"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Friday, August 08, 2008

"It [is still] a pleasure to burn."

I am rediscovering an old favorite. I first read Fahrenheit 451 when I was 10 or 11 and again several times throughout my teens. I had a crush on Ray Bradbury when I was 15, give or take, (he was only 65 or so at the time) and wrote him a lovely warm letter to which he personally responded, saying "Dear Emily: Thank you for your lovely warm letter..."

Irony notwithstanding, I got the unabridged audio version of Fahrenheit at the library recently. Read by the author. I imagine it was produced several years ago and though his diction isn't always completely crisp (I just finished listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray which, as you might imagine, was especially crispy) his rather jolly-sounding voice somehow fits the bleak, chilling (but hopeful) story. I also wonder what it was about the book, and about me, that made me take to it as I did. A penchant for the bleak and chilling? In high school I read Camus' L'├ętranger several times, too. I snuck home from church when I was a mere tot to watch "Alien" and could probably recite most of Bela Lugosi's lines from "Dracula," in a Transylvanian accent, around that time. Religiously entered a place without time or dimension in nightly reruns of the original Twilight Zone and / or The Outer Limits on the little tv I had in my room from the time I was 8 until I was almost 17. In more recent years (and last Monday, in fact), of course there's "X-Files," though I admit that the casting of the show had as much to do with my appreciation of it as did the storylines.

I don't think it's just that penchant, though. Fahrenheit seems scarier and closer to social reality than ever. Flat screen TVs filling up the whole wall, ear bud communicators, random shootings, shutting down all the meaningful parts of public education, shutting down critical thought, social alienation...it's all there as if it came to him in a vision, which it probably did.

Somehow by 10 or 11 the I felt that the status quo was already highly suspect, and I knew it without really grasping what it meant to have Ronald Reagan in office. Fahrenheit stirred up my sense of righteous dissent and made me think that at least a little bit of the world could be saved by committing to memory passages of great literature and scripture (which I have often felt are essentially the same, but that's a subject for another post sometime). My English teachers and professors were subsequently warriors raging against the dying of the light of independent thinking and metaphor and all forms of linguistic art. I knew they would all be locked up when the thought police took over and I hoped I'd get to go with them.

Mr. Bradbury, thanks, for Fahrenheit and Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles and so many other wonderfully weird and human stories. I will always, always love you. Even if I am taken away for having too many books, or for any other reason. And happy 86th birthday on the 22nd.

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