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“We Seek Communion as We Read in Solitude”

from “Asterisks for Dead Astronauts,” an extraordinary review/essay/meditation/leviathan from one of my favorite writers and thinkers and humans, Matthew Cheney.

It’s a truly affecting essay about…..everything?

About reading and grieving and language and suffering and love and loss and story and recognition and ecological apocalypse and and —

Here is a part I loved, but it’s not really “representative” of a text I’d say fully resists being “represented” by any fragment of itself, resists that very idea. Just…trust me. Please do yourself a favor and go read the whole thing. I’ll be re-reading it myself, taking some more time with it, gratefully.

“When I was younger, I enjoyed absolute judgments of books and writers: This novel is terrible, that writer is the best in the last fifty years, this book is moral, that story is evil, this writer ought to be trepanned. Though I still occasionally enjoy such judgments, mostly they feel shallow, easy, arrogant. The years have mellowed me, as has being a fiction writer myself. I need something else from evaluations of art than simple judgments of yes or no. What I want from a reader is exegesis, sometimes, yes, but also (always) a chronicle of reading. “How I Read, and What I Read For” is the subtext I desire from essays about fiction and poetry. Value is an inevitable part of that, because we value most what brings us the most passion, but I do not need those values to be transcendent, I do not need the reader to say, “Paul Celan is the greatest poet of the 20th Century.” Rather, I need the reader to say, “Paul Celan is the 20th Century poet whose work has meant the most to me, whose sense of language has most deeply influenced my own, whose nightmares have haunted my dreams.” As I grow older, as my future grows shorter, as the time I have left to read seems (and is) more finite than it was before, what I seek from fellow readers is that story of their reading, that map through their way of making meaning from bits of ink on a page.

We seek communion as we read in solitude. By sharing how we make stories from pages scarred with words, we share how we imagine, how we dream, how we yearn, and how we feel.”

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