Monday, February 21, 2011

The Art of Reading...

            I know people who 'read' enormously, book for book, letter for letter, yet whom I would not describe as 'well-read.' True they possess a mass of 'knowledge,' but their brain is unable to organize and register the material they have taken in. They lack the art of sifting what is valuable for them in a book from that which is without value, of retaining the one forever, and, if possible, not even seeing the rest, but in any case not dragging it around with them as useless ballast. For reading is no end in itself, but a means to an end. It should primarily help to fill the framework constituted by every man's talents and abilities; in addition, it should provide the tools and building materials which the individual needs for his life's work, regardless whether this consists in a primitive struggle for sustenance or the satisfaction of a high calling; secondly, it should transmit a general world view. In both cases, however, it is essential that the con tent of what one reads at any time should not be transmitted to the memory in the sequence of the book or books, but like the stone of a mosaic should fit into the general world picture in its proper place, and thus help to form this picture in the mind of the reader. Otherwise there arises a confused muddle of memorized facts which not only are worthless, but also make their unto fortunate possessor conceited. For such a reader now believes himself in all seriousness to be {educated,' to understand something of life, to have knowledge, while in reality, with every new acquisition of this kind of 'education,' he is growing more and more removed from the world until, not infrequently, he ends up in a sanitarium or in parliament.

                   Never will such a mind succeed in culling from the confusion of his ' knowledge ' anything that suits the demands of the hour, for his intellectual ballast is not organized along the lines of life, but in the sequence of the books as he read them and as their content has piled up in his brain If Fate, in the requirements of his daily life, desired to remind him to make a correct application of what he had read, it would have to indicate title and page number, since the poor fool would otherwise never in all his life find the correct place. But since Fate does not do this, these bright boys in any critical situation come into the most terrible embarrassment, cast about convulsively for analogous cases, and with mortal certainty naturally find the wrong formulas.
          If this were not true, it would be impossible for us to understand the political behavior of our learned and highly placed government heroes, unless we decided to assume outright villainy instead of pathological propensities.
          On the other hand, a man who possesses the art of correct reading will, in studying any book, magazine, or pamphlet, instinctively and immediately perceive everything which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing. Once the knowledge he has achieved in this fashion is correctly coordinated within the somehow existing picture of this or that subject created by the imaginations it will function either as a corrective or a complement, thus enhancing either the correctness or the clarity of the picture. Then, if life suddenly sets some question before us for examination or answer, the memory, if this method of reading is observed, will immediately take the existing picture as a norm, and from it will derive all the individual items regarding these questions, assembled in the course of decades, submit them to the mind for examination and reconsideration, until the question is clarified or answered.
          Only this kind of reading has meaning and purpose!!

1 comment:

  1. "he is growing more and more removed from the world until, not infrequently, he ends up in a sanitarium or in parliament." that's a good one.
    The post is great. Though i do feel (maybe because i did not read it as cautiously as i should have; or that i do not posses the ability to understand it, such massive flow of ideas) that u need to work on the structure of your sentences, because when it comes to complex sentences one treads on really delicate ground & it's very easy to lose one's footing..