Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Ongoing History of the Purple Notebook

OK, here's another very personal one...

Regular readers will recall my little purple notebook. Perhaps they are tired of hearing about it. Or perhaps not.... I recently had a very deep and emotional discussion with a good friend, one which, along with other things, inspired him with the idea of writing a short book on the meaning of life. As we spoke about this over the phone, I quickly realized that the heart of the book would consist of moments such as those chronicled in my purple notebook-- or (to put it another way), experiences of "joy" as described by C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy, or "spots of time" as described by Wordsworth in The Prelude. In fact, my friend was delighted that I'd heard about Wordsworth's "spots of time". So perhaps such experiences are not so unusual, and perhaps this subject is of some interest to my readers after all.

I am putting together a new "edition" of my purple notebook. My purple notebook was originally a computer file which I wrote up when I was sixteen or seventeen. I called it the Ancaneron (a name I'll explain in a moment). In my college years, I transferred it to a hard-covered notebook with a marble effect cover, and wrote it out in differently coloured inks. (I don't recall exactly what was in this original purple notebook, but I'd guess only a few entries have survived to the latest "editions").

As chronicled on this blog, the modern incarnations of this document have been a little purple notebook, then a blue notebook, then a golden notebook....the latest notebook is shiny red.

I have decided that there is no definitive version of my purple notebook. When I put together a new version, I add some new entries and drop some old entries-- sometimes I revive old entries that had been dropped. My current version is the one I find most inspiring at this stage of my life.

So back to the name 'Ancaneron'. This name came from a fantasy saga I was planning, all the way back in my teens, about an order of bards who would be rather like the bards of ancient Ireland-- not merely wandering minstrels, but living repositories of ancient lore. In my proposed story, the Ancaneron was the name of an epic poem, one which the bards had memorized and which gave them supernatural powers. Like the Bible, the Ancaneron would be a "living word", an animate thing in itself. (I was also rather influenced in this by the Matrix of Leadership in the Transformers stories. The Matrix of Leadership was a kind of power source which was handed from Autobot leader to Autobot leader, and which contained the spirit of previous owners. And of course The Force of the Jedi is in there somewhere, too.)

Well, I did eventually write a novel about an order of 'Bards'-- The Bard's Apprentice, which I serialized on this blog, and which accumulated a modest readership at the time. It's the most (artistically) successful of the novels I've written-- the closest thing to a real novel! However, I didn't use the idea of the Ancaneron.

The name itself was conjured out of thin air, intended to sound similar to the Decameron of Boccaccio (which I haven't read), the Mabinogion of Welsh mythology, or the Necronomicon of H.P. Lovecraft (another fictional text). It was supposed to suggest "ancient incantation".

I've always been excited by the idea of texts such as the Decameron, the Arabian Nights, the Mahabarata, the Canterbury Tales, and (of course) the Bible. (The Canterbury Tales is the only one of those, apart from the Bible, that I've actually read.)

But let me return to the Ancaneron-- not the fictional Ancaneron, but the real one, the progenitor of the purple notebook. Even when I was a teenager, I very consciously thought of the Ancaneron as a "body of folklore" similar to the works of Homer, or the Arthurian legends, or the Mabinogion, or the Kalevala, or indeed the Bible. Like Billy Fisher in Billy Liar, I had my own country, except the country was me. My life was its history, and the Ancaneron was its national epic, or Scripture, or folklore, or some hodge-podge of all these things.

And this analogy still makes sense to me. Writing out my new edition of the purple notebook, I found myself once again musing on canon formation, a life-long fascination. I tried to express it in this blog post, one of the posts that mean the most to me.

Canon formation fascinates me in all its forms. Whether it is the canon formation of Scripture itself, or the evolution of an epic cycle or a folk tale or an urban legend, or the process whereby a poem or a song or a movie comes to be considered a "classic", there is something mysterious about it. At the most exalted heights, this is the mystery of the Holy Spirit forming the canon of Scripture from the choices of the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians. But, even when we descend from those heights, a certain mysteriousness remains. Who decided Casablanca was a classic movie? When did The Lord of the Rings pass from being a fad to an institution? You can't watch this happening; nobody can control it; it would be impossible even to reconstruct retrospectively. It just happens, on the dark side of the moon. It delights my Counter-Enlightenment heart.

Well, my purple notebook has the same mysteriousness, on a micro level. The "spots of time" it chronicles just happened-- whether they are experiences or ideas. At a certain point, I realized that some memory or idea inspired me in a way that was especially potent. It kept coming back, just as "classic" songs or poems or films keep coming back (or classic plays "command the stage"). And, as I'm writing a new edition, I realize that some entries have ceased to "glow" while others have not.

For instance, a memory of attending a Marc Chagall exhibition in Geneva, with Michelle, has continued to "glow", while the memory of reading the Foundation series of science-fiction novels by Isaac Asimov, in my teens, no longer "glows". (But perhaps it will glow again.) The dedication of a book of humorous essays, "For anyone, anywhere, with whom I have ever shared a laugh", continues to glow, while the memory of reading The Iliad when I was seventeen has ceased to glow-- for the moment.

Does anyone find such matters interesting, other than me? Now that I have written so much, I find myself lacking a conclusion. Well, to anyone who cares, the purple notebook lives on!

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