In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote that anyone who loves to read must also love to re-read. He also gave a definition of myth that included the fact that the outcome of a myth feels inevitable. Pleasure in reading it does not depend on suspense. It carries the weight of the self-evident. It breathes extra life into truths that would not feel as vital if expressed as axioms.
In “Story of Your Life,” the story on which the film Arrival was based, Ted Chiang depicts a mother who is also a linguist reading “The Three Bears” to her young daughter. The mother asks why her daughter wants her to read the story exactly as written if the daughter already knows the ending. “Because I want to hear it” is the answer.
Later this same mother and linguist explains that some statements, such as “You’re under arrest,””I christen this vessel,” or “I promise” are performative, “a speaker could perform the action only by saying the words. For such acts, knowing what would be said didn’t change anything.” Myth, stories, and rituals like collective re-reading and discussion can be performative in the sense that the truth embedded in the stories does not change but we do. What changes is how deeply the truth penetrates our awareness and how we understand it, especially when we read and discuss stories in community. How we are able to live the truth might also change. Sometimes, an idea just pierces your personal fog like a beam of bright light. Other times, it doesn’t.
Our philosophy discussions, whether they take place as part of our Philosophy in Public Spaces Initiative or our teen group Grey Havens YA, always begin with a story. In some cases, most or all of us are discussing a story that is new to us but often, as in our Harry Potter and Middle-earth discussions, most of us know the story very well. Does that mean that we should stop reading them and talking about them?
We don’t stop telling family stories or the origin stories of traditions because we know how those stories end. We don’t stop because they never really end. When we read and discuss familiar stories together we can have our breath taken away by a line we never really noticed before, we can have the truth of the story reawakened in us, and we can dive deeper into that truth by discovering what rings true to others and how what we rings true to us holds up under the light of collective experience and reason.
Examining the principles of Geek Philosophy. This time, Slow Reading-Close Reading.
As part of our ongoing series on the practice of Geek Philosophy, we are taking a look at our principle of Slow Reading-Close Reading.
Geek Philosophy is inspired in part by the thinking of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He believed that it is possible to get to know the world like you know a friend, through the development of intimacy over time. Let’s say that I have a friend named Luna. When Luna does something particularly characteristic of her unique self, I might say, “That’s SO Luna.” This suggests that, because I know Luna well, I can communicate a lot about who she is by pointing to one particularly telling moment in her life. Goethe called this the pregnant or poignant instance.
Goethe believed that we could find poignant instances in the lives of plants, animals, rivers, and rocks in the same way we can find them in the lives of people. Geek Philosophy strives to find these instances in stories. We then take time and care in looking at them so that they reveal their wisdom to us. A poignant instance in the life of a flower reveals something profound about the nature of flowers. A poignant instance in the life of a friend or a story reveals something profound about what it means to be human.
This is why we discuss stories slowly over time–one or two chapters, scenes, or episodes per discussion–and read them closely–looking carefully at words, lines, and passages without divorcing them from their context. We believe that every part of a story has its own poignancy but here is a tip for Geek Philosophy facilitators and participants who are trying to decide which parts of a story they feel the most moved to discuss: Imagine that you are an illustrator and you must choose only one moment in the chapter, episode, or film to illustrate. Which would you choose? How would you frame it? Why? Would you choose another moment for the book cover or movie poster? What and why? Does the moment delight you, unsettle you, or produce an even more complicated effect?
We encourage everyone to try this exercise on their own but it is even more rewarding when it takes place in community. Visit our Community menu to find the Geek Philosophy discussions that are right for you.
The principles of Geek Philosophy do not operate in isolation from each other. Next time, we will discuss the principle of Wholeness, something that is intimately connected to Slow Reading-Close Reading. We hope that your life is filled with deep thoughts and geeky joys. See you soon!
At Grey Havens Group, we know that, like the TARDIS, the imagination is bigger on the inside. Now, one of our resident artists is helping to show the rest of our community!
Donna Clement, creator of the Grey Havens logo, t-shirt designs, our amazing hobbit hole and more, placed her entry in the Longmont Shock Art contest. Shock Art, an initiative of Longmont’s Art in Public Places, has the mission of adorning the city’s many drab switchgear boxes with stunning art by local artists.
Donna’s design is titled “Windows on Other Worlds.” It features gorgeous views of the Shire, Hogwarts Castle, the TARDIS interior and an image from the Enterprise viewscreen that any geek would weep to behold. Grey Havens, Grey Havens YA, Godric’s Hollow Group and other GHG affiliates have demonstrated the power of geek pride in our community. We know that multiple fandoms are passionately represented here. Now, it is time to let the City of Longmont know by casting a vote for geekery in all its glory!
If you are a Longmont resident, you are eligible to vote. Can you imagine what it would be like to drive past a former eyesore and, instead, get a glimpse from between the shutters of Hagrid’s hut or through the round, green door of Bag End? What geek’s day would not be brightened by an experience like that? I predict that fans from miles and miles around will make a special pilgrimage to Longmont just to see “Windows on Other Worlds” but, more importantly, our own hearts will be lifted every time we pass that wonderful street corner that takes us to the vistas of our dreams.
Voting has already begun and lasts until June 11. All you have to do is stop by the Longmont Museum at 400 Quail Road from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. Check out all the scale models then vote for your five favorites. Donna’s submission is #12. Voting only takes a moment but it can bring Longmont worlds of joy!
Fandoms unite! Spread the word! You can’t stop the signal! We CAN bring magic to Longmont!! VOTE FOR #12!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: You do NOT have to be a resident of Longmont to vote. If you are in town, swing by the Longmont Museum to show your support for imagination and fun!