maxcowan

Posts Tagged ‘patti smith’

Apropos of nothing much … except error & vulnerability.

In General Mish-Mash, Mish-Mash of Books on September 23, 2011 at 11:18 am

I have just come to the end of a book called: This is not the end of the book.

It is a conversation between Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere, curated by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac.

A delight to read – or, really, eavesdrop. Easy going, mostly (that is if you don’t mind reference to arcane, ancient and obscure texts).

The book has been criticised because it contains a whole swag of inaccuracies – but you’d expect this in a conversation. I supposed the errors could have been corrected in the editing … the atmosphere would change and it may have become a bit sterile.

Anyway, both Carriere and Eco have huge private libraries, and exceptional careers in the literary world, making them ideal commentator on the subject of the decline of the book. Their conversations is triggered by the incessant claim that the technology shift spells the end of the book. Hence the book’s title – it is a refutation of the thinking that the web means the demise of the book.

Eco’s library has over 50,000 volumes (I have spoken of this library before) – his collection of ancient text (about 1200 volumes) is dedicated to mistaken science, lunacy, magic, the occult. At one point he says:

“I collect books whose contents I don’t believe.”

Eco seems fascinated with error, misconception, deception, and misjudgement. Which brings me to this post.

It is so easy to form a vastly misjudged, one-dimensional view of someone – especially when they have high profile and attract media attention. One dimension expertly crafted by those tools (error, etc etc) we so often apply without any consciousness or conscience.

Patti Smith and Germaine Greer are women I’ve admired for their talent and toughness – I imagined them to be hard, harsh people, somewhat lacking in sensitivity or empathy.

Earlier this year I read Patti Smith’s book Just Kids – memoirs of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York.

Mapplethorpe portrait of Patti Smith

I am now about a third of the way through Germaine Greer’s Daddy We Hardly Knew You – which I picked up last week at a market.

Germaine Greer

It seems to me now that even the titles of these books are antithetical to my biased perceptions. In fact, I bought Greer’s book precisely because its title challenged my perception.

Both of these books are very personal, evocative, and exceptionally moving.

More importantly, for me, these books placed a spotlight on my perceptions. It became obvious how easily and effortlessly I’d locked them both into a 1-dimensional prison, or flatlined them into 2 dimensions …

It must happen so often with such unfair and unrewarding outcomes.

Humans are multi-dimensional – no matter their profile or fame, no matter the public persona they cultivate, and no matter the perceived dominance one or a few of their characteristics.

And most of the time, most of those dimensions are simply not available or inaccessible, they must largely remain unknown and may be completely unbelievable.  An opportunity for adventure and illumination – much like Eco’s library, or even the mysteries that may reside on the pages of a single book.

And of course, we would never judge a book by its cover – especially now that we have been assured that this is not the end of the book.