Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The problem of learning

Through reading I gained the ability to immerse myself in a different world or see my own through different lenses. So much wisdom and wonder has been gained through this activity, and yet...

at times I wonder whether knowledge is all that worth it.

I've been reading Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse".

You can tell the mark of a great writer when, hours or days afterwards, her voice is still speaking to you and echoing in the chambers of your brain, affecting your moods, weaving its patterns into your dreams and waking time. That's how I feel about Woolf.

Her subject matter, human relationships and time and thwarted desires and ultimately, the purpose of life, cannot be ignored. The piercing clarity by which she indicts the very human, very flawed (yet beautiful) characters she creates nudges me uncomfortably. Yet by her speaking the truth, I begin to believe her. And when she writes, towards the end, about middle-age life - when Lily Briscoe (aged 44) is amazed at how even then, she cannot piece together a coherent philosophy of life and discern its meaning, but only see it as glimpses, still moments in time, the present - it filled me with despair. Like a vision shattered. Maybe, no one has found a satisfactory answer because there isn't one that stands up to close examination, that resonates with all of humanity.

I don't want to end on this morose note. I have a moral obligation to you, the reader. So now let me tell you how I feel: I feel like one thread in a large tapestry, a thread intricately connected to others that form patterns and weaves and bundles, but I am only one. I am only one and I am weak. I can be cut off easily from my path and obliterated by sickness, by loss, by mental impairment, by poor life decisions, by death - so many ways you can cut a thin thread. And yet - when I am connected to others, I am no longer just myself but am connected to all the rest. I will feel the pain when others for one reason or another are cut off. But I can support them as well. And they in tug and pull and stretch, will do the same for me. And when I fray, and eventually become dissolute...the pattern will go on. And it was not for nothing that I was there.