A History of Reading

What is a book?  What is reading?

Seth Lerer talking about the The History of Reading says, “I have a PhD.  I can take anything and turn it into literature.”  It is an amusing talk that invites us to think about how the world is changing.  The ideas and orthodoxies that you grew up with will no longer be present in the next generation.

I remember standing in a pub in Edinburgh in the eighties talking to one of the professors on my Fine Art course.

bow bar“Shakespeare will need translation in the next generation,” he said.

“I don’t agree,” I said in my snotty juvenile way.  “Or at least, I think he has always needed translation.  Aren’t the themes universal?  The language is not such a big problem, is it?  You can study the language and get into it easily enough.”

“Well, you might say that,” he gently continued, “but there is nothing more certain than change.  Who knows what we will see in thirty years time?  Who knows what teenagers then will be reading?  It seems to me that the times are always a-changing and it is hard even now to unpick the threads.”

“But we do it, don’t we?”

“We do, but there are enormous changes.  Can we really understand what Shakespeare thought about monarchy?  It is such an important theme in his work: leadership and power.  The role of blood and aristocracy is right there.”

“But we have an aristocracy and a Royal Family now, don’t we?”

“Yes, we do,” David said.  “And they go through the motions of maintaining a ritual life that is nothing akin to what happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Nothing akin.”

“Thank goodness,” I whispered.

“You would have been executed for that treason back then,” he laughed.

“And I would have deserved it.”

What do you think about royal families and sacred claims?  I remember being appalled when Ted Hughes, whose poetry stirred my adolescence, started to write cringe-worthy nonsense about the royals in England.  Are there myths of leadership in Shakespeare that will no longer be valid once we have finally unpicked the strange tapestry of privilege?  Does anyone believe these days that “blood will out”?

These are questions that readers can approach from many angles… especially settling back with a glass of wine after reading!

A future in which everyone uses a different discourse of language.


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