Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Importance of the Beginning?

I was re-reading Martin Boyd's 1957 novel 'An Outbreak of Love' over the past few days and again thought about how important a beginning is.

Everyone remembers the the first few lines of 'David Copperfield' (Charles Dickens) ...


Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

And probably knows that one of the tenets of Greek drama held that all characters and events should introduced or foreshadowed at the outset. Which Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa does so perfectly and without seeming calculation in the opening chapter of 'Il Gattopardo' ('The Leopard'), my favorite novel of all time.

So I happily settled down, coffee in hand, after the first paragraph of Boyd's novel ...

'Our minds are like those maps at the entrance to the Metro stations in Paris. They are full of unilluminated directions. But when we know where we want to go and press the right button, the route is illuminated before us in electric clarity. We may go through life with no light ever shining along the unused tracts of our mind; or something, the influence of our parents or our friends, our environment or our own stupidity may cause us to press the wrong button, so that instead of reaching stations of which the names glow with history and devotion , Sevres Babylone, Cluny, Strasbourg St Dennis, we arrive only at Monge. The right button is more often pressed by some accident than by our own choice, as when a line of poetry or a glimpse through a doorway may show us where we long to go'

Happily cos this opening so nicely reflects, among other things, the epiphany I experienced at twenty something when I went to a party and someone told me about semiotic theory and I phoned Sydney University about a post graduate course ... and ultimately became an academic in the field. And I understood that much of life is chance - and all my anxiety at not being able to answer the question 'What are you going to do with your life?' was unnecessary.

So beginnings are important in novels and the like - but, counter-intuitively, not necessarily in life!

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