[lit-ideas] Re: Books that bite and sting...

  • From: Ursula Stange <Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 08 Jun 2008 14:14:14 -0400

Two things...
The people on this list do read books that bite and sting. The ones that don't left long ago. So, your rant is about the population generally (about which you are assuredly correct). Can't remember who (John Dewey, maybe) lamented about the state of a world where the vast majority of people can read but have no idea what is worth reading. As you say, 'don't rock my boat and I'm happy' is the majority attitude. (Canadians do read a little more widely than Americans, 46 % of whom, I read recently, haven't read a book of any kind in the last year.) Second: Not sleeping well last night, I also heard a radio interview (BBC World Service, I think) with the director of the Genghis Khan movie. I'm sure I winked away parts of it, but one of his main points seemed to be that G.K.'s history was written by his enemies, so, of course, he's memorialized the way he is (much like the way the Assyrians are portrayed in the Bible).

North Bay

Andy wrote:

Unfortunately, people don't read books that bite and sting. They read books that tell them what they already know. I'm doing that right now. I'm reading Morris Berman's Dark Ages America and boy do I agree with it. I did once go to one of the major 'conservative' sites so called and there was no biting and stinging, just a lot of flapping of ideology. Nearly every word was of the democracy is on the march variety, it was a virtual parallel universe. I suspect few will read Berman's book, because, quoting from Berman who quotes from W.H. Auden, "The Age of Anxiety", "We would rather be ruined than changed." It it ain't broke, don't fix it. Another quote from Berman regarding our supposed multiculturalism: "America is as diverse as a one string guitar." He further makes the point, among a gazillion other points, that America was founded without a cohesive sense of identity, ultimately leading us to form a 'negative identity', which is to say, our never-ending need for an enemy to oppose; i.e., we are what they are not (good/evil, etc.). On page 244 "...during the Revolution the colonists abandoned their monarchical allegiance, leaving them without a glue to hold their society together. They thus turned to Enlightenment values to replace the traditional ones; but these values, with their emphasis on 'natural virtue,' proved to be too idealistic in actual practice, and so the glue of the new society eventually became nothing loftier than the freedom to make money [culminating in the spiritual malaise we're in today]." His treatment of Islam is equally nonideological.

Berman directly addresses the American propensity toward violence, but also indirectly. I recently was told that there's a television program on NBC at 10:00 called Fear Itself. From what I understand it's a horror show, graphic in nature. I'm also told that there are movies in the theaters now that are, subjectively, ten times worse. Why would we not invade Vietnam and Iraq if our entertainment is a virtualized Roman gladiator arena? Since shock has a way of needing to be ever escalated for the same buzz, one has to wonder at what levels of horror this will finally wind up. Curiously, we virtualize through entertainment our violence (when we're not doing it in 3D), while cleaning up on CNN and other news outlets of the hideously graphic violence we inflict with our wars; al Jazeera on the contrary shows the burned limbless bodies of noncombatants while we scream unfair propaganda. I was offended at Donal's youtube link, but it's downright civilized and gentle compared to what Americans are watching for entertainment. I also heard an interview with the director (he happens to be Russian) who made a new movie on Genghis Khan. The interviewer made the requisite statement about GK being a mass murderer to which the director replied to the effect of that the 20th century took GK to the nth degree so it's a bit hypocritical to be offended at GK's violence. Humans are a violent species, and Americans are very human, however much they like to think otherwise. We're unique, just like everybody else. And when things happen to us they happen out of a complete vacuum because we're so good. Rather ruined than changed...

--- On *Sat, 6/7/08, Ursula Stange /<Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>/* wrote:

    From: Ursula Stange <Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>
    Subject: [lit-ideas] Books that bite and sting...
    To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
    Date: Saturday, June 7, 2008, 4:08 PM

    I'll send you my list if you send me yours...

    "Altogether I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.
    If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow to the
    skull, why bother reading it in the first place. So that it can make us
    happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books
    at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write
    ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful
    misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love
    ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to
    the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be
    the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe."
     --- Franz Kafka to his friend, Oskar Pollack, 1904
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