, make a connection, and send my words off into the mysterious thing we call the Web. And if you should read it, wherever you are, you’ll get some sense of my little corner and, perhaps, some different sense of the Will to Power than you’ve had before, but it won’t be identical to the one I have in my mind. In reading, at home or away, we’re all sovereign individuals.
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