Professor of Comparative Literature Arnold Weinstein read an excerpt from his new book “Morning, Noon, and Night” and discussed its creation in front of a small crowd of community members and students in the Brown Bookstore Thursday afternoon. The book of literary analysis touches on the same subjects of confusion, isolation and discovery experienced in adolescence that Weinstein teaches in the first-year seminar COLT 0610D: “Rites of Passage.”
But “Morning, Noon, and Night” goes beyond the scope of the class, looking not just at the process of growing up but at growing old as well.
Weinstein began with a defense of literature as a subject worthy of study, emphasizing that it is “not informational, but experiential.” He compared literature to the practice of trying on clothes in a store. It allows readers to “try on” an experience, he said.
But literature is also a voyage, he added, one that is cheaper and more comfortable than today’s air travel.
Weinstein also discussed the themes in his book. Growing up and adolescence are areas fitting for the college classroom because students are in a sort of limbo, he said.
But he said it is more difficult to bring attention to the subject of old age and aging.
“I have the wisdom to know that if I taught a class about growing old, I would have an attendance of zero,” Weinstein said.
The chapter he chose to read analyzes “a book that nobody’s ever heard of” — the out-of-print “Out of Mind” by Dutch author J. Bernlef.
The story is a first-person narrative told by a man slowly losing his grip on reality as he succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease.
But Weinstein said the book is not entirely dismal. It shows us that there “must be some psychic law of conservation” — that despite losing awareness of the present, the protagonist regains the experience of some past event he believes he is living.
The passage Weinstein read notes that old age, accompanied by the loss of mental faculties, presents one with “deficits but also openings” in the form of remembering everything from past events, friends and long-dead family members to one’s “earliest erotic yearnings.”
The chapter certainly had its fair share of sadness, especially as Weinstein acknowledged his own connection to the final line he quoted — “I want to be found. I want to go home.” What began as a literary exercise — writing about the role of old age in classic literature — ultimately became a more personal, existential experience, he said.
“I think it could be the last book I write,” he added. “It has the feeling of a farewell to me.”