Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I hate bookstores. I say this as someone whose palms sweat whenever he encounters a new bookstore, someone who has spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars in bookstores all across the country. What I hate about bookstores is the sense of futility they give me. So many books that are on shelves for a couple of months and then disappear forever into overstock warehouses or landfills. Any really good work is likely to be overwhelmed and lost in the sheer volume of what is published.
I also hate how authors I have followed for decades increasingly fall off the shelves to be replaced by newer, flashier books. (I am not talking about literary greats here, just good solid authors, who consistently wrote good stories . The situation is even worse with poets. Even excellent or great poets have very little shelf life.) I hate that I want to add my own books to that mass of print, and can't imagine that they would suffer any better fate.
I realize that almost everything that has been printed is available at Amazon or somewhere on-line. But it is not the same experience. When I go into a bookstore I don't know what I want. I browse, opening books, touching them, looking at the typeface, reading random passages. I go the poetry sections looking for old friends and new. I go to the philosophy section to see what they have (usually not much), then I browse the fiction and science fiction areas. My selections are tactile and visual as much as intellectual.
I hate bookstores. The Elliot Bay bookstore that used to be in Pioneer square downtown has just reopened on Capital Hill near where I work. I will show my hatred by not spending more than 2 or 3 hours there next week.
Philosophical speculations from reading Heidegger's 1934 lectures on logic:
why is it always a tree? Are trees hard wired into us as symbols of nature? Would that be true of people who live in a mostly treeless region? And what tree? I usually imagine a maple with broad limbs and green fluttering leaves, but sometimes I imagine a pine with blue clusters of needles. Would someone in the tropics imagine a palm tree or a mahogany? --
All part of the point, really. A tree, any tree, does not exist for our purposes. It is not there to provide us shade (though it may do so on an August day). It is not there to scrub carbon dioxide from the air, though we may be grateful that it does. It is not there to provide us lumber for our patios, though, sadly, only then do we value it by assigning it a price.
Its only purpose is to be itself, a tree, separate from any of our purposes. That is the root--pun intended-- of what Heidegger means by Alethe, the Greek word for truth which means "unhidden" or "not forgotten." Truth is the unconcealed. When we allow the tree, the broad flat leaves of the maple filtering sunlight, to present itself as itself, to stand, as it were, in the clearing, only then do we see the truth of it, the mystery. Only then do we encounter it in its "uncanny" otherness. Only then do we experience the sacred.