Moving into a new apartment furnishes a good excuse to get together, so Sam and I had a shindig at our place last Sunday.  A whole mob of friends attended, and we had a fantastic time!  We mainly just ate and talked—everyone is always so excited to see each other again that we really don’t need much else in the way of entertainment—but we did go for a short walk to one of the Lake Johnson overlooks and played a quick game before we all dispersed.  Fortunately, we have reunions spaced pretty evenly throughout the coming months (a big bash at the Langdon farm in September, a wedding in October, a renaissance fair trip in November, and another wedding in December), so the departure felt less like the breaking of the Fellowship of the Ring than it has formerly.

I introduced Sam to Star Trek: The Next Generation recently.  As a hard-core Trekkie, I agonized for ages over which episode to pick: what would embody Star Trek the best, but not be confusing or uninteresting to a newcomer?   I chose “Darmok” because I thought Sam would be intrigued by the linguistic aspect and because it’s a good standalone episode that illustrates a lot of Next Generation values and characteristics: seeking for a deeper understanding of other life forms and cultures, desire for peaceful coexistence and cooperation, the explorer’s curiosity, and very cool literary allusions, along with a healthy dose of technobabble and a brawl with an alien beast.  When I first saw Darmok, I hadn’t read the Epic of Gilgamesh; the episode was much more powerful having read that recently.  While some claim that the linguistic gymnastics don’t quite hold up with how that sort of language must work and the (admittedly fuzzy) explanation of how the Universal Translator works, the fact remains that linguistic teachers have used this episode in class as a teaching aid, and Patrick Stewart himself said, “[Darmok] is something that should have won awards because it was a brilliantly written episode based on the myth of Gilgamesh.”  According to IMDB, Tenagra Observatories, an internet-based network of telescopes sharing information on stellar phenomena, took its name from this episode.  It’s a fan favorite, spawning an xkcd comic, a whole slew of t-shirts, and a whole lot of Trek love.

Look:

Geek out:

Listen:

I ran across a fascinating Kafka quote the other day:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

I’m trying to figure out whether I agree with that belief.  I think I do, at least in part.  I don’t think we can only read books that wound.  I know I couldn’t.  I read constantly, and perpetual upheaval like that would eventually become ineffective or even self-destructive.  But the books that made the strongest impact on my life (and by that I don’t mean books I loved or even enjoyed—I mean books that changed the way I think in a drastic way) were splintering, careening, written cataclysms that crashed through the brain.  They were usually unpleasant, but “pleasant” or “unpleasant” had nothing to do with the point.  Comfortable books don’t hack through the ice.  Kafka gives me a ready response for all of those people who ask why I’m reading some book that sounds horrible; I’ve been struggling to articulate that in several situations lately.

I re-read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie for kicks the other day.  The book may be about youth, but it is certainly not a children’s book.  Reading it as an adult, I found it a little bit terrifying and quite sad, whereas when I read it as a child I only found it whimsical and slightly annoying.  I hadn’t realized before what a tragic life Barrie led.  It doesn’t really show itself in his works, except maybe as a too-thorough understanding of the careless cruelty of children.  I think that’s what I found so disturbing upon second reading: the idea of an ever-young child with tenuous (at best) morality reminds me a good deal of the capricious gods of mythology.  Immortal immaturity can be awfully frightening.

Somehow I had never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller until now.  I have a vague memory of flipping through it a little bit as a kid and being pretty horrified, and it is horrifying, but I’m an old hand at “horrifying” now.  Reading similarly disillusioned accounts of the Vietnam War made a lot of sense; that was the Vietnam War, a conflict many saw as purposeless, confusing, or downright wrong.  One doesn’t come across sentiments like that nearly as often in WWII accounts (at least the ones I’ve read).  Most soldiers seemed to understand and believe in the cause for which they were fighting.  There is a distinct lack of understanding or belief in Catch-22.  Still, a critique of bureaucracy applies to any modern war, and war of any sort is undeniably a horrible, morality-denting and honor-bruising experience, regardless of whether you agree with why you’re there or not.

If you read to the end of this, you get a high five. : )

Advertisements