An Amusing Analogy

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from How to Read a Novel
John Sutherland

There was something dehumanizing about the whole population of China reading Mao's Little Red Book publicly, simultaneously, and in the same 'correct' way during the late 1960s. It was dehumanizing int he same way as are the futuristic serfs in Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis, who do everything, from walking, to eating, to copulating, to sleeping, en masse. Regimented reading is a contradiction in terms. And in the case of fiction, there is something faintly unsettling about the Da Vinci phenomenon. Did those twenty-five-million-and-rising punters freely choose to read the novel? Or were they merely drifting with some bestselling tide, as helpless as literate jellyfish to choose their course?

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It's a fun and interesting analogy indeed, but it teases me with another question:

Isn't much of monastic reading also "regimented"--from praying the divine office as a community to having one monk read aloud in the refectory while the rest listen quietly?

Also, for the sake of discussion, Steven, what would you say is the difference between Mao's regimented reading and what goes on in an average high school English class? =)

Dear Enbrethiliel,

I wouldn't say the reading was regimented, so much as the prayer--and I think that may be a different matter entirely. Prayer, like weight-lifting, is a discipline that benefits from a more rigorous and perhaps even "scheduled" pursuit. Monks are read to at refectory, but in their private time and reading, have their own materials to read at their own pace--admittedly probably of a similar nature, but not necessarily the same thing at the same rate.

As to high-school english class--I would say that what he has to say about book groups applies there, in that English class is a co-opted book group--you don't get any choice about what you read, but you are encouraged (in the best classes) to form opinions and to examine the text after your own fashion, not relying upon slavish reading after one critic or another. So I'd say the English Class is on the level with book group--a good teacher demands certain understandings from the student, but does not require that all interpretations necessarily agree, merely that they are supported by evidence from the reading. (Yes, I know, there are a great many teachers who think that it is their duty to bestow THE ONE TRUE and UNDYING interpretation of any given work. But they delude themselves if they think they've got it, much less can hand it out.) Sincerely hope I'm not treading on any toes--despite the great many who may wish to confine interpretation, the vast majority wishes to do the service of opening up the rich treasury of meaning implicit in a work. I just think back to one of my teachers who told me in no uncertain terms that the only way to read Keats' "Ode on a Nightingale" was as an unconscious suicide note. The less said of her, the better.)



well, i taught high school english, and there werent' nuttin' regimented 'bout it. huh!

Hello Steven,

An interesting aside: I've been studying the role of analogy in revelation and I learned that all mystery must be learned through analogy because a mystery is not perceivable and man always learns things through the senses. He must have an image of the mystery in order to begin his comprehension of that mystery - hence, the need for analogy. Analogies give the mystery form. That's one reason why the da Vinci code is so upsetting. It gives the wrong image/form to the mystery of faith. It’s like entering the wrong data into a computer and man comes away unknowingly with a misprinted concept. If the subject were not an intangible mystery there's far less damage done because a viewer can receive the image elsewhere. For example, if they show the Eiffel Tower to be in San Diego - the misinformation can be corrected.

Sorry to go for so long, this topic fascinates me :)

Good to read your blog again, its been a long time. Come see what I'm doing now at the URL above. In Christ, Mary



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 2, 2008 8:15 AM.

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