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In which case every book becomes significant.

December 15, 2014

On page 132 of “The Glass Cage: automation and us,” Nicholas Carr discusses navigation, the GPS, and our minds. He notes a distinction made by Scottish anthropologist Tim Ingold between wayfaring and transport.

Wayfaring is “our most fundamental way of being in the world … in which action and perception are intimately coupled.” It is a process of discovery “along a way of life.” Transport is destination-oriented, a mere “carrying across, from location to location, of people and goods in such a way as to leave their basic natures unaffected.”

It’s an interesting chapter, and you might think again about relying on GPS systems for travel. I mean, what did you do before you had them? You were better off.

A Scotsman talking about wayfaring put me in mind of the book by Robert MacFarlane I so enjoyed: “The Old Ways: a journey on foot.” I fell in love with the Scottish Highlands without ever seeing them. They are now written in my mind.

The mapping and navigational abilities of our brains might be the most fundamental aspect of our minds from which our memories and other capacities developed. Another fundamental aspect is narrative. We make narratives continually, from the story that is our self at any moment to our explanations of the world around us.

The importance of narrative in our experience prompted my recent question about significant books in your life. A big part of our experience is in the stories and models we make of our sense experiences. In our world, books can have an enormous impact on people—enough that dictators fear and ban them.

This is exemplified by D’s response to my question, which said, “I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George when I was in 5^th grade (’71). I was there with Sam. I wanted a falcon, I wanted to tan hides, I wanted to live off the land. It was the first time I read for the pleasure of reading. Many years and many books later, I still do. That’s why My Side of the Mountain is significant to me.”

It’s a perfect example: the story, the age of the reader, the ultimate effect on his life. And it’s a tale of wayfaring, to boot.

Here’s a book I didn’t know about: “Desiree” by Annemarie Selinko, first written in German, about Desiree Clary, once Napoleon’s fiancee and later Queen of Norway and Sweden. It changed the way M looks at history. She’s bought many copies over the years (for lent copies rarely return).

I learned of another book, and author, from B: “The Scheme of Things” by Allen Wheelis, a psychoanalyst described in a NY Times book review as noteworthy among psychoanalyst writers for the “sinuousness of his prose” and his “tonic grimness.” What more could one want?

B said, “First read during college, then 2-3 times later in my life. This hybrid fiction-essay novel helped me understand that it’s probably futile searching for Kant’s Thing-in-Itself, and that while the Scheme of Things is all we have, it may not be such a bad deal after all.”

I leapt to a computer and placed a hold on one of Wheelis’s other books (The Scheme of Things being hard to find; but I will find it).

I chuckled when T sent me a list books and authors that popped into his mind. He found there are too many to list and so wondered if he was too old and had read too many, or if he was just too easily changed by what he read.

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One Comment
  1. Thank you for all of the suggested reading. Here’s one you’d like: Rebecca Soinit, “Wanderlust, a History of Walking”, Viking, 2000.

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