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Pickle Me This

December 12, 2007

Education, Enlightenment and Delight

Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech was so urgent. Indeed I’m not sure how one could learn to be anything without a houseful of books (as insulation and inspiration), however metaphoric or otherwise.

She writes: “We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.”

She raises the question, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”

And it’s an interesting question. Lessing is right, though even if I didn’t think so, she knows better than I do. There is something to be said for listening to one’s elders. The world is where it’s at, and books are its closest cousin, but though I do suspect that a whole day passed on the internet would not be one most productive, so often does the internet manage to serve as a portal not only to literature, but also to the rest of the whole wide world.

Of course my perspective is probably skewed– I tend to stick to bookish blogs and websites anyway. But all the same, just look what I’ve found there lately: Lessing’s speech for starters, which was published in a newspaper halfway around the world; fascinatingly on “little people” in British literature; thoughts on readers within literature; on friendship and what poetry can do; a video of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking on African writing; some book recommendations.

This year internet sources have pointed me towards books as follows: here for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; here for anything by Kate Christensen; here for Lucky Jim; here for Penelope Fitzgerald (and how fitting! She’s blogged about her today) and Persephone books; I found Laurie Colwin here; and I could go on, but now, in fact, I am beginning to waste time. (See Ms. Lessing, I am listening).

Just as I believe there is no great disconnect between literature and the world, neither does the internet exist in a vacuum; these are worlds which can feed one another. Of course it’s possible to to waste time on the internet, as it’s possible to waste time anywhere, but if you’re discriminating and discerning enough, you can harness the medium. Look around and see that the internet can take you exactly where you want to go– not just towards amusement, but onwards to sources of education, enlightenment, and delight.

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