Thinking of divers things fore-known

I’m not quite sure how to get this blog back into a place of normality again. Assuming, of course, that I can arrive at an understanding of what “normal” is supposed to look like here, where there has been no strong sense of continuity to begin with.

But I still want to post something, so here’s an anecdote.

Several months ago, I had a dream that I was searching Robarts Library for a copy of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Unable to find a copy to be loaned, I wound up purchasing one at the U of T bookstore (which, in my dream, was conveniently located within the library). At the time, I was aware of the Anatomy’s existence and that it held no small literary prestige despite ostensibly being a medical treatise from the early 17th century. The dream stoked my curiosity enough to seek out a copy in real life.

Burton’s book is worthy of its unconscious introduction. The Anatomy’s longwinded preface, in attempting to explain the author’s choice of the moniker Democritus Junior, winds up touching upon just about whatever topic seems to have hit upon the man’s mind, which he admits is part of his own grand project of distracting himself from his own melancholy. He eventually admits that, “I have overshot myself, I have spoken foolishly, rashly, unadvisedly, absurdly, I have anatomized mine own folly. And now methinks upon a sudden I am awaked as it were out of a dream…I promise you a more sober discourse in my following treatise.”

Of course, the treatise itself moves much along the same course, only in a more systematically confusing manner. It does touch upon the causes of melancholy, ranging from the theological to the medical, but also has enough breathing space to embark upon speculations into questions such as (for instance) the possibility of extraterrestrial life. All of which is laced with near constant quotations from Latin authors.

I still haven’t finished reading it – it’s quite long, and longwinded. But the book feels more like one of those fake books that Borges liked to review than anything that should actually exist in the literary canon. Though I think I understand the tendency behind it: to be a digressive as I could without, seemingly, going off topic, was a frequent strategy of mine for meeting the word counts of university essays, which I always had trouble meeting. Or also how I really wanted to write about Gene Wolfe for my linguistics class, which was the only literature-related class I was taking that semester, and so I did just that, producing a paper which was mostly an attempt to justify its own distraction.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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