Initially, I proceeded through the pages in Hedgehog at a slow pace as I kept returning to www.dictionary.com to define words. Many of the terms I “knew” but in all honesty my understanding had grown fuzzy or nebulous over the years (college was a long time ago). It became obvious that to appreciate the book I couldn’t skim over words if my understanding of the definition was hazy.

While I enjoyed the book’s early pages, I can point to page 176 (“The Great Work of Making Meaning”) as the point where I began loving the work. From that point on, I began reading slowly (not just to re-define words that had lost their meaning to me over the years) but to savor each new turn of events between Renée, Kakuro and Paloma.

The language of Hedgehog is quite beautiful and intricate (which is why defining terms became a necessity) and there are terribly interesting themes that can foster discussion (I’m looking forward to our meeting in January). A few topics (or themes or questions) that might foster discussion include:

  1. What does Renée mean by “Can one be so gifted and yet so impervious to the presence of things?” The reference is to Monsieur Arthens, who Renée accuses of “conversing about mankind as  if there were robots, and about things as though they have no soul and must be reduced to what can be said about them- all at the whim of [his] own subjective inspiration” (page 34). 
  2. How did you react to the story of 5-year-old Renée and the concept that we are not conscious until named? page 44.
  3. Do you agree with either the maxim shared by Paloma in her “Profound Thought No. 3” (“those we can, do; those who can’t, teach…”) or Paloma’s reinterpretation of the maxim (page 56)?
  4. Renée uses her cat as an example to prove “what we know of the world” or what we don’t. What do we know of the world? page 66.
  5. There’s a notion of condescension by the wealthy aimed at the working classes. It shows up in Renee’s discussion of death (page 74) and elsewhere throughout the book (such as pages 259-261). Is that an accurate evaluation of the mindset of people of wealth?
  6. Paloma’s “Profound Thought No 5” describes a state of sibling warfare. Is this normal? Is there evidence of mental illness with Colombe  or Paloma? Or are these normal but very different sisters?
  7. Do you construct yourself every morning? page 92.
  8. What prompts Renee’s soliloquy (pages 96-98) and “what does constitute life?”
  9. What is meant by “the camellia against the moss of the temple” and is it really unattainable by the Western soul? page 99-101.
  10. What’s your answer to the “failure by a hair’s breadth” of the diving twins and Paloma’s comparison of television and reading? page 103-104.
  11. “Civilization is the mastery of violence” (page 107). Do you agree? If so, why do we continue to have “wars and rumors of wars?” Do you agree that humans are really just civilized primates?
  12. Why was Renée so offended by a comma (page 107-110)? Is this scene comedic or serious?
  13. Paloma concludes “Profound Thought No. 8” with: “…Life goes by in no time at all, yet [we’re] always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that [we] needn’t think about tomorrow…But if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to build the present, and when you don’t know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow ends up becoming today, don’t you see?“So we mustn’t forget any of this, absolutely not. We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old and that it won’t look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there’s a retirement home waiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity.“That’s what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people.”

    If you have time, check out the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/31/opinion/31jacoby.html. Reactions to either the article or Paloma’s assertion?

  14. Paloma asserts “We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors….we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person…”  (page 145). Agree or not?
  15. Renée states “art is life, playing to other rhythms” page 154. What brings her to that conclusion…and what does that say about the art we each do and don’t appreciate?
  16. In “Profound Thought No. 10” Palomar is very critical of education (page 158). Justified or not? The same theme recurs with the discussion of Colombe’s thesis on page 247-249.
  17. Have you ever experienced “true conversation” as described by Paloma on her meeting with Kakuro? Page 169.
  18. “Profound Thought No 12” seems to signal the beginning of a transition in Paloma’s thought and suicide plans  (especially pages 194-195). What’s the catalyst for the change? Is there a parallel in the lives of adults; in other words, what gives meaning and purpose to cause us to persevere at times when life seems meaningless?
  19. What’s the purpose of intelligence (page 252)? What is meant by “the only thing that matters is intention….”
  20. What are your “magical primitive beliefs?” Why might you want to “burn cars?” page 257.

Those are my notes (still 65 pages to go); because I want to remember all the themes and events I hope we can discuss in person on January 13, 2011 at Borders (91st and Metcalf, Overland Park, KS). See you then.

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