Monday, 20 April 2009

Brit's Back Pages

Reading Brit's response to Non-Obvious Appleyard on torture, I retreat before the complexities of the issue (into a generalised sense that it's probably dangerous to propose a total principled all-circumstances ban on just about anything, and that the British pragmatic bottom-up cumulative approach is preferable to almost anything derived from 'first principles'. By the way, it's Herbert Spencer's birthday today, but I have also retreated from the daunting prospect of writing anything about that strange lost colossus - though I did check out Herbert Spencer quotes online and some of them are surprisingly pithy and insightful - have a look. Maybe he's due a revival. God knows I'm not the man to start it - philosophy is definitely not my thing.) Which brings me to where I intended to start, with Brit's account of boxing up his philosophical Back Pages are realising how little connection he has with the person who read those books. Little remains but a vague memory of having once read them. I think we're all likely to feel this at such times, especially if we hang on to the books of our student years. And if there are comments in the margins... Aiee who was that person? What on earth did he mean by that? Being a good deal older than Brit, I think I've weeded out most of my student books, but I still have some that I know survive as essentially 'props' or totems, rather than reading matter. It is, I like to think, the sign of true education (rather than increasing feebleness of mind) that one can end up so far adrift from an earlier reading self. There is nothing sadder or, in any real sense of the word, less educated than the person whose library consists almost entirely of what they read in their student days. This is a sure sign of someone who has not moved on, whose education ceased with their graduation. True education is more likely to consist, as Brit says, in the stripping away of everything that once seeemed obvious, in the realisation that the more we know the more there is that we don't know. E sempre si fa il mar maggiore... Or, as John Sebastian puts it, 'but the more I see, the more I see there is to see'. This is a process that is hugely expanded and accelerated when we are active on the web and in particular in the blogscape, where worlds of instant connection are constantly opening up vast possibilities, vast areas of knowledge and its handmaiden ignorance. For myslef I feel that my true education began all over again once I began to navigate those vast virtual waters, and still more so when I became a part of the blogscape, connected so profitably to the likes of Frank Wilson, Patrick Kurp, D.G. Myers, the indefatigable Yard of course - and Brit.


  1. Imagine if you were forced by some ungodly law to keep every book you had ever read on display.

    My library of horrors from my early years would begin with such gems as Willard Price, moving on to the literary wonders of James Herbert, Steven King, Eric Van Lustbader and the inestimable Sven Hassel to name but a few. Luckily at about the age of 14-15 I read an obscure but beautiful eco-philosophy book called 'The Worm Forgives the Plough' by John Stewart Collis and it set me on track to the love of great literature that I have today.

    If I was still reading Sven Hassel, you would have my full permission to try me for nazi book crimes