A Blog’s Limitations?

Speaking of form and the limitations necessary for art, writing about May’s book has made me very conscious of the limitations of a blog. In fact for a moment I almost, but not quite, missed the classroom where I could have a dialogue with students about a book rather than just “lecturing” to myself.

Having written the summary of the first two chapters of The Courage to Create, I resisted writing more summaries (as you could probably tell if you came back for several days in a row). Although I admire Philosophical Investigations' attempts to discuss Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations online, I personally find it very difficult to discuss a long work in my blog. The first time I tried to discuss a philosophical book, I posted an entry but then later deleted because I couldn’t figure out how to finish it online.

I find that quite frustrating because novels, and other full-length works, have been just as influential in shaping who I am as poets or musical artists have been, and I would like to deal with them in this blog. Although they aren’t as easy to deal with as a poem or a song, they have sometimes been more influential in my life. Books like Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure have been pivotal in shaping my “world,” to use Rollo May’s term.

I’m convinced that the philosophy that has emerged from my interaction with the “real” world and the world of ideas that I encountered in literature have allowed me to cope with my experiences as effectively as possible and to avoid, though neither unscathed nor unchanged, the life-crippling despair and bitterness that many of my friends have experienced when they experienced similar situations.

One of many reasons I became a teacher after my experiences in Vietnam was the belief that the young soldiers I served with in Vietnam has not been prepared for the “world” they met in Vietnam. To the contrary, they came to the war with an idealistic view of America’s role in the world that was belied by most of our actions in Vietnam. These recruits came expecting to gloriously rescue the “good” South Vietnamese from the “evil” North Vietnamese. Instead, they encountered a peasantry that, at best, was indifferent to the Americans, and, at worst, was fighting at night to defeat us.

Many of these young soldiers reacted very differently to the war than I did, and I’m convinced that in many cases it was because I had a different background than they did. After four years of reading modern literature in college, I was more skeptical of America’s war aims. Books like Camus’ The Stranger and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead gave me a different expectation of war than the patriotic, distorted high-school history classes these young men had taken. They had been told about all the great ideas America stood for and about our noble deeds in the past. Unfortunately, the media and their teachers had ignored all the bad things we had also done, like our treatment of the American Indians or America’s questionable practices in South America

As ill-prepared as they were psychologically, little surprise many of them simply couldn’t come to terms with the reality of what was going on in Vietnam. They couldn’t reconcile their “world” with the “real world” of Vietnam.

I, on the other hand, suddenly understood Camus’ The Stranger, a novel that seemed incomprehensible when I encountered it in college five years earlier. Existentialism itself became clear. Kiekergard’s despair became my despair, but at least it didn’t come completely unexpectedly. I must admit, though, that sometimes even I was shocked to realize that just a few years earlier I had been sitting on a college campus reading poetry and watching all the beautiful young ladies walk by.

When I came back from Vietnam, I couldn’t believe the changes I had undergone. I was even half-thankful that I had gotten a “Dear Loren” letter before I left because I didn’t think the girl could possibly recognize me as the same person I was when I left, for I hardly recognized myself.

The point is that books have played an integral part in developing my philosophy. If I’m going to continue to blog and explore who I am online, I need to find a satisfactory way of dealing with long works so that I don’t bore the hell out of myself and anyone else who just might drop in to see what I have to say on a particular day.

If you have an opinion, drop me an email.

What do you think?