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Quotidiana: Essays Hardcover – March 1, 2010
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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In the interest of disclosure, I'm an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and Patrick Madden is my advisor for the semester I'm just completing. He didn't ask me to read or review "Quotidiana," but I sought it out on my own because in working with him I've come to appreciate how much he is a knowledgable and skilled master of the essay form. I wanted to see how his skills manifest on the page and I was not disappointed. He pushes the limits of the essay because he is not just telling stories--he is seeking to make connections, and many of them are unexpected. I'm blown away, for instance, by the number of plausible ways the rock band Rush gets mentioned in the flow of Madden's prose! I liked accompanying Madden as he expertly ran down the essence of various thoughts and inspirations. I felt it was very much a journey well worth taking.
I instantly identified with him. I grew up loving music and looking into the nitty gritty of lyric meanings. In high school, I took a deep dive into Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album’s almost constant allusions to India. I can’t say I’m as obsessed with Neil Peart as Pat was. Pat’s love of Spanish—specifically the word “cotidiana” for which the name of his book is inspired—drew me in. Why? Because I too searched for it for years after I spent two years in Chile as a missionary. I finally found it. Thanks Pat.
In true essay form, Pat highlights the mundane, the trivial, the nuanced. He doesn’t tell amazing, exciting stories. He tells very normal stories that through his thoughts and reflection become amazing and exciting. Then he brought up “vanitas”, a type of still life painting. “Which is to say that vanitas is a hodgepodge, a collection of disparate objects hinting toward a mysterious meaning, relying on interesting and incongruous interconnections and allusions; a vanitas is a sort of painted essay.” It’s an almost perfect parallel.
That’s what I love most about Pat’s work in Quotidiana, he picks apart memory much like our brain remembers them. Our memories and thoughts are not linear, they jump from one experience to another, drawing conclusions along the way. So does Pat write. His essays have a definite structure and theme, however he’ll talk about Eagle Scouts, then seamlessly bring in art, cemeteries, and magic.
I was about to type that this is a book of essays Montaigne himself would laude, but then I realized if Montaigne actually read this book he would say, “Who the devil is Rush?” But you get the point.
His everyday things that find themselves into his essays always seem to have a touch of the personal. One of the recurring themes in his essays is his love for the band Rush. Rush lyrics or anecdotes seem to find themselves into many of his essays. They serve as a bridge to talk about death and entropy. Somehow Madden is able to take everyday personal things important on a universal level.
In one of his most interesting and enjoyable essays he explores the idea of momento mori. Again he uses Rush as a jumping off point to explore medieval art and the idea of death in general. He also uses the idea of death to explore individual personal experiences with death from his personal life. 221
I also really enjoyed his essay entitled Garlic. Each essay allows us to delve deeper into the person life of Patrick Madden. In this essay he talks about his experiences shadowing his father in law in Uruguay. His father in law sells garlic wholesale to other retailers and he uses this to explore the idea of entropy. He talks montevideo and other large cities and how they are symbols of entropy.
I think what I most enjoyed about this collection is just how many personal touches Patrick Madden adds to his essays. Even though the essays are personal, they keep a universal appeal and allow to delve deeply into complicated issues. He stays within the tradition of Montaigne, while simultaneously expanding it and making it his own.