Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reading and Globalization

I read one or two shallow books of travel in the intervals of my work, till that employment made me ashamed of myself, and I asked where it was then that I lived.

Henry David Thoreau

I've just finished reading Crime and Punishment. It's actually the second time I've read it, but it might as well be the first. At one point, in my early twenties, I read a whole slew of books of which I remember nothing, and this was one of them. (Funnily enough, Notes from Underground left a much stronger impression on me, especially its narrator's reflections on rationalism and the Crystal Palace.)

I liked Crime and Punishment. I read it because I wanted to read a talky, philosophical novel. It's certainly that! I much preferred the more "cerebral" passages to the the parts that concentrated on human interest (accepting that, in a work of fiction, the two things cannot be entirely separated). Raskolnikoff reminds me of myself; intense, irritable, moody, suddenly tiring of conversations and "scenes", possessed of rigid and idiosyncratic notions of personal honour.

When I finished the book, I found myself (as always) wondering what to read next. I was inclined to start on The Brothers Karamazov, which I'd started before quite recently, before giving up on it. I also felt inclined to read some more Russian literature, since I was in that mood. (I like the speechifying which seems typical of Russian literature, or perhaps of Russians. I'm not a fan of "show don't tell".)

When it came to it, though, I decided to go back to reading Irish language material instead, and here's why...

All fiction, and even all non-fiction, is a quest for what's interesting. The writer is showing us something that he or she finds interesting, remarkable. Nearly always, it's something very particular, something specific to a particular environment or way of life. 

In the case of Crime and Punishment, there are frequent references to the "progressive" ideas which are swirling around Russia, and St. Petersburg, at the time in which the novel is set. From the point of view of a non-Russian reader, the Russian setting is also of interest. (And perhaps it was of particular interest to Dostoyevsky, since he was a Russian nationalist and a Slavophile.)

Everything admirable in the plot of the novel-- Russian orthodoxy, the customs and culture of Russia, the character of St. Petersburg, the cultural ferment that was swirling around Russia at the time-- are things, it seems to me, which are threatened by secularization and globalization. (I include the cultural ferment, because I believe globalization creates a world at once atomized and internationalized, where the question: "What should our society be like?" makes little sense.)

Similarly, the film I saw this week-- Logan Lucky, a heist film set in the American South-- made me think: "The whole flavour of this movie comes from the distinctive culture of the American South. And that is threatened by globalization."

And I find myself thinking: "Rather than passively and vicariously reading about particularity, about special times and places, I should be trying to support particularity, by reading books in Irish."

I realize that logic may seem anything but flawless. But I hope it makes sense to some people.

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