Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Mobius Strip of Ifs

Seldom have I run across a collection of essays as revealing, provoking, and inspiring as Mathias Freese’s This Mobius Strip of Ifs.  Freese is at a place in his life that lends itself to deep introspection about the “what-ifs” of a lifetime spent searching for the truth about himself and his relationship to a society of which he largely disapproves.  This collection of thirty-six essays, written over a period of four decades, chronicles everything from Freese’s childhood memories, to his battle to free himself of society’s conditioning and regimentation, to the loss of an adult daughter who succumbed to the chronic pain she could no longer tolerate and took her own life.  There are so many ideas packed into this 164-page book, in fact, that it is difficult to know where to begin discussing them. 

The essays themselves are divided into three sections, the first of which is titled by a Nietzsche quotation: “Knowledge is Death.”  In this section are pieces on things such as Freese’s experiences as a frustrated high school teacher, his later career as a therapist, his admiration of Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, and a scalding few pages about the pretentiousness and maliciousness of book-reviewing bloggers, “some of whom imagine they are literary critics.”

I find one quote from the Hitchens essay to be particularly striking – and revealing:

“To learn that most of what you have learned from the elders of your own family, your ethnicity and your nation is organized bullshit can be terribly frightening, ultimately moving and then considerably bracing.”

Mathias B. Freese
The book’s second section is entitled “Metaphorical Noodles” and focuses on Freese’s appreciation of a handful of actors and movies.  This portion of the book includes individual essays on Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre, and Orson Welles, as well as one on Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.  Freese’s deep love of Buster Keaton’s work convinced me that finding some of Keaton’s early films is something I need to do.  Having enjoyed two of the films now, I thank him for that.

The third section of the book, “The Seawall,” is comprised of Freese’s thoughts on his relationship to his children and his “Remembrances of Things Past.”  The theme here, if perhaps a bit more concisely expressed, is much like what Freese presents in the book’s first group of essays.  Looking back on his life now, Mathias Freese can say, “I have few regrets.  It is what it is, it is what I have been given.”  He had to work very hard, for a long, long time, to reach this point in his life.  May This Mobius Strip of Ifs gently push the rest of us in that direction.

Rated at: 5.0

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