By Dale Salwak (eds.)
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We cannot return to the past, or animate artificially the idea of culture and the habit of reading. In Britain one of the most pathetic of recent spectacles has been governments invoking the name of 'Education,' a parrot cry that becomes more meaningless the more we try to find out what it really means. It means, in practice, training in computers for the computer age, and very little else. The rest is just pious platitudes, and political football. Where books are concerned - the novel in particular - in order to discover what the good is all about we must first have extensive experience of the bad.
What does it come to? Again I ask: What is the point of spending so much time, on my duff, a book in my hand, reading vast quantities of lovely prose and poetry, much of which I shall probably forget? 18 Joseph Epstein I have asked this same question of my students. For the better part of four years, I say to them, you have read a mass of poems, plays, novels - what does it all come down to? Their answers, though not unintelligent, are a bit predictable. All this reading sharpens their minds, they say; it tends to put them in touch with noble ideals; it lets them experience things that, without books, they could never experience (the eighteenth century, for example).
Is there, in the impatient phrase of the day, a bottom line? Here, in searching for an answer, they stumble. I'm sure I couldn't have answered it myself at twenty or twenty-one, but I should like to attempt to do so now. ' This point of view, which is taught not by any specific book or author, or even set of authors, teaches a worldly-wise skepticism, which comes through first in a distrust of general ideas. ' (Right on, Ortega! ) The literary point of view is distrustful of general ideas and above all of systems of ideas.