yes Gods are crazy

Rambling on Reading

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Reading is often a pleasure. Not always for the same reasons though. Reading can also throw up frustrations. You read about a good book, look forward to reading it, even enjoy reading it and later be at loss for words when it comes to describing what it is that you have learnt from the book. Raskolnikov‘s internal monologues were long, his thoughts and actions violent, particularly appealing to any young man who wants to take arms against a sea of troubles. But how many of us can quote any of this ramblings from memory? Zosima the elder recounts his life and advises the youngest Karamazov on many matters that a young man is confused about. How much of that speech, which lasts for an entire chapter, can one recount? What about the ‘The Grand Inquisitor‘. Or any of the various descriptions of Tolstoy that transplant us in those scenes that he describes? One remembers the gist of it, but is it enough? One can’t escape feeling inadequate for being unable to quote at will the passages that one liked while reading them in the book. The nagging doubts about whether what one remembers is congruent with what was written can derail quite a few trains of thought.

Two books that I want to be proud of having read are prominent examples in this regard. Robert Pirsing’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is one. Alan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” is the other. I had completed reading the latter yesterday. A faint, lurking at the corners of  consciousness kind of doubt about my understanding of the book spoiled the last hundred pages (of the total ~400) of the book for me. I did learn something from the book. The origins of the modern university and the incompleteness of the modern sciences for one. The present university where the various departments would be rated on their financial performance makes one wonder if we can ever re-scale the heights from which we have fallen. Bloom’s wisdom (I don’t know what else to call it) can be inferred from his simplified-for-laymen outline of the foundations of the present democratic system that we all follow. From being someone who believed that philosophy was bullshit, I am a convert now. And this is where my frustration lies. After closing the book I can’t boast of having understood what I have read. I have doubts, and I know that it will require many more years of reading for me to understand (or challenge) Bloom’s description. Having experienced this path in the relatively simpler natural sciences, it is frustrating to be aware of something but letting it remain out of one’s reach.

Written by kowsik

January 20, 2011 at 22:47

Posted in life

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