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 why modern man needs books.
“Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest.” Herman Hesse
“Dreams, books are each a world.” Wordsworth
Your imagination is creativity’s womb. By using your imagination you can create anything. This is a power that must be wielded responsibly. You should read to know how to use that power.
You Can Create Worlds
I want you to try something. First, read this paragraph to the end to get the idea. Now, close your eyes. Keep them closed for one minute or as long as you can spare and imagine a new world. Any new world that comes to mind is fine. There are no rules. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Can you smell anything? Taste? Use all your senses.
Now I want you to really think about this question: is what you imagine any less real than the television shows you watched last night? or the movie you saw a week ago? Is it more real? In what way?
Through this exercise I hope you realize the difference between having something imprinted on your mind with visual effect and something you have to work to imagine. This distinction is important because it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting others create the world for you. Be careful how much you allow yourself to be influenced by seductive influences that over power your creative thought through direct impact on the senses.
Words Create Worlds as Well
Wittgenstein helps us take our discussion one step further. He says, a new language is potentially a new way to live. Wittgenstein wants you to be reborn, even if just for a moment, in every book you learn something from. For our purposes this means that language and words have a creative effect. They show us how to live and encourage us to adopt a new way of life inspired by the words we’ve read.
Why is this important to us and to Wittgenstein? When you read, worlds are revealed to you. If you understand the writing and believe it enough you might decide the world, or some part of the world, is worth working to bring into existence. Your imagination makes you an active participant in the world. You start to influence your thoughts instead of having them influence you.
How Do You Decide Which World to Bring to Life?
In great writing, a new way to be is revealed. If you choose, you can make that existence your own. Readers know which “selfs” are worth living. The idea behind a liberal arts education is to equip you with the ability to decide which worlds are worth bringing into existence and which are not.
Without books, many of our experiences are chance discoveries. The unpredictable nature of our days makes it hard for us to live up to our creative potential.
Don’t reduce yourself to floatsam and jetsam carried by the waves of daily life. Instead of being a passive vessel, influence your thoughts by proactively exposing yourself to new ideas.
Are There Any Limits to Your Power?
It is a western idea that man has no limits except for those he self-imposes and to make this idea real western man has written many books. Indulge in that power.
Here’s the thing though, the modern western reader isn’t the chosen one. He doesn’t have special powers or abilities. He will hear no voice commanding him to act in any special way.
He is, instead, blessed with the same power as everyone else. The power to influence his own thoughts. The only question is whether he will choose to use it.
Reading reveals the power of imagination. The new perspective gained by the active selective use of the imagination is life altering. Read to know how to create worlds and then how to choose which ones you bring into existence. Read to understand that you can actively influence your thoughts and, in doing so, bring the world you choose to imagine into existence.
Maybe it’s not enough to just read and move on. Maybe what Wittgenstein, Hesse, and Wordsworth are suggesting is that we should live what we read and let it work on our lives. In “Why Read?” Mark Edmundson phrases the issue perfectly, “A liberal education uses books to rejuvenate, reaffirm, replenish, revise, overwhelm, replace, in some cases (alas) even help begin to generate the web of words that we’re defined by.”
Start defining yourself through your reading experiences. If you do, you might just find a whole new way to live.