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What gives you joy?

December 8, 2009

I’ve just watched Andrew Denton interviewing Clive James on his Elders program. He asked James what gives him “joy”, and James replied “the Arts”. James said it didn’t have to be anything particular, it could be Marvin Gaye singing “I heard it through the grapevine” or the Adagio from Beethoven’s Ninth Sympathy or a painting by Toulouse Lautrec (whom he apparently adores). What a great answer! Being the eclectic dilettante (to lay it on thick) that I am, I can relate to that … I just hope all those responsible for funding education were watching. The Arts should be absolutely fundamental to any school program. (Now you know one of my soapboxes).

While James didn’t specifically mention books in response to that particular question, the interview did take place in his library. He is said to own 1000s of books. In response to Denton’s question about how we should judge him if we agree with the idea that we “can judge a man (hmm…) by his relationship to his books”, James said:

Intimately involved I should’ve thought. And this is just sort of the outer limit of the books that I own. And that immediately raises the question, not how many of them have you read – cause I really have read most of them, I’ve been alive a long time now – but how many of them will I read again? And if I won’t, why are they here? …[Answering this question he continued] I just like the look of them. I think the civilisation that exists in the book gets into you through osmosis, I like to have them around.

I hope he’s right … about the osmosis I mean! I sure know he’s right about liking to have them around.

Anyhow, anyone like to share what gives them joy?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2009 23:53

    Hi, Speaking of joy, reading Clive James really gives me joy. I’ve read his “Fame in the 20th Century” and “Unreliable Memoirs”, and I have a couple of his books on my Amazon wish list. He is one of the few non-fiction writers I read. But I’m looking at his Wikipedia entry and see that he writes fiction and poetry too. Have you read any of his poetry or fiction? Intriguing.

    • December 10, 2009 06:55

      Ha, Tony, love your pic … I have a cartoonish pic on facebook – maybe I’ll import it over here so you can see me too!

      Did you see the Fame TV series? I saw it when we were living in the US and bought the book too. I’ve often meant to read Unreliable memoirs but haven’t yet. I haven’t read his fiction, and have only read a smattering of his poetry mainly through articles discussing his view of poetry. I know him mostly as a commentator and humorist on TV – and as one of Australia’s famous expats – and have always enjoyed listening to him for his ideas AND the way he expresses them.

  2. December 11, 2009 17:06

    There are certain books and other things that give me joy, but the one moment of joy that still seems particularly sharp in retrospect occurred to me in Chiang Mai when I was walking down the street. I looked to the left and saw a statue at the end of a narrow pathway between two high orange-brown stone walls. The statue was a little like a Chinese lion standing on a pillar, but I couldn’t see all of it, only the front of the face and part of one front paw and leg. Somehow this seemed perfect, the perfect sight, and I was joyful.

  3. adevotedreader permalink
    December 12, 2009 11:08

    I’d agree with James that The Arts give me joy although I doubt I’d use that rather grand phrase.

    Tony, I think James is an enthusastic but medicocre poet. There was quite a debate about this at the Austalian Literary’s Revie’,s blog, which you can read (along with an example poem) here.

  4. December 12, 2009 15:39

    LOL Sarah … and I was one of the responders who commented on that post though not on James’ poetry because I don’t really know it but on what makes a good poem for me. I only commented on one aspect – there are more – but it was interesting to see how varied people are about poetry (as they are about most things!!).

    BTW DKA, I love the lion image that gave you joy – I guess you would call it part of The Arts? Regardless, there are images like that, that one catches along the way, that (hmmm, too many “that”s) can be very joy-making aren’t there?

  5. December 13, 2009 06:49

    I always liked the title of the C.S. Lewis book, “Surprised by Joy,” because I find that seems to be true of joy. Any number of things might bring me joy, but it can’t be guaranteed — the sweetest joy always kind of springs on you. Sunsets, glorious cloudscapes, fields of flowers, a stand of gum trees, Beethoven, John Denver, Slim Dusty, a bag of new books from the bookstore, visiting my brother, a great meal with friends, a scene like the one in Chiang Mai described above, the moment the plane I’m on takes off — any number of things can bring the sharp pang of joy, but it can’t be simply generated — it is usually that moment of smiling as you recognize, with surprised delight, the first strains of a favorite concerto or look up to see a sliver of moon above the tree tops. If you go looking for it, it eludes you. But if you are always open and ready for it, it will surprise you regularly.

  6. December 13, 2009 08:16

    Wonderful response waltzingaustralia – of course wonderful experiences in nature are an immense source of joy. Seeing children perform pretty much always does it for me too – their enthusiasm combined with relative innocence provides true joy. And you are so right – Joy is the thing that descends upon you unsought.

  7. December 13, 2009 08:33

    Re. I guess you would call it part of The Arts?

    I’m not so sure. I think it was the realisation that a mystery (what does the rest of this statue look like?) had been offered to me, but, at the same time, didn’t need to be solved. The back parts of the statue wouldn’t have seemed remarkable if I’d gone down the alleyway and looked, I was sure of that. The statue was ordinary. The presentation of the mystery was worth more than the solution. In fact I knew the solution as soon as the mystery appeared. I’d seen statues like that before. There was no mystery. Yet there was.

  8. December 13, 2009 08:45

    So – I’ve thought of something else – I wonder if it was this paradox that gave me joy, the sight of this paradox, or the awareness of it, the fact that I was, at that moment, embodying paradox (because the mystery, needed me there or else it wouldn’t have existed in the first place, and the solution might not have seemed worthless to a different person), and the additional awareness that paradox also provides jokes and riddles with their punchlines – that the sight of this staue down the alleyway was a joke without a punchline, a laughterless joke, and it was this joke without an object or laughter that gave me the feeling that meant joy, in this case? Because what is joy?

  9. December 13, 2009 08:45

    Ah, sweet mystery of life! I take your point – and yet, and yet, isn’t such mystery part of the Arts? I know, I’m being provocative. You can get the same mystery rounding a corner in a road and catching some gorgeous image only to find later, from another angle, that it really is quite an ordinary landscape. That doesn’t take away from the initial joy. So…after all that I’ll concede and agree with you!

  10. December 14, 2009 08:29

    Of course. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be an artwork out there that would leave someone with a similar feeling, but that incident in Chiang Mai – just that, there – didn’t seem to have anything to do with art, unless you want to say that I was an unknowing artist, spontaneously creating her own outdoor installation piece for an audience of one. You could argue that perhaps the time I’d spent reading about art before that moment prepared me to feel the way I did, and then prompted me to try to explain it afterwards. Art as an ongoing attempt to delineate the ineffable?

    As for The Arts as a shared experience, if I wanted to move my Thai alleyway in that direction I think I’d have to do what Proust did with his loose tiles or Constable did with his clouds and find a framework that would let other people approach it and understand it. Otherwise it’s just me, here, saying, “Uh, so, I saw this, uh, alleyway, and it was really, like – profound?” and the audience raising its eyebrows and replying politely, “That’s nice dear.”

  11. December 18, 2009 14:32

    The moments shared with others when each person is laughing so hard it hurts; singing along to my favourite musicals; finding dark chocolate bars with kooky flavours; travel; hugs; books that transport me; and, of course, my mum 😛

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