Tuesday, February 28

We Few, We Peculiar Few

Long before the bane of television invaded our every waking moment C.S. Lewis commented that while most people in modern industrial cultures are at least marginally able to read, they just don't. In his wise and wonderful book An Experiment in Criticism he said:

"The majority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store by reading. They turn to it as a last resource. They abandon it with alacrity as soon as any alternative pastime turns up. It is kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments of enforced solitude, or for the process called reading oneself to sleep. They sometimes combine it with desultory conversation; often, with listening to the radio. But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished."

He goes further admitting that there is a profound puzzlement on the part of the mass of the citizenry over the tastes and habits of the literate: "It is pretty clear that the majority, if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would not accuse us of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about any books at all. We treat as a main ingredient in our well-being something which to them is marginal. Hence to say simply that they like one thing and we another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts."

All this is not to imply any hint of moral turpitude on the part of modern bohemianism, rather it is to recognize the simple reality of the gaping chasm that exists between those who read and those who don't, between the popular many and the peculiar few. It is to recognize that education demands the latter while maintaining steadfast incompatibility with the former.

4 comments:

kala said...

Hi Dr. Grant,
It makes me smile that I came upon your blog this day. I was going through Barnes and Noble with leizure, when I suddenly felt a little dizzy. So many books! So little time and MONEY! There's so much I am missing out on! How on earth am I ever going to catch up?!
Well, thank you again for the insight!
God bless you!

Kala

MH said...

This would explain why most of me is secretly in love with St. John's college: four years reading books by geniuses and then discussing them. To hear what other people thought about The Brothers Karamazov, instead of 'You didn't seriously read a 900-page book for fun!?'

It also explains why C.S. Lewis is my hero.

Chris Yokel said...

Dr. Grant,

This is a great post. Would it be possible that I could republish it in the worldview magazine I run www.ideasandparadigms.com. You can just let me know through the website. Thanks so much. I appreciate your writing and keep on this blog as much as possible.

George said...

Chris: Yes, by all means. You may reproduce with proper attribution and a link back to the site.