Reading with Both Eyes

The Juggler by Spock84/DeviantArt
The Juggler by Spock84/DeviantArt

I keep thinking about balance a lot these days. Not just physical balance, obviously, though I think about that too on some nights, especially when I’m walking out of a bar. I’m thinking more about a mental attitude. About keeping everything in the air, and not dropping any of the balls. I think it requires a sort of 360-degree peripheral vision that allows you to plot the locations of everything without focusing on anything. It’s something I feel I’ve always wanted, but never managed to achieve. I just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, and there’s a bit in it that touches on this. In it, the protagonist is attempting to decipher books from the planet Tralfamadore:

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out — in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message — describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

Years ago, a friend of my father’s told me how he was learning to speed read, and it involved using his peripheral vision to scan down both sides of the column of text, the left eye down the left side and the right eye down the right. The downside of this technique was that while you registered the pertinent details quickly, you didn’t really absorb the sentences. So it was great for reading a newspaper, but not so much when it came to a novel. But it’s still all about balance, of not really focusing on any one thing.

Like walking, riding a bicycle, or flying helicopters.

It makes me sometimes wonder what balance really is. An awareness; a compromise? Or is balance in fact the opposite of focus, of quality — of good, even? But Robert Pirsig often talks of quality as almost situational awareness; an overall grasp of the big picture. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he makes it sound like balance:

If you want to build a factory or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what’s good. That is what carries you forward. This sense isn’t just something you’re born with, although you are born with it. It’s also something you can develop. It’s just not “intuition”, not just unexplained “skill” or “talent”. It’s the direct result of contact with basic reality, Quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal.

A juggler needs balance to keep all those objects in the air, but he still doesn’t lose touch with them. He touches them all, moves them around, controls them. Maybe that’s it.

10 thoughts on “Reading with Both Eyes

  1. Great stuff Blacker… you made my day.. livin in Europe and learning language after language, culture after culture, re-learning situations, behaviour interpretations etc re-questioning attitudes and intentions of all the stimuli around me in order to maintain ‘balance’ and ‘perspective’ it is curiouser and curiouser… !

    I came up with this theory that the more languages and cultural assumptions imbedded in these languages, you learn, the more surface-skimming you get … your brain dulls in the penetration but becomes expert on skimming like a dragon fly… balance in one dimension may mean you forfeit the depth the intensity and passion for the good..

  2. Balance was a concept my father used to epitomise as well as try to hone into our unresponsive heads during childhood. When I look back I think during his 85 years continuing his hands-off attitude to many worldly concepts ( largely helped by his not working daily for a living) was about maintaining balance within his life and within himself. The result was that this balanced man rarely engaged with changing things for the better, was not a good man moved by his own weight and responsibility for children or wife but a good man in the universe who saw multiple perspectives at once and arrived at balanced neutrality with a speed that meant he rarely if ever harmed a living being. His perspective did irreparable damage to the emotional well being of his dependants. So is balance always good? There are no direct answers maybe….

  3. The Tao puts it this way: “do nothing leave nothing left undone”. The true juggler probably touches them all, maybe even moves them about but certainly doesn’t control them. Being in the “zone” is about giving up control. Watch a re-run of Michael Jordan on a good day… now that’s Balance!

    On completely another topic, this might be a dumb question given your writings from the perspective of a former soldier but have you read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien?

    1. Maybe you are right, George. But I think even if the control is instinctual, it’s still control. Though perhaps an unconscious one. Remember Senna in the rain at Donington in 1993? You don’t drive with that much balance unless your control is absolute.

      No, funnily I haven’t read it. The only O’Brien book I’ve read is If I Die in a Combat Zone.

  4. Hi David,

    Loved ur book ” A Cause Untrue” …The book was as exciting & thrilling like a Robert Ludlum or a Dan Brown novel.

    Probably the first time a SL novelist wrote about SF…now that was cool.

    With the 30 year old war coming to an end,it has created the ideal environment for u to write another novel.It’s no secret that SF & commandos played a vital role in the downfall of LTTE & plenty of classified info will be declassified giving u ample info to write something even better than “A Cause Untrue”

    Hoping to read ur next novel soon dude..


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