Saturday, June 14, 2014

Robert Grudin: what we best understand

II.24    If the words "to have" and "to know" are taken in their deepest sense, then there is nothing in the world that we may truly have or know.  In most of our experiences--personal, professional, political, esthetic--we stand at the periphery, conversant with detail but unsure about structure, basis, context; unsure even about the nature of the emotions that the experience evokes in us.  What we understand best, we understand by renewal--by looking at the same thing again and again in different ways, looking at it internally and externally, walking around it, turning it in our hands, participating in it until some strange abstract spirit of its being rises from the complexity of effort and detail.  And what we have best, we have by renewal--by chronic challenges never refused,  by danger of loss, by repeated cherishings, and by love remembered.

-- Robert Grudin --
from Time and the Art of Living

I don't know--does this sound bleak to you?--that "there is nothing in the world that we may truly have or know"-- that in most of our experiences we are at the edge of things.  Grudin seems to deny the possibility of an immediate intuitive grasp of things, and that it is only through repeated exposure over a long period that we best understand things, and I suspect this would include people also.   In a sense, I think he insists that only through immersion in whatever it is that we can develop any in-depth understanding of the event or object or person, but we still will never truly know or have anything.

I think that what he says about repeated exposure and renewal is true most of the time.  It does take time and repeated encounters to understand the other, whether it may be an event or an object or a person.  However, there are occasions when there seems to be an instant grasp of the other, being it favorable or unfavorable, that repeated exposure only confirms the first impression.  They are rare, but they do exist.       


  1. Di,

    Not sure what to make of it?

  2. Hey what's wrong with your blog? Last night I tried many times to write a comment and couldn't.

  3. Di,

    I don't know. Perhaps it's a blogspot problem. I can't see anything wrong now.

  4. Odd.
    Whenever I pressed publish after writing a comment, the whole text disappeared.
    Hopefully this one won't.
    Anyway, what I meant to say was that I found this very interesting, and thought-provoking. That's all.

    1. Di,

      The same has happened to me several times now over the past few days. I thought I was doing something wrong, but I guess it's blogspot screwing up again.

    2. Ah, okay. That's irritating. Luckily I generally don't write long comments.

  5. Di,

    I sometimes do, but fortunately all of those got through.