Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books as traps

Mark Kingwell, the author of In Pursuit of Happiness: better living from Plato to Prozac writes:
We all know that some books work like ingenious traps. They begin innocuously, articulating a few genial sentiments or unobjectionable home truths designed to lure you down the false path of a deceptive familiarity. You stride ahead without fear. By subtle steps, each plotted with argument or example or statistic, you are moved closer to the place where artfully strewn leaves cover a hole in the ground. You know very well what is coming, or anyway suspect it, but at some point - if the author is any good - you fall, on cue, into conviction. Aha! You now think what the author thinks.

Maybe you're happy to find yourself there, and make yourself comfortable. Maybe you're feisty and seethe from your ignoble position in the trap, scanning memory and logic and the rest of the mental horizon for a means of escape. Either way, the trap affords complicated forms of pleasure. As trapping games go, there are not many better or more interesting than walking through a good book of argument.

Not all books . . . seek to ensnare the reader in the author's own convictions . . . I faced a choice between setting a trap in the traditional philosophical manner, ascending to the high ground of objective detachment to observe the results, and doing something quite different: beginning an intimate conversation with one reader at a time. Books on deep and difficult topics can trumpet and they can whisper; they can declaim and they can hint. But for me, they work best when they just talk, in a manner as close as possible to the true voice of their author.

Okay then. You’ll find that I don’t write as good well as Kingwell. I’m not a natural-born killer with a pen. I lack the literary expertise required to turn my limited understanding—concepts that I struggle with and only intermittently grasp—into words.

Although I know where I’m coming from, and where this talk will ultimately lead, I am far from certain how best to tell the tale. Still, I’ll try to go about this in, as Mark Kingwell suggests, “a manner as close as possible to [my] true voice”.  

No comments:

Post a Comment