Wednesday, February 02, 2005

On the Terribly Significant Business of Other People

This past Monday, we, the dorks at Hunter Hillel, gave away 250 free Krispy Kreme donuts as a Welcome Back to School from Hillel. One of the women I met that morning was a professor who will be teaching Jewish-American Literature. I took that class last semester and when I told her she mentioned that her class is going to be a lot harder than Professor Benjamin's was (the class I took). Because we're all meeting new people now in our classes and trying to get to know each other better, I thought this quote from Philip Roth's American Pastoral, a book I read for the above mentioned class, was totally appropriate to quote. Yeah, lame excuse, but it's my favorite quote ever and I wanted to share it.

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home and tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? ... The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that--well, lucky you.
excerpt from American Pastoral by Philip Roth (pg. 35)
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