Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hedgehogs in motion

I'm feeling philosophical today. Perhaps it was brought on by five full days of sitting more-or-less in one place, listening to nature, conspicuously NOT producing anything. I'm feeling de-cluttered in a way I haven't been for about nine months. It's delicious and clean and, well, simple.

On the way back from our vacation, Beloved and I were listening to the audiobook version of our wonderful book club's next selection, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Two chapters in, it seems to me as if this is going to be one of those books I'll end up buying more than once because I keep thrusting it into the hands of all the readers in my life. You can find a synopsis at the link, so I won't bother with it here, but I have to say that Paloma–a mordant, intellectual, twelve-year old genius–will stay with me long after I finish the book. She has created a project for herself: to keep a journal of Profound Thoughts. I'll offer three of them here for your consideration:
  • (Art is) the beauty that is there in the world; things that, being part of the movement of life, elevate us...grace, beauty, harmony, intensity.
Paloma understands Major Works of Art (and has a fondness for Vermeer), but doesn't see them as the only containers for artistic expression; for her, art is both ever-present (like Meister Eckhart's image of God as a "great underground river") and something that must be sought, held and practiced.

Movement is a major intellectual theme for Paloma. Her observations thus far encompass not only the way we're defined by the direction we're pointed, but the way that progress (or even the anticipation of progress) irrevocably alters us:
  • Most people, when they move, well, they just move depending on whatever's around them. At this very moment, as I'm writing, Constitution the cat is going by with her tummy dragging close to the floor. This cat has absolutely nothing constructive to do in life, and still she is heading toward something–probably an armchair–and you can tell by the way she is moving that she is headed toward. Maman just went by on her way to the front door. She's going out shopping, and in fact, she already is out, her movement anticipating itself. I don't really know how to explain it, but when we move we are in a way destructured by our movement toward something. We are both here and at the same time not here, because we're already in the process of going elsewhere.
It's not simply our attitude that changes (which we can-do Americans hold as Tremendously Significant), but our fundamental nature. Simultaneous presence and absence...if you've ever tried to hold a conversation with someone who's absorbed in their TV program/text message/insert-your-pet-distraction-here, you know what this means. But to what effect on the person who's in two places at once? Paloma again:
  • What makes the strength of a warrior isn't the energy he uses trying to intimidate the other guy by sending him a whole lot of signals; it's the strength he's able to concentrate within himself by staying centered.
Food for thought, no?


Jan said...

I remember the cover of the book better than I remember what I actually read. Thanks.

Mompriest said...

It took me a few chapters to get into reading this book and enjoying it, but by the end I LOVED it! Thanks for reminding me of it....