Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘The Paris Review’

“…to measure their experience…”

In Creativity, Life, Literature, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Writers on May 16, 2012 at 8:00 am

I’m traveling. This is a repost.


I read recently an interview in The Paris Review with Norman Mailer. In it he referred to his audience “which has no tradition by which to measure their experience but the intensity and clarity of their inner lives.” I was struck by this phrase: the intensity and clarity of an inner life. What does that mean, really? Does it mean a life of the mind, in the classic sense, a trained, disciplined and well-educated mind? How else does one develop an inner life, but by a mind of disciplined introspection? Mystics have an inner life and so on. I must obviously have little clarity if I can’t even discern what a true inner life is. As a species we are unique in our ability to be introspective, or so we think. (Imagine the guilt if someday we should learn that the whale and elephant and a few other great beasts had self-consciousness, a life of the mind, an inner life!)

I think a life that is intense and has clarity would be directed and purposeful, perhaps that of a successful entrepreneur, an artist or architect. Great travelers and adventurers, Sir Richard Burton, Magellan, Scott would qualify too. But the exterior, the husk of life does not necessarily bespeak the inner life. Mailer was thinking of the reader of his work who would, by inner experience, weigh and gauge his writing. My inner life lacks clarity. It lacks intensity too, as I leap from this to that without mastery. I’m interested in many things, but intensity I have none. Passion yes. Obsession, even, I have. But I frankly feel intense about little, if anything. Family, virtues, good over evil are things I have intensity for. That is a start. Clarity? If Mailer was referring to a pool filled with gin-clear water, my clarity is a pebble-strewn eddy barely visible through collected surface foam.

It was posited in The Breakdown of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind that the inner life developed late in the evolution of man, somewhere if I recall in the 15th or 16th century. It is a wild thought, but interesting, in that one might speculate that not all of us have developed the same degree of intensity and clarity of an inner life, that some maybe have missed the gene altogether.


In Books, Creativity, Literature, Memoir, Writers, Writing on May 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is a repost. I’m out of the country. As this piece is “published,” I will have touched down in Kathmandu, day one of twenty-two days away from home. That’s a long time.


November 14, 1851, one-hundred fifty-nine years ago today Moby Dick was published. The Reader’s Almanac, “The official blog of The Library of America“,tells the story of Melville inviting Nathaniel Hawthorn, his reclusive neighbor to a celebratory dinner party as Moby Dick is came off the press. The article quotes a letter from a local Lenox resident:

Not very long ago the author of The Scarlet Letter and the author of Typee having, in some unaccountable way, gotten a mutual desire to see one another, as if neither had a home to which he could invite the other, made arrangements in a very formal manner to dine together at a hotel in this village . . .

If you love reading about the writing life, you will find short article of interest: “The happiest day in Herman Melville’s life.”


The grand lady of American Letters, Joan Didion, has a new book coming out next year, a memoir about aging called Blue Nights. Didion, who almost single-handedly created the genre of literary non-fiction (a bit of an overstatement but close (enough) to true) has been a favorite of mine for many years.


“What Bloggers Owe Montaigne” is a wonderful essay at The Paris Review by Montaigne biographer Sarah Bakewell.

Bloggers might be surprised to hear that they are keeping alive a tradition created more than four centuries ago. Montaigne, in turn, might not have expected to be remembered so long, least of all in the English language—yet he always believed that such understanding between remote eras and cultures was possible. “Each man bears the entire form of the human condition,” he said.

As you might know, from reading my posts here, Montaigne is the writer-thinker-friend I have turned to repeatedly for as long as it matters. As this article demonstrates, Montaigne continues to influence–to this day–as he did centuries ago. There is the hue of immortality to that.

And interestingly, to speak of current and lasting influence, there is this extended essay over at The Nervous Breakdown on all things Montaigne, thanks to Jason Chambers, Johathan Evison, Dennis Haritou and Jason Rice. Their piece is called: When We Fell in Love: Sarah Bakewell.


A bit of Maine. My review of Maine writer, Susan Hand Shetterly‘s book, Settled in the Wild, is now up at Mostly Fiction dot com. As the dusk jack reads: “Like Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver, Susan Hand Shetterly takes a magnifying glass to the wilderness that remains, spending the time few of us take to really look.” I am, admittedly a fan of all things Maine (well, most all things…), but objectively, this is a wonderful little book.


Read On!