Note — Nov 24, 2019

On Serendipity

Seen in → No.104

Source → aeon.co/essays/what-does-it-mean-to-know-or-to-...

For the last few months I’ve been using the word “eclectic” when I’ve had to describe this newsletter somewhere or other. I think the general mix of topics is proof enough, but this article is probably an especially good example. There’s no great insight or mind blowing conclusion, it’s simply a number of excerpts from a written “decades-long conversation between friends about books, photography and life, exploring what it is to know, to look, to see.” I liked their idea of formalizing a years-long serendipitous series of conversations as a more purposeful, written (and daily!) one with a fixed duration, and I liked a good chunk of what they shared (even if the tone is a bit affected).

I do wake up and find, nearly always, that something has germinated in the night. I have the direction of that day’s contribution. I can lie there and muse on it, moving ideas around to find the best sequence. Soon enough I start getting phrases, things I feel I should quickly note down before I lose them. Then it’s just a matter of getting myself into my chair. […]

[J]ust make literal something we all already know about reading, that it’s never straightforward, never a linear march from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page, chapter to chapter? No, there’s always a large measure of serendipity in the mix. Where are you reading? When? What time of day, or night? Who is with you? What are you drinking? Most importantly, what are you thinking, what are you going through? Why are you reading? […]

But even before the digital, long before, I knew that most of my reading was unstable. The beam of focus was moving all over – glancing ahead, winding back, rereading passages, etc. It’s worse now. Staying the course – taking in one sentence after another, from page one to the end – that’s the welcome anomaly, and when it happens I want to cry out some variant of ‘Look Ma, no hands!’