Friday, October 10, 2008

Flight- in search of travel or perfection?

In a class last week I mentioned to my student that I was reading "The House of the Dead" and that it had put me in a strange, brooding frame of mind. "I have just the thing for you," she claimed, and started rummaging amongst her things. Finally, she triumphantly pulled out a small binder from the storage space below her bed. It was a bilingual copy of Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingstone, Seagull," printed from Cool, I thought. Here's something that should help with my Russian. I can try to read the Russian text on the right and use the English on the left for words I can't understand. I certainly wasn't expecting the thin little binder to get me thinking about 'life, the universe, and everything' (i.e. what I'm doing with my life today, and where I want to be tomorrow- so technically, my life, my universe, and everything to do with me).

To start with, our main character is a seagull who is different from other seagulls, with unconventional values and aims. He is not interested in screeching and bickering for scraps of food. Instead, he wants to spend his days perfecting the techniques of flight, to fly higher, lower, faster and slower than all other gulls. For this, he causes his parents immense grief and worry and even gets kicked out of the flock. Sticking to the professional, "definitely a good book for a Teacher to discuss with a Child Psychologist during an English lesson," I thought.

But then entered the sage gull Chiang. Some of his philosophies seemed reminiscent of Buddhism, and, I want to say Daoism (but I really dont know enough about the latter to make that claim with any conviction). John initially believes that the enlightened gulls, those who place a greater value on flight than food, are in heaven, but Chiang explains that "Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect." I can be particular about things, but I'm not exactly a perfectionist, so I was simply reading along when Chiang threw another nugget of wisdom at me, and this one made me stop in my tracks.

"The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly."


Koyel said...

"Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" was one book that did leave indelible impression to my amnesiac brain. I think the reasons have to lie more in its simple philosophy and appeal than my identification with the subject...because despite the latter I've managed to drive out (from my memory) good stories and accounts promptly after 3-4 years I've read them :-(

Try the other ones by Bach...Have you read "Illusions"?

Tista said...

No. A certain self-titled 'master' thinks "Illusions" was even worse than "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull", but since I like this one, I may like that one even better ;)

Nixie said...

"Jonathan Livingstone Seagull".. I heard so much about this book! even one of my friends (you saw him on the planes some time ago) bears such a nickname - Seagull..
And still hasn't read it..

teoffy said...

it's such a shame not to have read yet this book))) (cause every literate person is to read it) but still...
though i'm sure I'll read it some day)) and maybe even in the near future=)

"made me stop in my tracks" - is it a phraseologism? or what? and what exactly it means? (i guess what... but i want to know for sure)

Tista said...

"made me stop in my tracks": I was going along on one path (one way of thinking or belief system) when suddenly, I came across something that really made me pause and think. I guess another, more literal way to think about it is when you are lazily crossing a street but a speeding car suddenly shows up and brakes to avoid running over you. You may well just be frozen to the spot of road for a moment- stopped in your tracks.

As for Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (and many other texts with Russian translations on one side of the page) check out this link: