Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
When we ‘see’ a landscape, we situate ourselves in it. If we ‘saw’ the art of the past, we would situate ourselves in history. When we are prevented from seeing it, we are being deprived of the history which belongs to us. Who benefits from this deprivation? In the end, the art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes, and such a justification can no longer make sense in modern terms. And so, inevitably, it mystifies.
I have just started reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. What we hear in it, across it, is a certain brand of optimism that seems impossible to imagine, to inhabit, today. What a "we" here, what a confidence about what makes sense, and doesn’t, "in modern terms."
We are so very much closer to the way of seeing or thinking that is preserved and carried over in Benjamin’s theses than Berger’s book. We know what it’s like to feel the wind on our faces of the "storm blowing from Paradise," the "storm… we call Progress." We are closer, somehow, to 1940 than we are to 1972.
We know what it feels like to have our wings pinned back. What it feels like to have our eyes opened is a different matter altogether.
I am going to read Ways of Seeing as a guide to Ways of Teaching, and perhaps see what I can do with the lessons I’ve learned in the fall.
Also in the LRB this week: Adam Phillips on Peter Barham’s Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. (Subscription only – why don’t you grab yourself a copy…)
Sneaky good review… Almost skipped it. But it seems that Barham’s up to something very interesting indeed in this book. According to Phillips, this is the story of how mental injury in or ineligibility for the first world war laid the medico-ideological groundwork for the welfare state. I know, sounds a little strange, but take a look at the article… Here’s a snippet:
Barham has surprisingly little to say about religion – or indeed about
patriotism as ersatz religion – but a great deal to say about a
politics organised around the scapegoating of unhappiness. The ranks of
those who found the war unbearable – there is a difference, of course,
between saying something is unbearable and actually, like the lunatics,
being unable to bear it – were forging, in his view (though they didn’t
know it), a new kind of heroism: they were the prophets, one might say,
though Barham doesn’t quite spell this out, of the forthcoming
politically sanctioned welfare state. It was the mental health
casualties rather than the ‘physical invalids’ of the war, Barham
intimates, who raised the question of whether a case could be made, in
political terms, for the value of vulnerability. Could emotional
fragility be any use to society?
Pas au-dela’s got a nice post, complete with one of my favorite passages from Orwell (the one where he’s basically work at the paper-bound early-century version of Blockbuster), about books, the "pleasant problem" of having "too many books to read. And yet also the pressure always, bordering on compulsion, for just one more book…"
I have always been a book horder. It used to be more fun in the days before Amazon, when my wife and I would raid used book stores – our particular favorites were those that had tables and tables of remaindered academic books. (Lots of stores like this in Amherst-Northampton, where we went to college…) All this is ruined by the internet – there’s no need to stock up, to buy the one you don’t need now, but might down the road, and might never see again…
Getting to the point: somehow I’ve gotten to the point where I love throwing books out, and especially selling them on Amazon. Last month: more than $300 in sales. The pressure to buy just one more at some point turn into the pressure of "you have not read yet! when are you going to read?!?" and since then is been all disinvestment rather than acquisition. (Although, since the advent of Amazon Prime, I’ve been suffering from a bit of a resurgence in book buying. The perfect scam to hook someone like me – no shipping costs means it literally is like grabbing a book from a shelf, any hour of the day…)
Anyway, I’ve always been interesting in the psychology of hoarding vs. the psychology of disencumberment… I grew up in a household that didn’t read, in a town with no readers. The books that I bought back then were a great comfort to me, a sign of who I was – who I was becoming. (My wife and I in a sense came together out of this shared trait/affliction). Acquired an enormous library by age 18, spent every dollar I had on books. But as my confidence in myself grew I turned into an empty-bookcase man. Ideal would be to have the 100 books I actually need to use and no more.
(Remember one time when I was still very young, and I went out to visit my now-wife where she lived at the time. My dad gave me $200 to take with me on the trip – which was more money than I had ever had in my wallet to that date. Arrived in her city, and we promptly headed to a Borders where we spent the entire sum, and then some, on a big old stack. Good memory… One of the best $200 I ever spent…)
It’s sort of like when I was a kid, and you could determine the nouveau riches (or not quite riches) from the old money people by the home decor. The former stocked their places with junk, knickknacks, brickabrack. While the latter had barren living rooms, refrigerators with no magnets on them…
I was born into the former, but I’ve become very much the latter. For better or worse. Breathe the open-plan, the empty, the thing-less like its air. What a sellout, a class traitor….