Something always escapes

That’s probably enough said in this forum about Updike and Williams, ‘least for now. If you’ve not read the former, get started and maybe you can catch up in a month of Sundays or so. (In fact, start with A Month of Sundays or The Centaur if you’re looking for something to take to the beach or the mountains.) There’s plenty to read about Teddy Ballgame too, beyond Updike’s little New Yorker gem. Best bio is Leigh Montville’s, including a very smart parallel  account of “Hub Fans” alongside a more conventional sportswriter’s account of Williams’ last game by Ed Linn. I still wouldn’t call him, or any athlete (save maybe Jackie Robinson) “heroic”. But Williams came  as close to personifying Platonic perfection with respect to willed mastery of  a single difficult skill as, well, as a person can. Updike’s genius was intellectual and creative and and versatile and  various, hence more impressive to me. Heroic even, especially at the end when Updike very deliberately witnessed, transmuted, and shared his very own final days. (Williams’ end was distrurbingly, perversely unheroic. “Refrigerated,” as Montville has it.) But I prefer to draw illuminating and not invidious comparisons, so let it be.

On to my next obsessive working concern: William James’s A Pluralistic Universe. Howard Callaway has given us a new reading of that 1909 pragmatic classic.  My “crowds” post foreshadowed this theme, and how our various inner lives can converge to create shared meanings and rituals and public displays. When they do not converge, we sometimes find one another opaque and incredible. Consider Callaway’s opening epigraph:

“As a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use.”  -James, “Will to Believe” (1896) This isn’t quite what a wag meant by: “Disregard all facts in conflict with your favorite theories.” But it may be too close for pragmatic comfort.

Another epigraph, drawn from A Pluralistic Universe itself, notes that “something always escapes” from every theory, every system, every account of things. Something , somewhere, somehow will always evade our best efforts to impose ultimate order and tidy, predictable, rational unity. Pluralists are happy about this. An open universe invites and promises adventure, for those who go to meet it.

Ask Carl Fredricksen.

carl fredrickson

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