English 145 (9): Stationing the Mind, Readying the Heart

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We saved Terrence Des Pres for last in English 145—"Writing into the World" and "Accident and its Scene: Reflections on the Death of John Gardner." He had so much to teach us, Des Pres. So much integrity as a scholar and witness. So much urgency toward imagining the truth:

"Transcendence, art for art's sake, writing for the ages—these take care of themselves. Good writing will always survive. Meanwhile, the prose of witness responds to the world, finds its work in the occasions that call it forth. Its method is exact attention to the actual. It depends on respectful reading of detail; on imagination making connections and seeing what's there. It also depends upon art—right words to station the mind and hold the heart ready."

One reads Des Pres's reflections on John Gardner's ultimately inexplicable early death with a heart made heavy with the knowledge of Des Pres's own far-too-soon, and essentially unreadable, passing. One leans toward the faith Des Pres held in this strange and beautiful thing we writers do: "Few of us believe anymore that through art our sins shall be forgiven us, but perhaps it's not too much to think that through art a state of provisional grace can be gained, a kind of redemption renewed daily in the practice of one's craft." One reads "Ourselves or Nothing," the poem Carolyn Forche wrote to honor Des Pres, and wishes, fervently, that Des Pres were still among us.

All of this we do—we did yesterday—in English 145, on a rainy day, in a quiet room, against the backdrop of the very real and pressing news of the too-soon passing of a student on campus just the day before. How did the end come early to this student? Why? How is one to speak of it? To whom does such sadness belong?

Knowing, in the end, isn't everything. Wanting to know matters more. I love my students for wanting to know. For being who they are. Right now.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about the student. The quotes are wonderful, your post full of beauty and love.

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