I’m Kickin’ My Ass…

For those who don’t recognize the quote, it comes from a funny scene in Liar, Liar during which Jim Carrey’s character beats himself up — literally pummels himself — in the bathroom for being unable to lie in the courtroom.

While I haven’t resorted to physical violence against myself, I have taken on three staggering intellectual works (in addition to the Shakespeare) that are knocking me senseless by their brilliance.

They are:

A stunning work of human accomplishment itself, this book manages somehow to be both statistically geeky and poetic about the glories of our achievements since the harnessing of fire. While concentrating primarily on the last 10,000 years in particular, it examines the hows and whys underlying the best of who we are.

For the Randian in all of us, rather than those who wish to downplay our better aspects, it celebrates the monumental cultural and technological shifts that have characterized both our artistic and scientific progress as a species. Yes, he dares to use the word progress. This is an unapologic survey of the human race on a gargantuan scale. A monumental undertaking and an utterly glorious read.

And then:

This book was given to me as a Christmas present by somebody who wanted to get rid of me for awhile (“Here, kid, go run along now and play with this.”). A candy-coated concoction of rigorous scholarship and Di Vinci Code cleverness, it goes down like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packed with 25 grams of whey protein. I keep saying, one more page, one more page until my mind hits tilt and I am forced to put the damned thing down.

It reveals what a complete moron I am regarding intellectual history from the turn of the millennium (no, not 2001) through the Reformation and Renaissance. It exposes my ignorance and fills in all the missing pieces between the collapse of Rome and the modernizing energies released by the American and French Revolutions. I covered some of this stuff in college but the 11th and 12th Century got short shrift. Who knew there was so much going on that would change the world?

And last — and pertaining most significantly to this blog:

I mention it again because I finally started the darn thing. I’d only been putting it off because it looked so imposing. Then I caught the sheer genius of its construction: 518 pages divided into 91 chapterlets — I call them that only because they average about five pages each, obviously, but wow, do they pack a punch.

I’m reading one chapter for every act of a play I cover. But now that I’ve started, I’m finding the book too irresistable to put down. It’s filled with marvelous biographical writing about a man we supposedly know so little about. I love that it doesn’t digress into erudite but frivolous bogs. It’s succinct, bold, captivating, larky, and comprehensive in its sweep. Yes, there may be a few surmises made here or there, as well as conjecture that could get dismissed in a court of law. But screw that — here are projections, extrapolations, interpolations and musings based upon what we do know that make what we don’t a lot less painful to swallow.

I quote from a passage that just lit me up:

By four o’clock in the morning, the town had awakened; by five, the streets were filled with people. The traders and labourers breakfasted at eight, and took their dinner or luncheon at noon; they finished their work at seven in the evening at the end of a fourteen-hour day. The Statute of Artificers, however, promulgated in 1563, allowed one hour of sleep after the noonday meal. There were no holidays but the various holy days.

The average lifespan of the period for a man then was only 47 years. So Shakespeare, though he died at 52, outlived the statistical norm by 5 years. I don’t know about you people, but I’m floored by information like this.

Together, these three works collectively kick my ass and put me in my intellectual place. I’m dwarfed by their brilliance and overwhelmed by the magnitude by which they broaden my scope as I look out onto the world.

It’s an ass-kicking, all right, but a good and much needed one to be sure. I’m humbled and grateful for the service.

As Nietzsche reminds, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But he forgot to mention that it might also make us feel like a doofus in the process.

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2 Responses to “I’m Kickin’ My Ass…”

  1. Wendy Says:

    These look great books – thanks. I’ll check out the library and hope they’re there.

  2. Wendy Says:

    And you shouldn’t kick your ass. Poor dumb creature – he’s doing his best.

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