Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge’

Knowledge Gained

In The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on September 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

I was raised better than to simply walk away from such a friend as you. Yet, I did, I have. My apologies. Sincerely. My absence does not mean I’ve not been thinking of you. To the contrary, I have been plagued with guilt, that most burdensome of the self-induced emotions, over my thoughtless (non-)actions. Over abandonment.

A friend, a reader of the House, recently chastened me: You cannot just walk away. You should post an update, explain. She was right, of course (as women most often are). Except I have little to offer as explanation. This is my pattern: In-depth obsession followed abruptly by vacuous absence. The pattern has dogged me all my life, tinting everything–cresting elation swamped by indifference.

To my friend’s comment, I offer this description by way of explanation. I note too, that in my last post (many months ago) I also touched on my obsessive tendencies. But this time is different. Now I have some related knowledge. Here’s what I now understand: My life has been spent in pursuit of mastery, or if not mastery, at least the ability to do something really well. Just one thing, anything. It didn’t matter, physical, intellectual, spiritual (whatever that is), athletic, one pursuit after another, all the while, sniffing the air, checking the compass, asking: Is this the path to mastery? Obsession grows around such a thing, blanketing it, so that only the pursuit remains, the motive lost. Ultimately, I read the wind: No, you’re not going to master this thing, then I shut down. The lever is flipped and I move on.

This insight came one night, prompted by a deep conversation with a young friend; a conversation well lubricated with ample amounts of Maker’s Mark. It was a flash, a revelation that laid out my entire life. Imagine all the dollars I saved in therapy! The next morning, the whisky fog cleared, yet the insight remained, the insight being specifically of a life spent in pursuit of mastery, albeit Illusive mastery.

Which brings me back to “…the House…” My effort here has been nothing less than to try to figure out how to master life. And here’s the thing: I came to understand that one can’t. Indeed, there are truly things a person can master but life is not one of them. This is knowledge gained, wisdom even, and in the gain a bit of awakening happens. Yet, even at that, a truth revealed, the lever is again flipped and I move on.


My “coffee-thing”

In Books, Creativity, Literature, Memoir, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on April 16, 2012 at 6:34 am

I wrote an essay a year or so ago for the The Nervous Breakdown. Yesterday I received an email from a woman who read the piece and felt compelled to write. The reader had, several years previously, suffered brain trauma in a car accident and was now worried it was catching up to her. She wrote, “I managed to cope fairly well, considering, untill some years ago: I started to think I was going barking mad, dementia/alzheimer a family condition, thinking it was my turn now. Having been reassured I’m just sufffering normal 60ýears memory-loss, I can happily reassured go on living… Thanks to…Doug Bruns for writing about this “coffee-thing”. (My piece was called, Like Burnt Coffee.) I found some comfort in her experience and wanted to pass along (most of) the essay.


“…the books from which entire literatures have flowed, like Homer, Rabelais, are encyclopedias of their time,” wrote Flaubert to Colet. “They knew everything,” he said.

Flaubert was writing in 1854 and grappling with a momentous, essentially silent, event in human history: books had surpassed the human brain for universal capacity. The encyclopedic individual to which Flaubert referred–Homer, Rabelais and their ilk–had been eclipsed by the summation of knowledge as contained in the book. The course of flowing knowledge had reversed–no longer would it flow from individual to book. Rather, the book, the compilation and accumulation of knowledge, would forever inform the individual. (In modern life, the flow has again transitioned: book to computer–and most recently, computer to internet.)

It is related that Gottfried Leibniz was the last man to know everything that could be known; that after he died in 1716, the knowledge the world contained was greater than what one individual was capable of knowing. There is no fact to support either of these notions, Leibniz’s omniscience or the quantity of knowledge in the world at his time. Regardless, it is a concept that gives me pause.

I want to know everything. Realistically, not everything, just more. I read Guy Davenport, Isaiah Berlin, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Sontag, Robert Nozick; I read them–and so many others–and am reminded immediately and precisely how stupid and thick I am. Obtuse… I might as well be illiterate…There is nothing I retain. I forget everything…I go to dinner parties and afterward am told that I had previously entertained those same polite people with that same tired story. I submit an essay only to discover that I’d published it a year previously, a month previously. I look at my library and wonder, who read all these books? I am, I fear, seriously and irredeemably lacking. There will no make-up class. This is not Groundhog Day, the movie.

Unlike Leibniz, I know nothing. If I am the sum of the collected existences which preceded me–what Octavio Paz called, “the living tissue of the current situation”–then I am but a fragment, a single cell even, of a human self. The whole is a futility. It rests in my mouth like the bitter taste of burned coffee.