Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Not the end of the book

OK, I am a rubbish blogger, but in my defence Monkey came home from Edinburgh and has been monopolising my time. "This is not the end of the book" was another spontaneous library request based on a review. It is a very unusual book; a conversation between Umberto Eco (which reminded me that I should add 'The Name of the Rose' to my list) and Jean-Claude Carrière, about books and the impact of technology on the way we read, but also about all sorts of other things, deviating regularly from the course of their discussion with personal anecdotes and stories. I am not sure how to go about reviewing such a book so I will just give you a few quotes that I found interesting and/or enlightening and/or entertaining in the hope that they might pique the interest of some random visitor. 

About the speeding up of life:
"This disappearance of the present that you are talking about is not only due to the fact that trends which used to last thirty years now last thirty days. It's also down to the obsolescence of objects that we have been discussing. I spent a few hours of my life learning to ride a bicycle, but one acquired the knowledge lasts for ever. Now, I might spend two weeks learning some now computer programme, only for a new, seemingly indispensable version to come onto the market before I've mastered the old one. Therefore the problem is not a loss of collective memory. It's the constantly changing nature of the present. We no longer live calmly in the present, but are continually striving to prepare ourselves for the future." (U.E. p.57-8)

On the importance of knowledge:
"In certain cases, the fact of knowing certain things by heart improves your intellect. I quite agree that being cultured is not a matter of knowing the exact date of Napoleon's death. But there's no doubt that the sum total of what one can retain in one's own brain, even the date of Napoleon's death - 5th May 1821 - does give one a certain intellectual freedom.
This is not a new debate. The invention of printing created the possibility of storing all the cultural information one does not wish to be burdened with 'in the fridge' - that is to say, in books - whilst knowing the information could be found whenever it was needed. Aspects of memory den be delegated to books, and to machines, but we still have to know how to use these tools to their maximum effect. So we still have to keep to own minds and memories in good shape." (U.E. p.72-3)

On the role of computers for writers:
"Fifteen years ago there was a moment of American writers who protested against the computer on the grounds that because early drafts of a text appeared onscreen already in typeface, they possessed an innate authority that made them harder to analyse and correct. The screen gave them the dignity and status of a text that was already almost published. Another school, on the other hand, believed - like you - that the computer offers infinite possibilities for correction and improvement." (J.-C.C. p.117)

How the passage of time affects the meaning of books:
"Naturally every reading affects the book, in the same way as the events we experience affect us. A great book is always alive; it grows and ages alongside is, without ever dying. Time enriches and alters it. Mediocre books on the other hand are unaffected by history, and simply disappear. I few years ago I found myself rereading Racine's Andromache. I suddenly came across a monologue in which Andromache is telling her servant about the Trojan massacre: 'Think, think, Caphise, of the cruel night / that was for an entire people an endless night.' Since Auschwitz, those lines read differently. The young Racine was already describing genocide." (J.-C.C. p.158)

Thoughts on the amount of crap that's been written over the years:
"Let's try and imagine the percentage of books, of everything that has ever been written and published around the world, that can be said to be beautiful, moving, unforgettable ... or even just worth reading. One per cent? One out of every thousand? Our attitude towards books is reverential, even sacred. But actually, if you look carefully, a horrific proportion of our libraries is made up of books written by the utterly talentless, or by halfwits and crazy people. The great majority of the 300,000 scrolls kept in the Library of Alexandria are bound to have been complete rubbish." (J.-C.C. p.200)

On the burning of books:
"You're right to say that those who burn books know exactly what they're doing. You have to respect a book's power to want to destroy it. At the same time, the censor is not insane. He knows that he is not going to destroy a blacklisted books by burning a few copies. But the act is still highly symbolic. Most importantly, it says to others: you too may burn this book. Don't hesitate. It's a good thing to do." (J.-C.C. p.255)

On the merits of your 'To Be Read' pile:
"It's important to clarify that a library is not necessarily made up of books that we've read, or even that we will eventually read. They should be books that we can read. Or that we may read. Even if we never do." (J.-C.C. p.284)

Some of it is very esoteric and obscure, but unashamedly intellectual and a totally fascinating exchange of ideas. I have a half written review of 'Curious' that I will try and get finished as it touches on many related ideas, about knowledge and learning. Certainly 'This is not the end of the book' is an affirmation of the continued relevance and importance of books in a world that seems to have become obsessed with its gadgets.


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