Saturday, May 05, 2007

Open Secrets

The title of this post is half of the title of an amazing book by one of the tutors at my son's school: St. John's College. I've been dipping into it more and more often lately. The complete title is Open Secrets/Inward Prospects and the author is a sweet-faced, gray-haired woman named Eva Brann. I picked up a copy on the advice of someone while visiting the school. It's not a linear book, more like a book of quotes all by the same person. You can dip in anywhere and find something fascinating. Since she is relatively old and teaches the young, a lot of the book deals with issues of age, generational disparities, what has been gained or lost over time for individuals and for the world. Her language is embued with the style and richness of the classical literature that is the DNA of St. John's.

Here's one quote, picked randomly:

"What are the young deprived of; nearby green groves with a hidden observant Pan, open churches with their heirarchy of pomp, stifling cities and their heavy neighborhood-auras, brooding pasts with beautiful archetypes, stern courts with dangerous power, the elegant malevolences of smart strong teachers. What they get is prosperous freedom. Does it have a savor?"


"Surely flagellating the imagination with hallucinogenics is a huge admission of its failure."


"The bully conservatives know as little about conservation as the officous liberals know about liberty or the ranting radicals know about roots."

None of these by itself does the book justice. The effect of reading it, the gestalt, if that word applies here, is that of being submerged in a vast mind with an excellent librarian who stands ready to show you the spine of every great book you've always wanted to read -- and not the paperback editions: the original printings with etched plates, stiff bindings and pages uncut, awaiting your investigation.

I understand she was recently named a national treasure by someone in the Bush administration.

I still remember seeing her at St. John's, surrounded by students and their parents. To say she had a saintlike glow might be extreme and a projection, but she was serene. I went to get the book from elsewhere to have her sign it and she had disappeared.

Now that I'm familiar with the book, I realize how redundant it would be to have her adorn it with her autograph.