NAMING THIS BLOG was a bit of a struggle. I tend to neglect formalities, and when I decided to start the project, the main thing I wanted to do was get content online. The name didn’t have to be nifty.
My first thought was to call it The Griesheim Review of Books, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to similar goings on in New York and London. The ironic lilt of it, though, would have been lost on most folks, who would not know of Griesheim, my dull, dear home. The pleasure would have been strictly a private one.
Well, one doesn’t start a blog to remain private, so that was the end of TGRoB. I briefly entertained simply The Griesheim Review, a nod to the ancient and admirable Partisan Review, but the “Griesheim” problem remained.
I also gave a moment’s thought to The Great Stars, from an observation that Saul Bellow puts in Augie March’s mouth when the humble Chicagoan meets Trotsky. The old revolutionary seemed, in Augie’s eyes, to be “guided by the great stars” and to make no apologies for elevating any topic to its Hegelian heights. In a way, that’s what I wanted my blog to do, to connect everyday life to big ideas through great literature. But on its own, without the backstory from Bellow, The Great Stars just sounded pompous and abstract.
I took a new direction, toward my home turf of philsophy. For the existentialist philosopher Heidegger, imagining the hour of one’s death, die Todestunde, was the most reliable way of clarifying one’s ultimate values. Ultimate values might help with naming a blog, right? So, looking back from the (imaginary) deathbed, one asks: what was it that really counted? Weighty stuff, but what a downer. I was not going there.
Still, Heidegger pointed in a promising direction. Don Qixote on his deathbed reproaches himself for small-mindedness. He had traveled widely and striven mightily for high honors, but his whole existence had been constrained by books of a single genre, on dogmatic chivalry. And at the end, he realizes it had all been a delusion–the monsters, the magic spells, the beckoning damsels, the divine plan that gave sense to it all. Qixote wishes bitterly he had read other kinds of books, “that they might be a light to my soul.” One of the things that makes the prospect of my own death bearable is that I have already had Qixote’s epiphany; I did not have to wait until the end for the light to break through. It’s better than finding a million dollars.
So I thought I had it: the La Mancha Review! Qixote had repaired to his hometown before he died, and that’s where he realized what he had missed out on–the real, ambiguous, versicolor world that literature bestows on us and where the blooming, buzzing confusion of life submits to no cosmic scheme of order. It was exactly the vantage point from which to survey all the books I would read–I still had time! La Mancha was the center of my literary universe.
But then little things derailed it. ‘La’ was already a definite article. Calling it the La Mancha Review put me in mind of Joseph Smith’s unlettered references to “the Al-Koran,” or a friend’s annoying query once whether I wanted to go to the Die Kartoffel for dinner. I could just drop the ‘the’ and call it La Mancha Review, but the English noun ‘review’ called out for an English article to render it definite. Perhaps a fully literal translation?–The Stain Review? It sounded like a death metal blog.
That’s when Orwell came to the rescue, as he always does. From the first time I read his observation that strong Indian tea could make one feel “wiser, braver and more optimistic,” I relished the thought as my own. Afternoon tea affords a calm, steady surge of stimulation–different from and in some ways more satisfying than dark coffee’s raw morning jolt–which prepares one in the best way possible for the world that opens up through good books. The experience is a light to the soul. Hence the name.