Recently, critics hereabouts have taken me to task for not reading more. Well, its true: except for, say, bank statements and bills, I’ve developed an aversion to practically the whole of literature. I’d rather spend time writing twaddle of my own than reading somebody else’s.
But if you’re determined to gobble up books and such, what would be the point of it? Why, to discover new and interesting things, no doubt. Which suggests right off that reading might properly be of most benefit to the young who yet have much to learn. If you’re callow and inexperienced, one way to discover the world without leaving the coop would be to read what others have had to say about it.
So, for example, a sophomore might learn from novelist Milan Kundera that “…gratitude [is] simply another name for weakness, for dependency…” (Ignorance, 2002) – something to ashamed of, apparently, unless weakness and dependency happen to be virtues (which is not what Kundera appears to be arguing).
Or again from Ignorance: obscenity is “the root that attaches us most deeply to our homeland.” Well, perhaps, if like (the late) Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward, you can’t define obscenity but know it when you see it: an ineffable something that, together with devotion to country, or maybe instead of it, goes to the very core of your patrimonial selfiness.
To be sure, these are only two random clinkers from fiction and from the same author at that, but for my money they could be exemplars of fiction in general, especially the novel, literature’s preeminent vehicle of dexterous bamboozlement.
Perhaps to cover his tracks Kundera admits that characters in novels are not simulations of living beings, but imaginary beings, experimental selves.
All well and good, but with the sophistication of social science nowadays and computer AI, must we really explore humanness through make-believe characters caged up in books? If its an experimental human you’re after, why not get a programmable robot from Hammacher Schlemmer, say, or just have yourself cloned? Better yet, join a theater troupe where real characters bleed into fictional ones, lending renewed vitality perhaps to both and holding each accountable, more or less, for the other.
If this sounds severe and a bit simplistic, it is. But bear in mind that I don’t begrudge your fondness for novels; I wish only to explain my lack of it. Having spent a career in one of the profane professions§, real people seem way more complex and compelling to me than fictive ones who crop up in literature, from whence perfervid reviewers gush over them like life-long intimates, and authors with much-studied coyness and gravity, “explain” them to credulous talk show hosts.
Still, in one respect, novels seem dependably genuine. As Kundera once told Philip Roth, the erotic scenes in which all his (Kundera’s) novels climax are the "focus where all the themes of the story converge and where its deepest secrets are located.”
Yup, and Freud would agree. Sex and eroticism, accommodating of the wildest fantasies, are distortion-resistant, there being barely a notion of them that could not be deemed real – unusual, perhaps, but not unimaginable.¶
So much for fiction. What of its companion and partner in crime, non-fiction?
Here for me things get dodgier still. I mean, who could object to the facts or to a scholarly collating of them taking the form of, say, history?
Yet I‘m certain there’s such a thing as too much knowledge, a surfeit of learning that contributes, not to enlightenment, but to a sort of cognitive overload, an exhaustion of mental receptiveness and atrophy of the intellect.⌘
Or worse still, perhaps even to moral turpitude! In The Powring Out of the Seven Vials (1642), John Cotton wrote that “the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee.”
Heavenly days! Should incunabula (and perhaps books in general) finally be deemed as iniquitous as they sound?
The Reverend Bayard R. Hal, in The New Purchase, or Seven and a Half Years in the Far West (1843), opined that “smartness and wickedness [are] supposed to be generally coupled, and [like-wise] incompetence and goodness."
Surely, it would be better to be good and incompetent than smart. Shouldn’t one set forth with a vengeance, then, on the path to goodness by eschewing the ensmartening influences of literature, and cherishing instead the bold, pristine simplicity of ignorance?
I think so.
If that’s not enough, it seems that reading actually dissuades one from thinking! Said German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, “If I have a book to have understanding in place of me…I need not think…”
Yet who could gainsay the importance of thinking and not want to think for him/herself? Assuredly, the way forward is to put aside the perils of reading, especially the writings of Kant.
And it ain't just the Germans, either! French philosopher Michel Foucault argued for “the necessity of stupidity to re-connect with what our articulate categories exclude, to recapture the alterity of difference.” Whatever this means, I’m pretty sure it supports my case: illiteracy, good; learning, bad.
To the objection that ignorance stifles learning (if the ignorant believe themselves already learned), I reply “So what?” By facing up to their situation and embracing their illiteracy as learning, the ignorant may so far gain insight into clarity and simplicity that further enlightenment be superfluous. In which case, far from a conniving adversary of learning, chaste ignorance be instead its redeemer and liberator, relieving it of all tiresome tasks and responsibilities. In other words, ignorance doesn’t stifle learning, it makes learning unnecessary.
|Researchers Moxie Cowznofski and A. E. |
Neuman, pioneers in the functionalist theory
of education, educational perennialism, and
the hidden curriculum, publish their data. The
gist of their findings? “Carnal knowledge
and that’s it!”
O, ne’er e’re go there, dear reader – not e’en for Eve’s Red Delicious!
Finally – and here comes the frappe de grâce – you simply can’t argue with science! Recently published findings (see Plate), the product of untold dyspneic research, suggest that only the most elemental sort of education is ever required in order to achieve enlightenment and happiness in your work.
“Wise is the one who followeth the path of simplicity e’en until the ends of the earth, but foolish be he who stays home.”
-- Swami Deepsheesh Rajathustra
§In more or less their order of importance, the profane professions include prostitution, medicine, law and law enforcement, the clergy, crime, etc.
¶For the profane professions, way too much of such info comes with the territory. Imagine having to surgically extract one of these from a rectum decisively corked with it during an erotic escapade run amok.
⌘ After wading through the Autobiography of Malcolm X (496 pages) – on account of an enervation of mind that denied me access even to my own name (“Steven”) – I went for days woozily signing myself “X.”