Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Reading For Pleasure, Reading For Work

As I believe I have previously recounted here, I like to read Japanese novels in translation over the summer. I started doing it back in 1988, when a recommendation of my ex -- who had just broken up with me at the time, though not permanently -- provoked me to read Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari -- last name first, as per the national custom -- which moved me greatly, particularly as I had just taken a course in Asian Art History in the spring semester. The novel is rich with images that have antecedents in Japan's visual arts.

Even then, before my professional path had been cleared through the brush of indecision -- funny, isn't it, how rapidly the jungle can grow back to obscure one's Aufklärung -- I had the sense that Snow Country provided me a different kind of reading, distinct from the traditions with which I was familiar. Subsequently, once I'd decided that I wanted to go to graduate school to study literature, I nurtured this perception that I doing something exempt, to remind myself what it meant to read for pleasure, without the pressure to instrumentalize the process. When I was studying for my exams or working on my dissertation, this feeling was especially strong.

I've maintained the habit since moving to Arizona, making it a point to bring a Japanese novel on camping trips to the California coast. This has imparted an element of nostalgia to the practice, as I remember how I spent my California summers while fleeing Arizona ones. But it hasn't swayed my conviction that I'm reading for pleasure instead of work. Recently, however, I've been experiencing an unprecedented "bleed through" when I'm engaged in this ritual. This past semester I had a visiting student from Japan in my lecture class on the American novel, whom I was able to help by making connections between the course material and equivalent Japanese novels. And now, as I read Tanizaki Junichiro's The Makioka Sisters, which I've been saving to savor for many years, I'm seeing all sorts of convergence between the themes he treats and my areas of interest.

Today I even had the thought, after reading a passage in which his characters go to view the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, that there's a lot of similarity between the way that highly ritualized practice is conducted and the way that we listen to popular songs. I may expand on that insight, strange but potentially illuminating, at a later date. Right now, I'm struggling through the realization that I may have been reading for work all along without knowing it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does give the memory of pleasure a different cast.
Tags: autobiography, literature, work

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