Newsletter: Mountains of (false?) meaning

Good morning, everyone!

The newsletter is back this week with some seriously great material from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. This time, the topic is our own lives; our identities – and the captain to show us around will be Eudora Welty, Pulitzer-winning American author that explored this very issue on her own memoir (One writer’s beginnings).

(Maria Popova) << To be human is to unfold in time but remain discontinuous. We are living non sequiturs seeking artificial cohesion through the revisions our memory, that capricious seamstress, performs in threading the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It is, after all, nothing but a supreme feat of storytelling to draw a continuous thread between one’s childhood self and one’s present-day self, since hardly anything makes these two entities “the same person” — not their height, not their social stature, not their beliefs, not their circle of friends, not even the very cells in their bodies. Somewhere in the lacuna between the experiencing self and the remembering self, we create ourselves in what is literally a matter of making sense — of craftsmanship — for, as Oliver Sacks so poignantly observed, it is narrative that holds our identity together. >>

(Eudora Welty) << The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily — perhaps not possibly — chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.

 (…) Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s own life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect. >>

This notion of meaning, of “path” as an emerging concept instead of a fixed, “permanent” concept strikes rather deeply against the modern necessity (fad, perhaps?) to convey meaning to our lives by (essentially) making up some grand story/ clear path that got us to where we are. Humans are really good at finding meaning and patterns whenever they look, so it should not appear as a surprise to see how we can always spin our own life stories as stories of the inevitable; stories of things that were just meant to be all along. Yet, are our lives really so linear and predictable? I do not think so. I am a fan of Kierkegaard’s notion that Life can only be understood backwards [but it must be lived forwards]. Your life could have turned out incredibly differently, and yet you would have no doubt found a different narrative for it that would, undoubtedly, fit with whatever wishes and goals you might have had.

This somehow reminds me of that other quote by Eisenhower saying that Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable: our own life narratives are all probably useless, but we need them -no matter how many times we have to rewrite them- to point the way forwards.

After all, even if the movie is bad, don’t you want to know how it ends?


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