Monday, September 14, 2015

Letter from Franz Kafka to Oskar Pollak

"Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe." --Franz Kafka, 1904

A History of Reading

" 'Reading,' wrote Petrarch in one of his many letters, 'rarely avoids danger, unless the light of divine truth shines upon the reader, teaching what to seek and what to avoid.' This light (to follow Petrarch's image) shines differently on all of us, and differently also at the various stages of our lives. We never return to the same book or even to the same page, because in the varying light we change and the book changes, and our memories grow bright and dim and bright again, and we never know exactly what it is we learn and forget, and what it is we remember." --A History of Reading Alberto Manguel, 1996


"What my first books were to me -- to remember this I should first have to forget all other knowledge of books. It is certain that all I know of them today rests on the readiness with which I then opened myself to books; but whereas now content, theme and subject-matter re extraneous to the book, earlier they were solely and entirely in it, being no more external or independent of it than are today the number of its pages or its paper. The world that revealed itself in the book and the book itself were never to be divided. So with each book its content, too, its world, was palpably there, at hand. But equally, this content and this world transfigured every part of the book. They burned within it, blazed from it; located not merely in its binding or its pictures, they were enshrined in chapter headings and opening letters, paragraphs and columns. You did not read books through; you dwelt, abided between their lines and, reopening them after an interval, surprised yourself at the spot where you had halted." --"A Berlin Chronicle", in Reflections Walter Benjamin

Rocket and Lightship

"But then, the present is always lived ambiguously. It is only in retrospect that we begin to simplify experience into myth -- because we need stories to live by, because we want to honor our ancestors and our country instead of doubting them. Events give way to books and movies and television shows, gray becomes black and white, and in time the seeming clarity and monumentality of the past makes us feel shy, guilty, or resentful before it. The best history writing reverses this process, restoring complexity to our sense of the past, helping us to understand that the people who fought the war were as imperfect as ourselves. This requires objectivity, but it should not breed detachment." --Rocket and Lightship Adam Kirsch, 2015