Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Exercising with Dartagnan

Tiberge at Galliawatch laments the lack of good French literature in recent times, and I wonder if a lack of good books goes hand in hand with a lack of reading good books.

To sit down, hour after hour, curled up with a good book, our mind getting a workout from the ideas contained on each page, exercised to hold in the eye of our imagination so much detail, and so many emotions… this is a physical skill. It is an athletic skill, requiring the focus that any athlete would appreciate in engaging their tasks of physical strength.

I remember fondly the summer I discovered Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers – an unabridged version, in the children’s section of the library no less! – and spent many an hour, in-between street hockey, tree climbing and bike riding, learning about life alongside Dartagnan. Count of Monte Cristo awaited me next, and from the adult section of the same library I located the sequels to The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and Man in the Iron Mask.

It took conditioning of the sort any athlete would recognize, to build up the muscles of the mind to the point that a kid would have the incentive to plough through such heavy books. Like any good athlete, we warmed up, we started small, and worked our way up. I remember believing it was important to read books a little bit beyond oneself, a push I encountered later in gym class, each time instructors dutifully asked us for one more set of sit ups, when we were convinced our stomachs would burst from the effort.

How to inspire the young of today to pick up an Ivanhoe, a Gulliver’s Travels, a Robinson Crusoe, how to motivate the young to pick up and persevere through any one of the classics lying unread in the children’s sections of libraries? How to condition the soul of the young to want to pursue the physical task that is part of one's exploration of the infinite complexity of the motivations that can breathe life into our otherwise empty shells?
How to convince them they need to be doing this?

The goal of an amateur athlete’s exercise regimen isn’t so much “to win”, as it is to “be in shape”. The goal from reading isn’t so much to have ideas, but more to be able to think.

The obesity of body that is so quickly lamented in the national press is surely outmatched by its intellectual equivalent, a softness of minds grown more flaccid than any muscle hanging off the bones. An inability to think…

How to stimulate the mind of the young to read more, so as to exercise their “muse”, when the competition for such exercises are a-musements (meaning, literally, “taking the thinking/muse out of a thing”) like these..?

After this kind of workout, who has the muscle to still walk with Dartagnan..?

1 comment:

truepeers said...

Why read if there is no longer any sense among our elites of a shared transcendent covenant to read about? How do you read about nihilism and relativism and "multiculturalism" other than reading testimonies to/of victimhood, which get tiring when the victims start scapegoating "hegemons" in the name of reversing historic oppression. If that's your mode of thought, it's more likely you are going to be attracted to some Chinese kung fu revenge movie, video game, or a Superhero comic, than a real book; or maybe you will get caught up in the current Vancouver Film Festival hype for the latest local indie production, "Young People Fucking".

But if the elites have had to give up high culture to the mob, there is still a need to renew the covenant if we are to avoid a return to the more primitive forms of sacrifice as centres for our public and "art"-mediated lives. That is where ordinary people on the internet come in. Maybe it is up to us to take a lead in revitalizing reading.

What do you think of this argument?