- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

The uninsightful insights of an uninteresting man who misunderstands zen and knows fuckall about motorcycle maintenance.

- Jane Austen's complete works.

"Not bad for someone who didn't read the book," my english teacher said, handing back the quiz I got a B plus on simply by extrapolating logical answers from the questions asked. "Not bad for someone who couldn't even get through the cliff notes," I corrected her. We were not friends.

- Nietzsche.

So far I have tried Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil and a few essays. I generally find them starting out as bombasts from a misanthrope and by the time I put them down, spittle-flecked diatribes against our Precious Bodily Fluids.

- Dune.

Which is not to say I didn't read it. I even read half of Dune Messiah. But Frank Herbert and the Space Arabs never gets any better, never gets interesting, and is always some form of "jihad is justified when you're crushing Imperialists" and never makes the vaguest attempt to explore the nuance.

- Walden.

Thoreau gets through his adventures in the woods by hanging out at Emerson's house whenever things get rough.

- A Sand County Almanac.

Yeah, see, it's not that evil is as evil does. Axes are evil and shovels are good. Full stop.


I'm ambivalent about this entire line of questioning. On the one hand, there are a great many classics that I have had shoved down my throat or beaten over the head with by friends and they fucking suck. They do. The truths they wish to expose are lies, the perspectives they grant are flawed, and the characters mouthing the prose are repellant. That the weight of the Western World has decided these books are genius makes you socially and mentally deficient if you cant grok their wisdom.

On the other hand, books are great, books are good, only bad people ban books, us intellectuals always know how to look down our noses at those horrible people who ban Horton Hears a Who because of its subversive ecological message. Therefore thou shalt not slag on the heroes of others because obviously that makes you a goose-stepping Nazi.

But when I say "Gormenghast" it means fuckall to anybody here. Yet it was a major portion of pop culture for 30-odd years. Toynbee? Toynbee was the guy that everybody quoted when talking about history from about 1930 to about 1970. His perspective was the perspective on the world until Durant. Now nobody remembers Durant. It's all about Jared Fucking Diamond. Before Toynbee it was Frazer.

Edward Said basically made his bones by going through 1000 years of literature and pointing out that the perspective of the entire goddamn Western World on the Middle East was bullshit, chapter and verse, point by point, book by book. The only way to refresh a culture is to cast aside old, useless things.

And the pedagogy of "great books" is bullshit, too. As Gardner pointed out, most books are taught not because they are good, but because they simply and clearly illustrate whatever point the instructor is trying to make. You read Pride and Prejudice because it's the quintessential comedy of manners. You read The Scarlet Letter because it's the quintessential moralist play. And you read Last of the Mohicans because it's just about the only thing from that era that still exists. There. Now you're well-read. Now make every child you encounter suffer through the same hazing.

The danger in threads like this is we all bring our baggage to them. I was in a really, really shitty place when I had Jane Fucking Austen shoved down my throat and Pride and Prejudice could be personally read to me by Carmen Elektra in a nightie and I'd still walk out of the room. And we forget that when we engage in these discussions - your baggage ain't mine, mine ain't yours, and god help you if you try to make me carry yours or put mine down.

posted by keifermiller: 502 days ago