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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
After fighting my way through the Selected Non-Fictions of Borges, I was ready for something to rest my mind a bit. Something that I could read in a night or two and that wouldn’t require endless cross-referencing with other sources in order to properly appreciate. So I started cruising my shelves, which still contain a few volumes that I own and haven’t yet read. Eventually my eye came to rest on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The book came to me (I think) by way of my brother when he liquidated his undergraduate book collection, and had languished on my shelf unread for quite a while. Here, no doubt, was the perfect opportunity to take care of it. It’s a slim story, and one that pretty much everybody thinks they already know, despite the fact that hardly anyone to whom I’ve spoken has actually read the book. So I went for it.
Mr. Hyde
As expected, I finished it in a couple of sittings. And as expected, the story as written wasn’t quite the same as the story that exists in the popular imagination. I think that both The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein are generally assumed (particularly by those who haven’t read them) to be allegories about the dangers of Man tasting the forbidden fruit of scientific knowledge. But neither of them is really that. In the case of Jekyll and Hyde, the vicious persona of Mr. Hyde is not the result of a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong; on the contrary, it’s the result of a scientific experiment that succeeds perfectly. Kindly Dr. Jekyll does not fall victim to the evil of Hyde — he concocts a potion in order to free himself of the inhibitions of Jekyll so that he can become Hyde. And he takes enormous pleasure in that persona. When he wants to be evil without the pesky interference of his conscience, he calls in Hyde, so that he can indulge his base pleasures while Jekyll continues to live with an untarnished reputation. Interestingly, once he’s Hyde, he never wants to change back to Jekyll, except to avoid apprehension and prosecution. It seems Stevenson has a fairly dim view of human nature…
In any case, this wasn’t my favorite book ever, but it was at least a bit of brain candy before I start ramping back up to something more challenging again. But a bit more candy first. Next stop: American Gods.

Selected Nonfictions

Selected Nonfictions
Jorge Luis Borges

Selected Nonfictions
Writing about the Selected Nonfictions of Jorge Luis Borges is something like writing about the Encyclopedia Brittanica or the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a bit shorter than either, but covers an array of topics only slightly less broad. Where else can we find King Kong and the Kabbalah measured side by side? Borges comes across as an expert on all things literary, which I suppose he might have been. As I read him, a certain sense of despair always sets in. It’s the despair of having once aspired to be a so-called “man of letters”, and realizing that it’s something I’ll never really be.
It’s not that it’s something I couldn’t ever be. If I were to devote myself single-mindedly to literature, I could likely produce a volume nearly as diverse (although not nearly as artful) by the time I were an old man. I couldn’t read all of the world’s great literature, but I could read quite a lot of it, and probably in a small handful of different languages. But would my time have been well spent? My personal answer would certainly be “no”. Not that I think it was the wrong choice for Borges — I can’t speak for him — but it would be the wrong choice for me. I don’t particularly want to be expert in just one thing (even “one thing” as broad as the entirety of human literature); I want to know a lot about almost everything. And not just know a lot about everything, but be able to do a lot of everything. Borges writes brilliantly about the tango. But could he dance the tango brilliantly? I don’t know the answer, but would be willing to guess not.
So I’ve chosen the life of jack-of-all-trades, a “renaissance man”, or a charlatan, depending on your point of view. Which is itself not entirely satisfying, because there still isn’t enough time in the measly seventy-odd years I’ve been alloted to do half of what I’d like to do or learn half of what I’d like to learn. So I’m stuck making the most of the time that I have, and basking when possible in the glow of other people’s genius in their chosen idiom. So be it.