Crossing the stream

When I first read “From here to Eternity” I was devastated, wanted to read it again and discover that the ending had magically changed and that Prewitt lived. It just needed me to wish hard enough. A number of other books the same. But sadly, as I knew, really, the book is unchanging, fixed. But gradually I came to realise I was wrong – the novel is flexible, changeable.

You can never read the same book twice. You age, experience, change, gain wisdom, experience disappointment, loss, triumph, achievement, so that, though it is the same book you pick up again, much later, your reading of it will be quite changed. And its context will be changed, the world around it has moved on, and we read it in the context of that world, read Dickens, for example, partly as historical documents, while to his contemporaries he was up-to-the-moment modern, reflecting the world he shared with those readers. Finally, even if we avoid those traps by finishing the last page and immediately turning back to page one to start reading again, we can’t avoid the problem that this time we are reading with the knowledge of the plot, with the knowledge of how it ends, and so cannot avoid reading in a different way.

This characteristic of books is also true of other creative works – music, artworks, drama – although the complexity and extent of a novel means that the experiences are unique, like a fingerprint, whereas one’s reaction to, say, a painting may not vary all that much.

11/11/1918

Just think

what all those dead

young men could have done

in the years after 1918.

Think of the advances

in Art, Literature,

Music, Science. Think of

the leaders who might

have steered their countries

into a better new age.

And think of the

potential of their

descendants, never born.

Because politicians,

and Generals, thought

nothing of those things,

and happily sent

them off to die.

For nothing.

Allons enfants

Throughout history, and over most of the world, societies have been divided into left and right, poor and rich, workers and bosses, globalists and nationalists, humanists and racists, atheists and the religious, thinkers and followers, socialists and fascists. The important thing for all of us is to decide early what side we are on.