Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rereading Emerson: nothing is new under the sun

He [Carlyle] took despairing or satirical views of literature at this moment; recounted the incredible sums paid in one year by the great booksellers for puffing. Hence it comes that no newspaper is trusted now, no books are bought, and the booksellers are on the eve of bankruptcy."
From English Traits, published in 1856. Emerson visited England in 1847.


Barbara Delaney said...

This reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Robertson Davies. He is proof that not every person from Canada has grey slush where their brains should be.

"It can be argued" Robertson Davies once wrote, "that reading too much is just as pernicious as reading too little." He goes on to give an example designed to strike terror into the heart of any truly greedy reader, describing a girl of his acquaintance who ploughed her way diligently through great tracts of Shakespeare, Dickens and George Bernard Shaw, only to find "at the end of it her mind was as flat as Holland. All she had gained were thick glasses and bad breath, doubtless the result of literary constipation."


I think it's too late for laxatives or enemas for Harriet Klausner. I think the time has come for a high colonic...really high.

Malleus said...

> "It can be argued" Robertson Davies once wrote,
> "that reading too much is just as pernicious as
> reading too little."
Very true. Actually, Emerson had something to say about it too. As well as Stern (something to the effect that an ounce of thinking is worth a ton of reading). And Schopenhauer... and Nietzsche. I'm too lazy to look for exact quotes, but they all spoke adamantly -- and almost in the same exact words -- against compulsive massive reading as very harmful to the intellect.

Now, as far as Harriet, I think we needn't be concerned: I doubt she really reads any of the stuff she "reviews".

Stanley H Nemeth said...

Btw, David Lodge's excellent book "The Year of Henry James," just out in paperback, provides a contemporary illustration of the memorable right judgment about cultural mission vs. the often crass imperatives of the publishing industry Carlyle and Emerson long ago each pointed out.

Barbara Delaney said...

A quote from Nietzsche:

"The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole."

And one from Mortimer J. Adler:

"In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you."

Malleus said...

Actually (about reading too much), I'm not sure where the border lies between reading too much and reading a lot. What these guys said kinda feels right, but I'd be at a loss to explain where one must stop.