It is ‘National Book Lovers Day’, deliciously coinciding with my wonderful in-depth conversation with Kevin Watson of ‘My Own Coach Ltd’. Recently, Kevin had invited his network to engage in his upcoming podcast series ‘Words Matter’. An invitation for a one-to-one to discuss quotes, poems or book passages that have inspired, changed one’s thinking or even one’s life in some way.
Ahead of the call, I gathered together the quotes and passages that have left impressions on me. I soon found I had to shortlist my reveal as the exercise was more expansive than initially perceived. With ease though, I began to pick up on strong threads of connection across the pieces, entirely unnoticed before. That literary influences were not only a key source of inspiration and guidance but had impregnated my being. Shaping a life long journey of discovery, a collection of ‘voices’ that would influence career and life decisions, and seed the aspiration to not just adopt a ‘phenomenological attitude’ to my current doctoral research, but to my life. I won’t ‘spoil’ the reveal of the literature or reasons behind said compilation, but look forward to sharing Kevin’s podcast outputs coming through next month. I do, however, today, in honour of ‘books’ reflect on the importance and power of the written text; voice to lived experience. Depthful shares, through language, that reveal ‘being’ across all manner of historical and cultural contexts (Gadamer, 2004), offering pathways to ‘understanding’.
Engaging with any form of text, the requisite rhythm of moving back and forth between the individual sentences, and the big picture, as one individually interprets, invites engaging with one-self too. Text affecting us, sometimes as planned by the author, through careful structuring and play of words, to evoke intended emotions or responses, but also in unintentional ways. How we fully interpret any book is literally an individual affair. The indeterminate nature of language alone suggests that the meaning of words is never fully clear (Davey, n.d.), but neither do we interpret them neutrally from a distance. To engage with a text, is to do so, in an already existing totality of meaningful relations (Zimmermann, 2015).
Presenting before me, as I prepared for my podcast, was a personal penchant for the ‘pathic’. So all-consuming, book, by book, passage by passage, over time it has drawn me into the world of the ‘hermeneutic interpretative phenomenologist’. As a doctoral student, I am engaged in a study that seeks understanding, rather than authoritative reading or conceptual analysis of material gathered. To this end, I am guided by the work of Max Van Manen’s ‘Phenomenology of Practice’, who [possibly now predictably rather than serendipitously] celebrates and makes use of the work of Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke for me, a source of writing style and ‘meaning’ inspiration before I even knew ‘phenomenology’ was a thing!
If I were to tell you where my greatest feeling, my universal feeling,
the bliss of my earthly existence has been,
I would have to confess: It has always, here and there,
been in this kind of in-seeing,
in the indescribably swift, deep, timeless moments
of this divine seeing into the heart of things.
(Rainer Maria Rilke, 1987)
Van Manen makes use of Rilke to illuminate the rewards that phenomenology offer, “moments of seeing-meaning or “in-seeing” into “the heart of things” as Rilke so felicitously puts it” (Van Manen, 2007). Furthermore, Van Manen (2007: 7) explains the purpose of pathic writing, one being an “ethical corrective of the technological and calculative modalities of contemporary life”, driven by wonder, a desire to “see into the heart of things” (ibid.).
Returning to the point of unnoticed themes and connections throughout my literary collection, I now note a bias towards texts packed with reflections, imagined and real, questions and wonder, on encounters with others, often dealing with the non-cognitive dimensions of life experiences. Maybe I have subconsciously sought out the text, or the text have shaped me, but it is right to say over time, they have infused my senses, my thinking, and developed the lens through which I choose to experience and study ‘being’.
I feel so thankful to all the philosophers and writers of all manner of genre and context, who have dedicated so much of their ideas, emotions, and time to the written word, and no doubt seed my expressions and ruminations upon this very page. Language it seems, especially when written gives, not only gifting us access to understanding, but through every revisit, invokes us to return to, review, look anew and unlock the hidden, yet still unseen.
Nothing is so strange, and at the same time so demanding, as the written word … The written word and what partakes of it – literature (any text) – is the intelligibility of mind transferred to the most alien medium. Nothing is so purely the trace of mind than writing, but nothing is so dependent on the understanding mind either. In deciphering and interpreting it, a miracle takes place: the transformation of something alien and dead into total contemporaneity and familiarity (Gadamer, 2004: 156).
Davey, N. (n.d) ‘Hermeneutics and-its history: a personal view [blog]
Gadamer, H-G. (2004) ‘Truth and Method’, 2nd Rev. ed. London: Continuum.
Rilke, R.M. (1987) ‘The notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge’, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rilke, R.M. (1987) ‘Rilke and Benvenuta: An intimate correspondence’, New York: Fromm International.
Van Manen, M. (2007) ‘Phenomenology of Practice’, Phenomenology & Practice, 1(1), pp. 11-30.
Van Manen, M. (2014) ‘Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-Giving Methods in ‘Phenomenological Research and Writing‘, Routledge: London.
Zimmermann, J. (2015) ‘Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction’, London: Oxford University Press.