Monday, January 24, 2011

Merton in process

On the book jacket of No Man Is an Island is this fabulous paragraph:
We are warmed by fire, not by the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.
A few paragraphs later -- inside the book -- is this comment:
The reason why men are so anxious to see themselves, instead of being content to be themselves, is that they do not really believe in their own existence…
No Man Is an Island, pp.117-118
What wisdom! What depth of insight into the human condition! And then last night I discovered something in another book -- Echoing Silence -- a quote from his The Seven Storey Mountain:
The more I failed, the more I was convinced that it was important for me to have my work printed in magazines like the Southern Review or Partisan Review or the New Yorker. My chief concern was now to see myself in print. It was as if I could not be quite satisfied that I was real until I could feed my ambition with these trivial glories, and my ancient selfishness was now matured and concentrated in this desire to see myself externalized in a public and printed and official self which I could admire at my ease.
The Seven Storey Mountain was dated 1948, and No Man Is an Island seven years later.

This was a tremendous thing for me to find, because I tend to imagine my spiritual and literary(?) heroes to have always been great -- plucked as they were from Zeus's forehead or something. But here we see Merton struggling himself in his reflections written in 1948, and some years later having this profound insight into human nature. Though I don't want to compare myself with Merton, I like to think that since even he had growth areas, there's hope for me. too.

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