I have very good depth perception and I suddenly realized that something had happened to my sense of depth and stereoscopy, that it stopped, quite suddenly, a few feet in front of me– that I was still enclosed, visually, in a transparent box, about nine feet by seven by six feet, the precise size of the “cell” I had occupied for twenty days. I was still in this, perceptually, despite being moved– still in a grossly restricted visual space with perfect stereoscopy to its limits, and no trace of it beyond. –Oliver Sacks, A Leg to Stand On
My copy of this book is, with poetic rightness, falling apart. If I drop it, I have to rearrange the sections that are still glued together, put them back in the proper order. Sacks writes about a serious injury he sustained to his leg, and the subsequent surgery and healing process, in all the psychological and spiritual detail you would expect from him.
This part, about how the world looks flat to him beyond the confines of what he’s used to looking at, really got me. The world does feel flat when you are ill. Physical illness confines you, mental illness imprisons. Every kind of pain has great capacity for flattening your world into just one thing: you and everything on that plane. Maybe the drugs that could make you feel better. Maybe the reason you think you’re in that position. Flatness frightens me, it speaks to egocentricity. It also charms me. I love flat-looking paintings. I have a feeling of open, safe plains when all is right with my world. Like the high places being made flat, you know, Isaiah.
Repetition is a mighty power in the domain of humor. If frequently used, nearly any precise wording and unchanging formula will eventually compel laughter if it be gravely and earnestly repeated, at intervals, five or six times…. When my turn came I got up and exactly repeated [the same story]. It was as deadly an ordeal as I ever have been through in the course of my checkered life. I never got a response of any kind until I had told that juiceless anecdote in the same unvarying words five times; then the house saw the point and annihilated the heart-breaking silence with a most welcome crash. It revived me, and I needed it, for if I had had to tell it four more timesI should have died– but I would have done it, if I had had to get somebody to hold me up. —Mark Twain, Autobiography of Mark Twain
I had no idea Twain was the 19th century Andy Kauffman. I haven’t had much appreciation for Twain, outside of Huck Finn, which I’ve read as many times as any aspiring writer should. When I was younger, I thought comedy was rather shallow. With every passing day, I think comedy is more vital than romance, and stronger than love.
The idea of Twain getting up there to mess with people with his theory, and his love-hate with his audience, intrigues me. While Dickens seems to go whole-hog in love with audience, and is always ready to give them what they want, so sweetly, Twain gives what we want, while sneering. He kind of loves us, and he kind of hates us. I hadn’t realized what a line there was from him to Vonnegut, either. Different genres, from different times, but the same generosity and bitterness.
Those who know their native culture and love it unchauvinistically are never lost when encountering the unfamiliar. –Ralph Ellison, “Living with Music”
Americans seem to have trouble loving their culture without getting chauvinistic– but I guess everyone does. Love doesn’t have to be chauvinistic. American music can be great without taking away from Beethoven. American ambition and hunger isn’t greater than French weariness and cynicism. When you love one art, you should love them all, and when you love your home, you love every place more. Everywhere is someone’s home like everyone is somebody’s kid.