“Are we approaching a literary Singularity, when every human being on earth will, in fact, have written the book they have in them?” So begins Mark Kingwell, a Canadian professor of philosophy in his essay, “Beyond The Book” printed in the August issue of Harpers. (pgs. 15-19) I’ve raised the same question in these blogs. The invention of the laser printer has made it possible for anyone to publish a book on any topic — say the growth of algae in a frog’s ear, for example. Whether that manuscript has public appeal or not, or is badly written, it will appear on Amazon along with classics like Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Laser printing is the means by which we are reconstructing the Tower of Babble.
Kingwell’s point, however, is not about the number of books being written. He focuses upon the reader, not the writer. “Reading offers a heady way of identifying with another, mirroring and reinforcing the self,” he postulates. (Ibid, 16.) The consequence of that internal life is consciousness, which, in turn, leads to introspection and from introspection individualism emerges — that personal identity which dictators of old despised as the seed of a democratic impulses. (Ibid pg. 17)
Individualism may seem a curious route to democracy but Kingwell explains that when we read, we escape the incessant noise of existence,” (Ibid pg. 19) In the silence, we discover thoughts held in common with others. Books, he argues, may not make us better or worse people, but they are “a heady way of identifying with another, mirroring and reinforcing the self.” (Ibid, pg. 16)
I’m swayed by Kingwell’s link between reading, individualism and democracy. But I believe we find in books more than commonality. The ideas expressed exhort us to action and in so doing can change us, not simply marshal us along the way we intend to go. When I think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Silent Spring or Brave New World, I think of ideas that were unpopular at first, but by turning page after page, we were moved by the words and convinced that society needed to alter its course. Words are the seeds of a reader’s revolution.
(Courtesy of venturegalleries.com)