This is a continuation of our “Why Read” discussion. Remember, we started by defining the three broad reasons to read. Then we talked about pleasure and education. Last week, we continued our discussion by looking at the union of story and perspective.
We are modern. We deal with the immense power provided by technology and with our place in a rapidly advancing society. Part of being modern is admitting you are unsure where you belong, who you are, and what you’re expected to do. To engage in the process of coming to terms with these modern realities you must read.
In “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”, Thomas C. Foster explains, “every culture has its own body of myth that can explain things that other disciplines can not. This is some of the most meaningful literature to spend time on.” Modern Philosophy is too engaged with semantics to be the answer. Literature is now the way we learn to deal with our modern predicament. Let’s look at three examples.
Farming and Ranching Were Once the Ways We Exercised Dominion Over Plants and Animals
According to Henry David Thoreau ancient poetry and mythology suggest husbandry (the cultivation of plants and animals) used to be a sacred art. The methodical tilling of ground in preparation for planting combined with the use of animals for just the right purpose were worshiped. They were the object of ceremony and ritual. Husbandry was a way we exercised dominion over plants and animals.
Most of us no longer farm or ranch. Many that still do perform the task as corporations primarily motivated by creating excess to sell for wealth. Without an idea of where we fit in the “food chain” we lose touch with reality. This is a modern predicament. Think about this, though, in the case of a food shortage who do you want in charge of the food supply? Someone who has read “The Grapes of Wrath” or someone who thinks literature is a waste of their time.
Destructive Technology is Our Creation – We Must Read to Manage it Responsibly
Technology is one way we bring our imaginations into the physical world to meet a specific need or desire. We have expansive imaginations and have shown the ability to create what our minds can see. Sometimes, those imaginings are of destructive forces. Nuclear weapons and other “weapons of mass destruction” are more prevalent and feared now than ever.
We need a counterbalance to these forces. We need to spend as much time studying the beauty of our nature as we spend learning how to destroy. I would trust the man with his finger on the nuclear bomb more if he had read “Catch-22.”
Generation Y is now Generation C
Recently, Generation Y was renamed Generation C where C stands for “connected” (arguably D would have been just as valid where D stands for “distracted”). We are defined by our connections. What if those connections are severed, though? What if those connections never form the way they should. What if the very nature of our connections leave us feeling more lonely and depressed than before?
The master of loneliness was David Foster Wallace. He captured its essence because he felt truly alone and depressed, I think. Would you be able to connect to a truly lonely and depressed person better if you’ve read “The Pale King?” Would you be in a better position to understand the impact of even a digital connection if you saw it expressed in literature? I think so.
How Does This All Relate to Perspective?
The scientific evolutionary model tells us we are animals. Our minds tell us something different. We perceive ourselves as capable of adaptation, more intelligent, and more artistic than animals. If our perceptions are true we should act like it. We should exercise those skills which make us different. Creative thinking is our evolutionary niche.
Reading leads to understanding which leads to new perspective. New perspective might teach you how to live in a modern world where we no longer struggle to survive, but instead struggle with how to think and feel. New perspective can show you how to deal with powerful technology in a responsible way. New perspective can teach you how to connect in a world filled with constant interaction.
The next time you think to yourself, I am nothing, I have nothing to offer, or I am wasted space, turn to a book. Instead of feeling lost attempt to understand your place in the world. One beautiful and true sentence can bring you back. It can help you to know your place among plants, animals, and neighbors.