14 March 2012

Wednesdays Words 6 - Literary Taste and Personal Development

“Once one is caught up into the material world not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form literary taste, to examine the validity of philosophic concepts for himself, or to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
I like this quote, and unfortunately feel that it describes me to a great degree. I haven’t taken the time to properly develop myself as a person to the extent that I would like to have if my situation had been ideal (read: was a millionaire with time to spare). I don’t know all the things I would like to know, I haven’t read the books I know I should have read, and I don’t fully understand my own views about the world I live in. I feel like I am making do with a minimal set of the information I would like to have in order to be content with my own personal sphere of knowledge.
Case in point: this very quote itself. I know of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I don’t know much about him. He was a writer I believe, active around the twenties, but I couldn’t name a book he was responsible for, and I know that there was a Zelda involved, but that this has nothing to do with Link.
This Zelda though, I know quite well
I find that rather than knowing important things, I know of important things. It is like my previous post on how I just don’t get poetry, yet I still have a tacit acceptance that it must be a worthwhile thing to know.
Literary taste is likewise something I have failed to cultivate. Though I possess an extensive knowledge of book titles which I should have read, or which nonetheless have some sort of literary significance; I have yet to move very far along my list of ‘books I need to read’. Brideshead Revisted, Wuthering Heights, anything by Hemingway, anything by suitably long dead Russians; the list goes on.
I know of these books, but I haven’t the slightest idea why they are important, or what the overall gist of their respective stories are.
Is it just me, or has this title always sounded more like a B-grade horror sequel than a literary work?
But the way that the modern world can overtake you is evident all over the place. I love chess, but I don’t play chess much anymore; I haven’t cultivated that part of my life anywhere near as much as I would want. I play with my son occasionally, but in order to fully embrace the game, I would have to devote far too much time to it. Let’s face it, in these days where a half hour of chess playing could be replaced with a scroll through Facebook activities, a read of my Twitter feed, a glance at the latest blog entries via RSS, a few informative and hilarious videos on YouTube, insightful commentary from Al-Jazerra or any other activities on the web; the ancient Indian game all but certainly loses the bet.
Or perhaps I can kill two birds with one stone? 
On the other hand, if we are to look at Fitz’s quote from a more modern perspective we might be tempted to dismiss it, or at least diminish its accusations, as somewhat anachronistic.
After all while it is no doubt true that the majority of the population will not form a literary taste as such, these days literature is not the only medium with which people can form a personal philosophical viewpoint.
Nowadays we can devote our attention to the multitude of movies out there, and slowly cultivate a unique cinematic taste, which may very well help us to plumb the depths of the human condition as much as any literary viewpoint would. We can similarly turn our attention to the small screen, which these days exhibits works of such complexity and daring that it is hardly worthy of the scorn so often associated with devoting time to watching the box.
But if there is any one tool which has emerged out of the past century as the superlative force in cultivating our own personal beliefs, tastes and philosophical development, it has to be the Internet.
And it's useful for pictures of people lying face down in various situations......
Nothing else can compare to the net’s ability to pervade every instance of our personality. You can read books online, turn to articles about them, read a blog, or take part in a discussion with people from across the globe. But considering the medium I am using for this message, this should be of no doubt to anyone reading.
Perhaps this widening of the information sphere is the reason for my thoughts regarding my own apparent lack in refinement. As there is so much more available to us in this information age, and our attention spans have been stretched much further than ever before, we in a sense dilute our tastes over a variety of knowledge sources never before experienced by anyone at any point in history. In this sense, a short attention span isn’t the worst thing in the world, for while it may result in a less thorough approach to whatever is being analysed at the time, it nevertheless allows for rapid transitions from one source of attention, knowledge or amusement, to another.
I mean sure I may not have much of an understanding of the great Russian authors, or the popular British novelists of the past few hundred years, but thanks to the internet I know such obscure things as the amazing abilities of animal penises, the curious nature of infinite numbers that differ in size and how to make a trebuchet out of office supplies. And this is only a small subset of the much larger experiences I have garnered from the venerable World Wide Web.
So while Fitzgerald may have been lamenting modern mans aversion to literary and philosophical development and self determination, I think it is somewhat encouraging that today we have a lot more tools available to the everyday man to help them in their quest through life.
That's all for this late night rant dear reader. I hope this makes up for the missed Wednesdays Words last week; whats more I hope someone noticed it was missing.
Good night all.

Oh and on a quick wiki, I see that F. Scott wrote The Great Gatsby. I haven't read it, but luckily come December this year I might not have to...

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