Literature As Relief

The circumstances are unimportant. It will suffice to say that we were discussing something which was uncomfortable for me. Discussing would not be the best word, in fact – discussing implies two people (or more) talking, and there wasn’t much coming from me. And then there was talking about talking and an agreement to have an important conversation about an important topic, later on. Then not talking about it, building up to talking about it, knowing it (the talk) was coming and feeling it’s approach grow more rapid made me no less comfortable than if I had been forced to talk there and then.

My heart was beating. At first I didn’t know this. What I knew was that my head was throbbing. The feeling of pulsing on both sides of my head at the same time meant that sitting on a chair, and quite a comfortable one, involved involuntary rocking back and forth with each heart beat – for that is what was happening: my heart was beating hard and quick and it could be felt through my whole body, especially my upper body. The fight or flight reflex.

It was stress, the physical expression of anxiety, and sitting quietly, “listening” to the body behave in this unusual way, it dawned on me that these symptoms occur quite frequently, albeit in more muted form.

The rocking head with pulsing blood and involuntary shaking is a common feeling when it is so hard to get to sleep on a Sunday night. If I needed it spelt out – and sometimes words of one syllable are required – a lot of my problems are, or have been, due to stress in some form or other.

Perhaps this was obvious. As revelations go it was hardly going to shatter the earth, although it was helpful to put things into some sort of context and understand a unified sense in which stress has a physical expression and that expression leads to other health issues.

But, in considering these matters in some depth, a revelation of much deeper import seemed to unveil itself, and that is this: that these symptoms, indeed my disposition as susceptible to the vicissitudes of the demons real and imagined which plague me, are somewhat responsible for my tastes and temperament as a cultural consumer.

When there is classical music playing, particularly if there is some scope to really listen, or at least give that music some attention, it calms me. It does this anyway, even if it is mere background, and quite often I use it in just that way. The music and the heart beat and the hormones and blood flows and all the other symptoms have a direct relationship. This kind of external stimulus has internal repercussions which go beyond mere enjoyment of the tunefulness of a piece.

I’ve always thought that the body’s rhythms synchronise somehow with the music we listen to, or that this can happen sometimes. This is could be relevant too.

Something similar can be said about the contemplation of visual arts. All my artistic tastes lean toward the traditional, if not quite the conservative, although there is something to be gained from consuming even the most challenging art work, but it is the case, perhaps, that what speaks most strongly to me, and what is needed by an occasionally tormented inner self is harmony, balance, serenity – and those things are what please me most of all.

And so to literature: it is therefore not a completely unrelated point that what I get most out of, as a reader, is technique. The lyrical composition of a beautiful sentence and paragraph and page is so often more important to me than plot, even though I know that plot is everything to a lot of people.

Now, I enjoy a great deal stories with suspense and surprises and less character but more action. These kinds of stories can be great fun. But there is no nourishment in them, and I wonder if that is the key for me. That what my body needs is stillness, calmness and contemplation, which can only really accompany the slow appreciation of perfectly weighted and distributed words. There must be art for me on the page, and this could indeed be a physical requirement too, in some ways.

It’s a thought.

Published in: on December 1, 2014 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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