reading essays

2004-12-06 00:51:03 -0800

I made a resolution last month to read at least one essay each day. Although I have faltered in the execution of this resolution according to the original terms I had set out for myself, I have been reading a lot more lately. And that was the essential aim of the resolution.

Tonight I've been playing catch-up for the nights I've missed in the last couple of weeks. To prevent the indecision induced inaction that often results for me in the face of an abundance of choices, I've just been methodically working my way straight through The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Expository Prose, Tenth Edition.

Scott Russell Sanders' Looking at Women brought me back to lazy summer days in Annapolis at City Dock with Dave discussing and appreciating women. Sanders is likely a little more thoughtful and thorough in his treatment than we were (simply by having used a greater number of words than we did then, perhaps), but I like to think that our conversations were not far removed from the sentiments he expresses. Yet his conclusion, beautiful as it is, rings too sentimental for me now. "I must prepare a gaze that is worthy of their splendor."

To sustain this conceit requires one to concede a fundamental, insoluble division between the sexes (or at least between the stereotypical gender roles that inform all of our behavior to some degree or another by virtue of our participation in or interaction with a society that continually *cough* engenders such roles). Anna Quindlen addresses this "otherness" in her essay Between the Sexes, A Great Divide. Perhaps my dogged insistence on egalitarianism and my failure to acknowledge any inherent characteristics guaranteed simply by inclusion in a given class (whether that class is gender, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.) is in some way a manifestation of my insipid maleness. But in any case, I can't get out of myself to make an objective judgment. And contrary to Thoreau's Observation it is exactly this that makes the subject less interesting to me.

Next, Andrew Sullivan takes a stab at What Is a Homosexual? The themes he deals with are ever so human; it just boggles my mind that there are so many intolerant and narrow-minded people out there. And perhaps my lack of patience with such people is a manifestation of my own brand of intolerance and narrow-mindedness. Sullivan calls the stereotypes I was talking about in the last paragraph "collective characteristics". I like that. What collective characteristics, what generalizations that "ring of truth", are acceptable? What makes them so? It seems we could all benefit from being more rigorous statisticians.

Charles Lamb's A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behavior of Married People both rings of truth and is pretty funny, although somewhat at the expense of accuracy. Yet all is forgiven Lamb for having used the word "usufruct" in his essay.

And with that, I am nearly ready to go on a rant about the ongoing decline of St. John's College since 1997. But I don't suppose that 1) The Gadfly not being available online 2) not liking the new wordmark and 3) rumors that swing dancing has all but vanished from the Great Hall are reasons sufficient to condemn my alma mater.

Time to close before I wax too nostalgic.