I am not one who dwells on the past, or, at least I try not to; for, unless one is fondly recalling, perhaps in a prayerful moment of divine gratitude, all the wonders and blessings the Begetter On High has begotten one, it is mostly a futile and potentially harmful self-flagellating exercise of ego worship in the negative. However, as hard as I try to stay securely in the now and out of the then, I still do find myself unconsciously lost back yonder from time to time reflecting on my life, and I am highly skeptical of anyone who righteously says in a wispy Eckhart Tolle wannabe voice while meditation bells softly chime in the background that they never do. (Just as I am even more highly skeptical of anyone who says they have complete and whole body faith in anything, be it their favorite sports figure or favorite God figure — we all have our doubts. But I digress…) So, if I were to be in the dwelling-in-my-past kind of mood, and if, while there, I were to dwell down even deeper into that dark danger zone of “what ifs”, I just might wonder what my life would have been like if I were to have had the strength and integrity to commit it to such intellectual rigor and deep thinking as Kenzaburō Ōe has had and has done throughout his highly acclaimed and respected life. Just where would my brain and I be right now? Unfortunately, I can only imagine.
When I was in my twenties, my mentor Kazuo Watanabe told me that because I was not going to be a teacher or a professor of literature, I would need to study by myself. I have two cycles: a five-year rotation, which centers on a specific writer or thinker; and a three-year rotation on a particular theme. I have been doing that since I was twenty-five. I have had more than a dozen of the three-year periods. When I am working on a single theme, I often spend from morning to evening reading. I read everything written by that writer and all of the scholarship on that writer’s work. ~ Kenzaburo Oe, Paris Review
I have read much of Ōe’s work and I believe it is some of the finest writing written, deserving all the acclaim and respect it has earned him, including the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s highest literary honor, and, of course, the Nobel Prize for Literature; however, it is his integrity and commitment to that which he holds dear that I most admire about him. He is an ardent supporter of human rights and proponent for peace, mostly through his lifelong activism for the global elimination of nuclear weapons. But even more than his activism, I admire him mostly for his love and care and complete devotion to his mentally disabled and musically savant adult son Hikari, of whom most of Ōe’s inspiration has been drawn from and much of his writing has been about.
So, what is one to do when one admires someone as much as I admire the great Kenzaburō Ōe? Emulate the behavior of the one whom is admired, of course.
And that is what I resolve to do. To emulate Ōe’s behavior of surveying broadly and digging deeply into both an author’s work and life.
I have decided to commence this resolute commitment of mine with one of the greatest intellects my country, the United States, has begotten: Ralph Waldo Emerson. While familiar with the man and his work on a surface level — an essay here, a poem there, not to mention all the quotes of his that travel and transcend all the ethernets throughout the internet — I have yet to fully discover and understand the man and his work. To begin this discovery and understanding process, I will read first his Complete Essays and Other Writings, followed by (or perhaps even in conjunction with) Oliver Wendell Holmes’s work, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Biography.
Now, I have no intention of committing to, or even attempting, Ōe’s herculean three-year / five-year schedule; I do, however, intend to read as much of Emerson’s writing, as well as writing about him and his writing, that my way less than Ōe-ian brain can hold. And, I also intend to document this Emersonian commitment of mine here, through the posting of essays and other reflections on my readings. What, or whom, awaits me after I fulfill my Emerson commitment, I am not yet certain. I will let the literature decide.
Wish me well please, for I may need your encouragement from time to time.
But, who knows, maybe I won’t need it so much, as I am quite excited about this initiative; for just think of the opportunity I am providing myself – henceforth, a lifetime committed to the full development of my own intellect. Who can predict what joys and benefits I will reap from this effort? Because in twenty-five years when I am close to the age Ōe is now, I don’t want to be able to just imagine where my brain and I will be after such an enduring and fulfilling effort, I want both my brain and me to actually be there. I want to be able to, perhaps in a prayerful moment of divine gratitude, reflect on the twenty-five years gone past, and give thanks for all the additional wonders and blessings that the Begetter On High has begotten me because I was able to have had, if not fully, then at least partially, lived such an admirable life of integrity and commitment as had the great Ōe himself.