The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The art of not reading

Arthur Schopenhauer meditated on reading books and highlighted the “art of not reading” as an opportunity to filter what it is that one reads. And the reason he saw such a necessity was because of the way reading can make us subject to the thinking others have done.

What authors do is make their thinking accessible to their readers. When reading, we seek to repeat the author’s mental process to capture what it is he wanted to say. And the more we do so, the less we may see a need to think for ourselves. That is, as long as we don’t see a need to reflect on the reading or don’t try to put it to use.

Schopenhauer also saw the time it takes to read. His invitation thus was one to reflect on the reading as well as one to choose whose thinking one would engage with. Why read something that would not pass the test of time?

But looking at it from another perspective, why read if one doesn’t put it into context? Reading the news, can’t wait until it passes the test of time. And not reading the news leaves us without the ability to grasp the context we live in. Whatever news we read, they reflect someone else’s thinking, which means that it can’t be ours. How then is it aligned and contributing to our understanding of the context we live in?

For Schopenhauer, there was a need to distinguish between books that would remain worthwhile reads and those that had existed to satisfy the author and were focused on capturing the reader’s attention. Social media only amplified this habit.

To get a sense of what literature would remain worthwhile reads, Schopenhauer said: “I wish someone would attempt a tragical history of literature, showing how the greatest writers and artists have been treated during their lives by the various nations which have produced them and whose proudest possessions they are. It would show us the endless fight which the good and genuine works of all periods and countries have had to carry on against the perverse and bad. It would depict the martyrdom of almost all those who truly enlightened humanity, of almost all the great masters in every kind of art; it would show us how they, with few exceptions, were tormented without recognition, without any to share their misery, without followers; how they existed in poverty and misery whilst fame, honour, and riches fell to the lot of the worthless”

In essence, authors that are famous in their time and appreciated by everyone may be questionable. Whereas those that find themselves widely rejected may be worth more attention. This certainly isn’t a sufficient criterion to detect professionalism and excellent writing. But what it may do, is invite a bit more of one’s own thinking to the experience of reading.





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