Wednesday 9th March, 2005

 
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By hook or by book

He asked me, “This entire area is fiction?”

“Yes,” I responded.

I was standing among the hard cover fiction shelves at the National Library, having just refused to tell this stranger the meaning of one of my tattoos. He, I supposed, was making conversation however he could. I was wrong about that supposition. He was just being an asp.

“So you living in a dream world,” he snorted.

I glared at him, thinking, “Supercilious runt!”

There’s nothing like being a legend in one’s own mind to let slip one’s ignorance. And the words from Zoë Heller’s novel, What Was She Thinking, “...but for all (his) class advantages, (he) is woefully ill read.”

People who do not read good books can never be smart. Yes, I include fiction in that. In fact, most of all.

Nothing can teach you the significance of education, truth and the dignity of labour better than a good story. Honest. It is not by chance that all the world’s ancient civilisations cultivated folklore and storytelling traditions.

Out of such came the warily watered-down Grimm and Anderson fairy tales. But there is a moral to every story, nonetheless. And why? As was asked as an answer in the Native American odyssey, Dreamkeeper, “Who will show the people what not to do by doing it?”

Subliminal suggestioning is a sophisticated, appealing and effective method of conditioning the creative side of people’s brains.

In books, fiction, storytelling, we might learn most of what there is to learn without even having to try beyond reading the book. It enters, sly like, and beds down,; becomes our thoughts, our feelings, our insight, our knowledge, our Selves.

Sounds insidious?

Despite that, fiction must remain. It is necessary. Storytelling must not be lost. That is the surest way to illiteracy, which is far more than merely being unable to read.

When the movies are forgotten, and today’s “hard facts” have been superseded by the “hard facts” of future discoveries, novels will endure to help us think, live, be “imaginally.”

In their stories we can experience anything, with little of the tearing asunder of our souls that could befall us by living it actually.

In stories we have our history. In stories we have our heroes. In stories, since it is mostly made-up anyway, we have no fear of opening up — of being vulnerable to the lies we always look for in what passes for truth these days.

“A people without stories is like the wind in the buffalo grass. Who will keep our stories?” the grandfather asked his wayward grandson.

Indeed.

All this crime we face I think is an off-shoot of a certain kind of young male refusing to find the calming effect of fiction, that ironically at the same time fires the imagination enough to see beyond violence, despair, laziness, confusion, self-doubt.

While it was my father who first nurtured feminism and independence into me, books (and movies, which are just fast books) played a large part in leading me to liberalism.

There is freedom to be had by freeing your mind with a good novel. “Power lies in these here pages!”

I saw a journey of my life in two paintings. The first was Balthazar Klossowski de Rola Balthus’ “Katia Reading” : a young girl in almost profile pose, with such an intent expression, sitting with a book held up high that casts a shadow over her face,; in a dim but warming room, her legs, one tucked, one stretched — comfort itself.

The second was Edouard Vuillard’s “Femme Lison, le Soir”: a woman, “faceless,” but seeming old, in a room of cosy confines but dramatic shadows, late evening time by the look of the light, reading, too — as she may have done since she inspired Balthus’ “Katia Reading.”

Both were me. That’s my life I looked at: the written word ever there, ever a part of me, sharing time, sharing space.

What would I be without books? I tell you, I wouldn’t be here.

I wouldn’t be me.

Come good.

Tomorrow’s BREW: Bigoting we go!

 

 

 

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