15 December 2010

Should We Read?

How seriously should we take books? The parents of Hong Kong are perhaps the ones who might be able to provide a proper response to this question. Rather than manifesting our awareness of the dangers of books, they assure us that reading must necessarily cultivate our intellectual and emotional demands and instead urge us to adopt a fetishistically reverent attitude to their literary merits. Prompted by this literary fervour, many children are therefore obliged to surrender to the reading lists carefully formulated by their parents so they may obtain a wider vision of the world to accomplish a range of intellectual endeavours.

For many devoted readers, the benefits of reading cannot be more obvious. In the face of financial assault, political disgrace, and romantic pessimism, our wretched souls are likely to assume a melancholy air and contemplate the inherent frustrating experience of life. Disconsolate, books invite us to abstract all our surroundings and take refuge in a more agreeable world, tempering our anxieties that are caused by the reality. The other benefit of reading, and a more crucial one, is that it makes allowance for our critical analysis, and thereby makes way for us to develop our intellectual faculties of what we feel, even when it means other writers help us to do so. Instead of taking whom we admire as oracle, we should consider these writers milestones of our own thoughts, through distilling their wisdom, remedy and refine the significant parts of ourselves.

But books often cause their readers a few problems. Not only we often mistakenly regard our favourite writers as being lucid on almost all topics, but it's also because they might silence us. If good writers might influence us in a negative way, it is because their writings contain bits and pieces that we don't yet know how to articulate. A survey of Shakespeare's works, through the insights into human nature that are beautifully suggested in the balanced phrases, may strike us with awe, but it's maddening in the way we are unable to command our minds with fluidity to articulate our pens across a blank sheet of paper to state precisely what we feel. The works of a fine prose stylist detonates a too great potential to rival against even the most insatiable desire to write.

Another problem is idolisation. When we encounter a beautifully written work, it is perhaps not the case that we might idolise the writer, but, rather, the objects the writer so skilfully describes. Upon reading Gombrich's "The Story of Art", though one may learn how to appreciate certain works of art more properly, behind its forceful description of works of art lies the implicit tendency to savour what Gombrich aligns with artistic merits, harbouring within us an appreciation of what is depicted in the pictures rather than the artistic quality of the pictures. We are forced to reconcile an intended artistic reverence with a neglect of what constitutes the essence of the works of art, hence liable to suffer the rigid inability to appreciate what is ignored by Gombrich.

To read too much is therefore to paralyse our intellectual temper with literary idolatry and deny us our right to individuality to voice out what we value. It forgoes a family of life-enhancing ideas which can only arise through the rigours of critical analysis and invites a sense of authoritarianism to which we consistently surrender. It discolours the flexibility and complexity of the human mind to which our imaginative vision is anchored. Moreover, reading is a response to anxiety and unhappiness. To encourage the habit of reading is to further acknowledge one is in a state of unhappiness, frustrated at our inability to translate and adapt ourselves to the realistic incarnation of what is desirable.

For those who think reading is necessarily a good thing, I should strongly argue for the opposite, that reading too much, or even reading itself, may actually close our minds to what is intelligent. Not only parents should stop encouraging their children to read, we should also acknowledge that Hong Kong is one of the happiest places to live in, because most people scarcely have the need to read.


1 comment:

  1. Everybody shuld be reading the Holy Bible because it is the word of God.


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