August 22, 2014

Poetry and literature, the new scripture

Anyone who knows me by my social media presence knows that I love quotes. Yes it can be a meaningless act - Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that "I hate quotations, tell me what you know" - but if exercised correctly, quotations have huge instructional value. They inform us around the challenges and happenings of every day life. Like the words of Samuel Beckett - "never matter, try again, fail again, fail better" - these sooth and guide my conscience as I navigate the many obstacles and labour against the many rejections. Douglas Murray wrote in his article 'Have It By Heart' in the Spectator Magazine:
"It is worth filling your head with the best words in their best order because it gives you the greatest company as well as guidance throughout your life."
Yet as Sean O'Casey said:
"All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."
Too many people, one, don't read widely enough, and two, when they do, don't read properly. By reading properly, I mean they don't commit those words, sentences and passages to memory. They don't place them as internal guide and staging posts. They do it as a passive, not a constructive act. Reading is about interpreting the world, past and present, and constructing your mental furniture. The New Yorker wrote about 'The Curse of Reading and Forgetting.' 

And so I return to Sean O'Casey and add, W.B. Yeats and Christopher Hitchens. O'Casey words are incredibly succinct - constructing your mental furniture, equipping and readying yourself for the world means treating reading as a rehearsal. Something that has to be learnt and revised and re-learnt and re-read.

And what do we read? Not the Bible, scripture is a dead hand - final, permanent and unchanging - and gives ecclesiastical license to enact injury an injustice on others and robs you of your autonomy to read and make your own judgement on the world. Literature and poetry is like Adam Smith's "invisible hand" that will guide and instruct you. By developing a shelf and library of books and readings you can create your own learning, curriculum and road map for life - your own secular scripture as I call it. W.B. Yeats knew this, as he said in ‘The Trembling of the Veil’:
"[I] made a new religion, almost an infallible church out of poetic tradition: a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions, inseparable from their first expression, passed on from generation to generation by poets and painters with some help from philosophers and theologians."
Christopher Hitchens said the same thing:
"There’s more morality in a novel by George Eliot than there is in any of four gospels. I care very much about literature as the place where the real ethical dilemmas are met and dealt with."

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