Saturday, February 6, 2010

Manifesto on Reading

1) If you're going to read something, read the whole thing. Don't skip parts. Don't read only what you feel like. If I read the entirety of Gertrude Stein's "Tender Buttons"(which I did) because it was assigned to me (which it was), you can suck it up and finish whatever you're whining about. To do anything less is both dishonest and inefficient.
After all, you wouldn't let someone into your house or office casually and for a few minutes at a time. If you're going to let someone in, you've got to strip-search him first for security reasons, and once you've done that you should listen to all he's got to say before you go strip-search anyone else.

2) Someone who reads two works at once, flipping back and forth from one to the other, will develop two minds and be in constant struggle with his own self. Someone who reads three works at once (out of order, no less) is not to be trusted.
If you want people to trust you, read one thing at a time. If you don't want people to trust you, you won't be able to serve the state very effectively as a spy, now, will you?

3) You can't read an unfinished novel on a five-year plan! Let an author finish, let the censors and/or publishers do their careful selective work, and then begin reading with a firm goal and resolute discipline.
Mark my words: the impatience of the digital age will be the death of our society. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a communist.

4) "Meme" is a four-letter word, and I don't really want to discuss it. Let one simple rule close off the subject forever: those who read should not write, those who write should not read. It would also help if they could avoid listening to anyone.

5) If you encounter a counter-revolutionary writer, counter him. In other words: it's OK to tell someone who writes like a decadent hobo that he also smells like a decadent hobo, and that if he doesn't thoroughly revise, he ought to be shot like a decadent hobo, too.

6) Children should be seen, not heard. Readers shouldn't even be seen. Make yourself invisible and let the text fill you. What is important is what's in a revolutionary book, not what might happen in the space between you and that book. Mixing the book and yourself is a particularly offensive sort of bastardization.

7) We should look less to words than to people. If words make castles in the air, they also make prisons there. Stalin is hope. Words are despair.

Uncle Joe loves children--and readers (not pictured)


  1. James, I really hope this is satire.

  2. Bring back James! Bring back James! Bring back James!

  3. Drona, You write like one who crushes the poor beneath your feet. So I have come to tell you that you smell like the blood and decay of those you have destroyed with words such as these.

  4. The witch used to talk about stuff like this all the time. You guys should get together.

    Oh wait. She accident. Anyway, you would have liked talking to her, if you'd gotten the chance.

  5. This just in from James through a hidden source.

    Top Secret Counter-Manifesto
    I really can't compete with Drona's Manifesto stylistically--he may be a fascist, but what great prose!--but I feel obligated to counter it somehow ideologically, since that would piss him off.

    Hmmm...what can I say about writing?

    1) Myths matter. The stories we tell each other, the stories we tell ourselves: all myths. Did you know that someone who is born blind won't gain sight in adulthood even after restorative surgery? They tried it when the medical technology was first developed and learned the hard way that sight is more than just visual input from the eyes: your brain has to learn slowly, carefully, to organize shapes and colors into meanings. Without that ability, all those impulses coming through eyes to brain just give a person terrible headaches! Doctors know not to try it anymore.
    Why was I telling you this? Oh yes. Because myths are something like that. If we don't tell ourselves stories, life is just one long terrible headache. With stories, we can give it some coherence, make sense of how things work and why, sketch out how to live and what we want. Ask questions. Very important, myths.
    Good writing tends to myth, which, as it turns out, is a vast and sprawling garden.

    2) Scientists. Basically specialize in myth. They squint down at atoms, make up stories to imagine them with (say, Niels Bohr's classic about how an atom is like a little solar system), then try come up with stories that will become tests to see if the old story needs work or not. The best scientists come up with stories that account for all the other stories better than the old myths have--the atom-as-solar-system myth is replaced with energy fields and quantum quarks and maybe if I didn't spend so much time watching reruns of Black maybe I would understand it all.
    Stephen Jay Gould was a great scientist because he modified a particularly useful myth called the Theory of Evolution with a myth-within-a-myth called Punctuated Equilibrium. Great stuff.

    3) Despite the abundance of good and useful myths, we get all kinds of wrong-headed and hurtful myths in our heads all the time! This is inevitable, I think, and part of being human. Writers are wrestlers, who try to tackle what they think are the bad myths in your head, or else get them in a headlock, or flip them over upside-down.
    That's the core of the craft: all the rest is commentary.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Drone.

  6. My situation in hiding has become truly desperate. I ran out of lemonade recently, and have had to resort to searching the floor for bugs in hope of a decent (broadly defined) meal. I miss Nicole's cooking. When I eat small creatures, I find myself thinking of cumin and garlic and all sorts of spices that make up the aroma of home. After that, dust mites just don't cut it.

    So far, only L. has found me (and one more, James), and though he brings lunch, you can guess who gets the lion's share.

    And so I issue a plea to my erstwhile readers on my recently-hijacked blog--please find me! And when you do, please bring some food!

  7. That one came from James as well. He needs us, people! You can find him if you look around, but I can't tell you where or the Commie awards committee might send him to Siberia. I don't think they have reliable internet there.

  8. It's true. Sometimes storms or rolling blackouts take out access for weeks. Even in the best of times, it takes 10 minutes for a page like this to load.

    It's -54 degrees celsius outside right now, though, so I'm wiling to stay indoors and be patient.


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