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You Must Know Everything

June 9, 2009

It is incredibly ridiculous and ambitious, but one of my life’s goals is to know everything.  What I believe to be a product of my personality type (ENFP according to Mms. Myers and Briggs) is my penchant for throwing myself whole-heartedly into one project, notion, or theory after another without ever finding one that sticks.  Rather than considering the fact that I have a woefully short attention span and should stick to a few things, I have decided that my swiftly-changing affections can, instead, be used to know absolutely everything.  Rather than get bogged down in the minutiae and finer details of various tasks, I’ll simply gloss over things and get a general gist.  Sounds like a plan, right?

While hunkering down and being good at a few things rather than being okay at everything may seem like a better idea, my quixotic goal of knowing everything constantly makes me think of Isaac Babel’s wonderful short story, “You Must Know Everything.” (linked is author George Saunders reading the story and then discussing it with New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman)

In the story, a young Russian boy is admonished by his old, crotchety grandmother that he must know everything in order to succeed in the world.  Earlier in the story, however, it is revealed that the boy–through keen observation and wonder–is well on his way to knowing everything, the boy takes such joy in knowing the world around him.

Beyond the sharp prose (translated from Russian by Max Hayward), this story always forces me to pause and remember to enjoy what may seem mundane and pedestrian.  Babel forces me to see the poetry alive within the prosaic.

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