Saturday, December 29, 2007

Not that I've Read His Book

We can only suppose and hope that Pierre Bayard, author of How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is having a laugh in Saturday Guardian Review commentary:

I have often found myself in the delicate situation of having to express my thoughts on books I haven't read. Because I teach literature at university level, there is, in fact, no way to avoid commenting on books that I haven't even opened. It's true that this is also the case for the majority of my students, but if even one of them has read the text I'm discussing, there is a risk that at any moment my class will be disrupted and I will find myself humiliated
implying as he does with those words 'a delicate situation' and 'humiliation' that it's all a matter of personal status and dignity rather intellectual honesty and inquiry, and who cares if in the process none of us really knows what we're discussing?

We really shouldn't let the three 'repressive' 'internalized constraints' he lists stop us in our 'non-reading': firstly, 'the [social] obligation to read', which he says (god forbid) 'remains [like all unthinking practices] the object of a kind of worship', secondly, 'the obligation to read thoroughly', and thirdly the 'understanding that one must read a book in order to talk about it with any precision'.

After all, as he says, 'it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven't read it in its entirety - or even opened it.'

Pity then that his later, more coherent argument for a wider understanding of the different ways we read gets submerged in such a spoof...
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