Parallel reading and reflection on some ancient Italians

2021-05-25 @Blog

As usual, and perhaps contrary to better wisdom, I read too much in parallel. But if, like myself, you simply can’t resist, at least parallelize somewhat disparate materials.

I wouldn’t read two simultaneous adventure novels, for instance. Though my basis for this is purely intuitive, lacking the remotest scientific merit, I conjecture it’s better for your cognitive pipeline: this way, the mind allocates the diversity among the different types of mental stations, without overloading any individual one.

In my case, I might mix a bunch of shorter/longer poetry (ideal for micro-reading) with drama and even a novel or short prose on the side. And unless I’ve severely transgressed reality, hopefully the habit won’t extend to beyond three reading specimens.

Alternatively, read in multiple languages simultaneously. This enables your brain to also disperse multiple faculties among stations otherwise lying vacant and idle.

Thinking about it, maybe I’ve already transgressed in more ways than one dare honestly admit:

Recently I’d read some Borges shorts in Spanish, a chunk of Boccaccio’s Decameron in a Russian translation (a loathsome experience), some of Gumilev’s Russian poems to counteract the sour aftertaste of the prior, (a probably unhealthy amount of) English Renaissance poetry, Shakespeare’s King John (a historical play), a slew of Edgar Poe’s poems (that I endlessly reread), as well as a gradual progression through Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

That probably resembles madness, though it never quiet yields to simultaneity in a profound sense. It’s usually only one major work on any given day, and then perhaps a different one on the next. Though shorter poetry I effectively inject all over the place. Passions.

Or perhaps the brain can take on far more than for what we give it credit.

I can envision Dante Alighieri, an exile in Verona, posted in his study with masses of secular, ecclesiastical, apocryphal, historical and political bindings in Greek, Latin and Italian: bindings heavier than I could safely lift these days (with my troubled elbow anyway), plastered to the chair/throne of heavy brass or iron upwards of 8-10 hours daily in the average of creative moods.

Or perhaps I conflate Dante with St. Jerome or some canonized figure of that state, detached from earthly presence, embellished in a blissful translucent glow.

Now take Boccaccio and Petrarch, intimate acquaintances in their latter solitary, yet poetically fruitful years.

As they exchanged those letters (full of Neo-Platonic sentiment, I’m sure), each probably an effort requiring hours - considering the 13th-century upheld standard for impeccable calligraphy, and considering the literary merit each of those correspondences invariably sustained – and then the ink nuisance – but anyway, considering all that, they still managed to dedicate time enough to consume more reading in a week than I in three months.

And that’s probably with distractions, for let’s face it: every era complained of distractions. What were theirs? That is, beyond the appeal of young voluptuous Madonnas and the ceaseless Guelph/Ghibelline fiascos?

Questions, comments? Connect.