Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Read Literature, The Best Way To

A piece on why read literature and the best way to, followed by my comment.

Actually, the tease is in the area of the wiggly argument here, as I read that argument, but not right on the money. One piece of it, covered by the tease, is that the cliche that we are made better persons by reading, better as in morally better, is, in the tease's language, "blather." But that point seems to fade away along the way after getting some concrete attention:

....But a serious, non-circular opposition case has been made, if not against reading, then against the idea that the western canon is morally improving or good for the soul....the debate was finally settled in the public sphere, where the cultural warriors, keen to alter reputations and revise the agenda, were greeted with indifference or derision....

Myself, I hold we're not bettered by reading but we're better off for it, enriched rather than improved.

The main argument concerns itself more fully with the best way to read. Two different approaches contrast. One is the dreariness of reading out of some sense of obligation or career necessity, coupled with seeing it, rationalizing it?, as more enhanced than lived life itself:

....Carey confesses to feeling guilty that as an undergraduate he could read all day, while “out in the real world” (there it is again) people were “slogging away.” But it doesn’t seem all that different from his life in the non-real world: “I secured a copy from Hammersmith Public Library … and slogged through all sixteen thousand lines of it. It was unspeakably boring” (Layamon’s Brut). “I slogged through it of course, because my aim was to learn, not to have fun” (Johnson’s Lives of the Poets)....

...... Carey notes that people like him often prefer reading things to seeing them—typically, his example comes not from his own life but from a poem by Wordsworth—and reflects: “So living your truest life in books may deaden the real world for you as well as enliven it.” But how, judging by this account, does reading enliven things?....

The other approach is, simply stated, as a "...first hand mode of experience..." in which reading is an "unhermetic" facet of exuberant, wanted, lively experience:

....The library had been a place for studying,” Mead writes, of her rather jollier time at Oxford, “but it had also been a place for everything else; seeing friends, watching strangers, flirting and falling in love. Life happened in the library.”...

That's nice and is instanced by Rebecca Mead's book "The Road To Middlemarch," in which her spaced apart rereadings of the novel are so integral to her evolving sense of her own life. I get that in relation to the two approaches to reading. As a sophomore, reading Middlemarch was a labour of labour, dutiful necessity and a terrible slog. Now, inspired by a broadcast conversation with Mead and two others,  (, I'm rereading it just as a matter purely wanting to, for my own pleasure and contemplation, slowly, thinking about various parts, marvelling at Eliot's powerful intelligence, psychological acuity and mature vision all as carried forward by her poetic,  trenchant prose, trying to work out its meaning as I go. For example:

....“Rosamond played admirably. Her master at Mrs. Lemon's school ...was one of those excellent musicians here and there to be found in our provinces, worthy to compare with many a noted Kapellmeister ... Rosamond, with the executant's instinct, had seized his manner of playing, and gave forth his large rendering of noble music with the precision of an echo.”....( Chapter 16)

"...with the precision of an echo": what an evocative metaphor fused with psychological insight!

I don't know why I've written all this. Just felt like it, I guess.

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