Robert Bringhurst makes a convincing case for taking up a vocation in a lecture given at the University of Victoria, British Columbia in 1998 under the title “The Vocation of Being, The Text of the Whole” available in The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks.
In the beginning, a vocation isn’t much. Just perhaps a nagging interest that blossoms as habitual attention. It matures into continuous, compassionate, active, multivalent curiosity. Curiosity like that has a peculiar effect. It produces, over time, a sense of intellectual responsibility. And that produces in its turn a nonconforming and nonconfining sense of identity. In other words, it is whole. A job is always a fragment. Vocation is whole.
I am with him until the division into whole and fragment. I am all for challenging alienated and alienating labour. However, if vocation is a calling, it is invariably split off from a unified identity. The call must emanate from somewhere. Aside from the topology of call and response that seems at the very least to require a fractured subject, there is something else niggling.
Let us pay careful attention to the course traced out: in the beginning, the beginning; in the end, the whole. We move from beginning to an implied end. It’s not stated explicitly but there is a cycling. At the very least a generative progression (which becomes clearer later on with the introduction of a twin theme of social and biological reproduction). Even if we are not pressed into accepting some intellectual ecology whose principle axis is reproduction, we must read very carefully (with perhaps some of that lauded habitual attention) to notice that Bringhurst is not saying that vocation is the whole. It is whole in the sense of being hale and hard: healthy. But the one sentence about jobs sneaks in an echo of “the” to balance its “a fragment”. You just want to reach the definite article to complete the symmetry: a fragment; the whole.
If this seems like too much work, then you probably experience reading as a job. Or listening is not habitually attentive. Oddly it is to a listening-informed reading that Bringhurst in his forward brings us to by example.
It’s the elders I mostly want to listen to, and the elders are always mostly gone: Greek and Chinese poets and philosophers; Haida and Navajo mythtellers; Baghdadi and Florentine craftsmen polishing their fine syllabic inlays centuries ago. Where their voices have survived, it is because they took their own dictation or someone did it for them. Sitting down to read them, we are free to move as slowly as we please — and to travel at that speed through all the worlds they enfold. Paper is two-dimensional space, but as soon as language dances on the paper, it becomes a form of time.
Sometimes I want to hear the youth. Like Adam Gopnik on kidspeak in The New Yorker.
For the sake of economy, we have to leave a lot of information out of everything we say, and one of our special human abilities is to make that economy itself eloquent and informative. Kidspeak is a classic instance of compression in balance with concision. What sounds limited and repetitive to the outsider is, to the knowing listener, as nuanced as a Henry James passage.
Irony. In crowd. Apart.
Called to a vocation. To ask syllabic [silver?] inlay.
And so for day 1268