Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bloom and Reading

Read a bit of Where Shall Wisdom Be Found last night and came upon this passage:

We read, I think, to repair our solitude, though pragmatically the better we read, the more solitary we become. I cannot regard reading as a vice, but then also it is not a virtue. Thinking in Hegel is one thing; in Goethe, it is quite another. Hegel is not a wisdom writer; Goethe is. The deepest motive for reading has to be the quest for wisdom. Worldly wisdom is rarely wise, or even prudential. Shakespeare, grandest of entertainers, also is the wisest of teachers, though the burden of his teaching may be nihilism, which is the lesson of King Lear. I am not a joyous nihilist, since I am a schoolteacher by profession.
There is quite a lot going on in this passage but what caught my attention is Bloom's reasons for reading because for me they ring true. One of the reasons I liked reading so much when I was a kid was because I was lonely. Reading is a solitary endeavor and by undertaking it, I separated myself even further from my peers. But of course when I was lost in a book I did not feel lonely at all. As far as reading as a quest for wisdom, I don't think of my reading in that way, but I enjoy reading because I like to find out how other people live. It doesn't matter that the other people are fictional; I am still inserting myself into another place and another life that does not belong to me; I become an invisible character in someone else's story. I wouldn't expect Bloom to consider reading a vice, but neither would I have expected him not to consider it a virtue. As a reader I like to think of myself as somehow better than non-readers (it is a snobby attitude, I know). But I can see Bloom's point. It isn't the act of reading itself that is virtuous, it is what one does with the reading that matters. And so I think I begin to get a glimmer of understanding as to why he believes there are certain books that must be read. It doesn't mean I agree with him, only that I have gained a bit of insight into his point of view.