Some days I can barely bare to read anything. Barely a thing. It goes in one eye, casting a shadow, a shadow of the eye, an eye shadow, goes where one knows not.
The phrase popped into mind: Reading without merit. Merit is maybe the Buddhist equivalent of Catholic good works. Reading for necessity (manuals, directions, recipes) likely has no karmic consequences. Reading for pleasure is more problematic. I imagine reading the scriptures or sutras would be meritorious.
(In a book lent by a friend, The Elegance Of The Hedgehog, the precocious heroine – Paloma is totally into the examined life – intuits that what one reads over breakfast is a telling indication. Her father, a minister of the state, reads Le Monde over a strong coffee (an “aggressive” drink); her mother, catalogues and coffee; her irritating older sister, coffee and France Inter (French public radio) and herself, hot chocolate and manga. [But one recalls Nietzche’s aphorism: ‘Early in the morning, at break of day*, in all the freshness and dawn of one’s strength, to read a book – I call that vicious!’])
Mecca for secularists, and its weekly bible
In any case, on the days I can barely bare to read anything at all, I take comfort in my subscription to the New Yorker. It has many virtues, this weekly encasement of American elitist-isms – not the least of which is that it comes from a global village we can feel related to without feeling the least responsibility for (it’s like Mecca for secularists). I have attained an almost Buddhist relationship with the magazine, albeit of the meritless kind; I am learning to read it without desire. A whole New Yorker can pass by without my finishing even a single article, and without my feeling any guilt about that. Indeed, some weeks pass when I don’t even open its plastic envelope.
It might be called unconditional affection. It asks nothing of me; I do not expect it to require my attention for the good of my soul, or readerly ethics. It’s like a certain aspect of friendship.
A couple of friends, siblings whom we had not seen for a longish while, dropped around for dinner last night. It produced that appealing mix of gossip – who, when, where, what!? – and personal history, and mutual acquaintance commentary, and praising and dissing of stuff recently seen or read or heard. It is entirely possible we will not have a return engagement like that for years. Or it might happen again next week.
It was a dinner without merit. Reading without merit. There is no obligation … We go on.
*’Early in the morning, at break of day...’ – Is there a horrible pre-echo here of Paul Celan’s Todesfuge?