Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.
In “An Experiment in Criticism” by C. S. Lewis
Anarcho-punk, extreme literature..... Beware the coming revolution.
All the best writers are anarcho-punks:
- JJ Rousseau: A Discourse On Inequality
- Thomas Payne: The Rights Of Man
- Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
- Victor Hugo 'Les Miserables' set in the French Revolution in Paris.
Dostoevsky wrote his first novel 'The Poor Folk' aged 29. This resulted in him and his 3 co-radicals being sentenced to death by firing squad in the main public square in St Petersburg by the Tsar who was offended by their revolutionary contents. At the last second the Tsar commuted the punishment to 4 years hard labour in Siberia. Two of the writers went mad from this sadist act, but Dostoevsky kept on writing about being on death row, psychological torture, his time in jail and did so for the rest of his life. Orwell. 'Homage To Catalonia' set in Spanish Revolution in Barcelona where anarchists fight fascists.
The close reading of novels (not, interestingly, poems, stories, plays or biographies/general non-fiction) has come up glancingly in similar pieces over the last two decades. It's easy to interpret it as resulting from a generalized cultural anxiety over the apparently luxurious (or frivolous) apportioning of several hours and days for contemplation of long-form fictitious narratives with no obvious social or 'self-improvement' benefits, at least none that can be vigorously attested to. Add that to an increasingly competitive cultural scene, where every new TV show from singing to putting up wallpaper takes the form of a contest, and you have this weird impetus to 'prove' the practical and moral worth of an essentially solitary pursuit by subjecting it to blatantly unaesthetic and unhelpful criteria, where a reader is essentially apologizing publicly for an activity that can never be made socially correct - it simply isn't in the nature of concentrated reading. While speed-reading as a technique has been overvalued by diagnosticians (time-maximisation combined with cultural chicken soup for the soul) and clearly has its roots in the alleviation of guilt rather than the apprehension of art, it does have a legitimate tether to breathlessly enthusiastic page-turning, where either personal enthusiasm or the “skimmable” nature of the writing itself encourages faster than usual reading. But novels are neither instruction manuals nor paper-bound substitutes for TV, and the speed and quality of attention implicitly demanded by them cannot conform to the expectations of demonstrable expediency demanded by extra-literary considerations. In short, I can't reasonably claim to another person that the reading of a novel over two or twenty hours of your valuable time is a socially defensible act, precisely because novel-reading falls deliberately outside such parameters. I do find myself doubting the legitimacy of the things I used to read, and having published poems for a few years in the last decade I include my own efforts. I hope neither were ‘all bullshit’ as I sometimes tell myself nor I think I'm just wrongly attuned right now. Maybe the machine in my hands at this moment in time is involved, or the heavy breakfast I didn't go near in my 20s.
Back in the day I tended to read very fast, because I was a book glutton, i.e., I’d devour books. It can be great but it can also be a curse. A good book is over too quickly and I’d miss layers and complexity. I’d compensate by rereading books where I pick up things I missed on the first read. Grinding through exams at college left me with an overwhelming desire to get acres of really enjoyable fiction out of the public library and gorge on it until I had cleared my head of everything to do with the syllabus. For me, it's 'hearing' the words in my own inner voice, as if the sentences are being spoken out loud. If I skim over words, they're somehow lost. I've only got hold of the text in a generalised, floaty way. If I'm reading a classic and I begin to 'float', I realise that I'm 'reading without paying attention' in my inner voice and calm myself down so I can connect with each word. (Otherwise, what's the point of reading well-crafted text?). It's easy to skim across the surface. It's like pacing yourself for a marathon! Too fast and you'll get lactic burn and die. Too slow and you'll won't get momentum going. I start slow and build up my pace can be reading 60-80 pages a day in the main sections.
After a meaty epic, like “Crime and Punishment” I’d purposely like to blast-read through something pulpy or non-fiction like an appetiser for the next course. It helps my mind relax and reboot so I do appreciate the benefits of reading quickly, for people who are mentally tired or maybe have less time have. A lot of modern literature embraces that reality.