A Love for the Love of Reading

(A Dialogue between the Brothers Grimm)

Wilhelm: Today I woke up believing how, like Montaigne, each of us brothers is the kind of person who has: “forgotten it all; for though I am a man of some reading, I am one who retains nothing,” (01). We read, yes, but what do we retain? I mean not just the text itself, but do you or I retain the memory of the act of reading the text and not just a remembrance of texts past? How does that affect our interpretation and recall?

Jacob: Yes, along those same lines, sometimes I don’t know whether I wield or wax or wane away my love for books simply for the sake of a deeper devotion: the love for the love of books.

Wilhelm: Well, after all, Psyche fell in love with love itself … perhaps we should not be so surprised. (02)

Jacob: Were that true, we might dare to call ourselves “selfless readers.”

Wilhelm: I remember an opening remark by the enlightened bookman Samuel Johnson, in his Rambler No. 02 (1750), and in introducing us to his essay (whose topic happens to be authorship), we find Johnson’s words apply to the way we Brothers Grimm see ourselves reading:

That the mind of man is never satisfied with the objects immediately before it, but is always breaking away from the present moment, and losing itself in schemes of future felicity; and that we forget the proper use of the time now in our power to provide for the enjoyment of that which, perhaps, may never be granted us, has been frequently remarked; and as this practice is: a commodious subject of raillery to the gay, and of declamation to the serious, it has been ridiculed with all the pleasantry of wit, and exaggerated with all the amplifications of rhetoric. Every instance, by which its absurdity might appear most flagrant, has been studiously collected; it has been marked with every epithet of contempt, and all the tropes and figures have been called forth against it. (03)

Wilhelm: Take Johnson’s first line: That the mind of man is never satisfied with the objects immediately before it, but is always breaking away from the present moment, and losing itself in schemes of future felicity; and that we forget the proper use of the time now in our power to provide for the enjoyment of that which, perhaps, may never be granted us—when I read those words of Johnson’s they remind me of how I generally want to read all the books behind the book that’s in my hand at the moment.

Jacob: Oh?

Wilhelm: And while doing so, I think: “Which books should I have read before this book I have now?” In short, I dismiss the book at hand.

Jacob: But then remember that Emerson advises us: “If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.” (04)

Wilhelm: Yes, if I knew what I should’ve read, I could anticipate the arguments of the book at hand.

Jacob: Okay, but please elaborate on this desire for anticipation.

Wilhelm: Take M. Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967)—

Jacob: —Oh, do I have to?

Wilhelm: So I ordered, received the book from Amazon. It’s a thick, heavy, pretty book with nice paper. But, browsing through its index, I see that I should probably read more deeply in Condillac, Freud, Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl, Levi’-Strauss, Nietzsche, and Rousseau before I fully plunge into the grammatology of M. Derrida. I feel as though I need to read what he’s read so I can anticipate him, that I may then “know” his text and acquire gnosis of it before I’ve even read it.

Jacob: Johnson continues:

Censure is willingly indulged, because it always implies some superiority; men please themselves with imagining that they have made a deeper search, or wider survey than others, and detected faults and follies, which escape vulgar observation. And the pleasure of wantoning in common topics is so tempting to a writer, that he cannot easily resign it; a train of sentiments generally received enables him to shine without labour, and to conquer without a contest. It is so easy to laugh at the folly of him who lives only in ideas, refuses immediate ease for distant pleasures, and instead of enjoying the blessings of life, lets life glide away in preparations to enjoy them; it affords such opportunities of triumphant exultation, to exemplify the uncertainty of the human state, to rouse mortals from their dream, and inform them of the silent celerity of time, that we may believe authors willing rather to transmit than examine so advantageous a principle, and more inclined to pursue a track so smooth and so flowery, than attentively to consider whether it leads to truth. (05)

Jacob: For Johnson (or at least our reading of him), behind the love for the love of reading lurks a temptation to censure, a temptation to criticize what occurs in life as well as what occurs in the act of reading.

Wilhelm: So does Johnson’s line to pursue a track so smooth and so flowery, than attentively to consider whether it leads to truth” leads us back to the “silent celerity” of time?

Jacob: For our purposes brother, the love for the love of books seems more “flowery” than a direct, immediate love of absorbing the printed word.

Wilhelm: Although Johnson specifically discusses authorship in this essay, we readers may also, as Johnson writes, be “willing to transmit than examine” our readings onto others.

Jacob: A lot of times I feel I’ve somehow censured myself (or at least my intellect) once I recognize the love for the love of reading. It is a barrier.

Wilhelm: Yes, it impedes my attention towards the text.

Jacob: With the line: “that many read but sought action” we might interpret Johnson to mean: when we Brothers Grimm read, we act out of our love for the love of reading, but the reading itself is for a kind of reading we shall never reach.

Wilhelm: Then do we read in order to escape Johnson’s foreboding phrase “the silent celerity of time”?

Jacob: Or do we read in order to envelope our attention into any book at hand and its own “silent celerity of time”?

Wilhelm: What I think Johnson means in this line is that this is what happens when style conquers truth: truth is silenced by the speed of style.

Jacob: And you look to Johnson as an authority on Style? Hmm, I see.

Wilhelm: Compare Johnson’s line “Censure is willingly indulged, because it always implies some superiority” to a passage from Lord Shaftesbury’s Sensus Communis (1711) when his lordship mentions some who are:

Imposers [who] naturally speak the best of human nature, that they may the easier abuse it. These gentlemen, on the contrary, speak the worst and had rather they themselves shou’d be censur’d with the rest, than that a few shou’d by imposture prevail over the many. For ’tis the opinion of goodness which creates easiness of trust, and by trust, we are betray’d to power; our very reason being thus captivated by those in whom we come insensibly to have an implicit faith. (06)

Wilhelm: In our case, we can take Shaftesbury to mean an implicit faith in books. It seems, at least from Shaftesbury’s point of view, that these impostor-authors have censured themselves.

Jacob: The “schemes of future felicity” mentioned earlier by Johnson are themselves schemes of censurship: schemes for readers to impose criticism onto the authors at hand.

Wilhelm: As Shaftesburian readers, we put “an implicit faith” in authors when instead, we should censure them by feeling superior to them.

Jacob: If we maintain a love for the love of books rather than the act of reading, it becomes easier to abuse our minds (our beliefs and doubts) with the texts we read. Drugs and delusions galore.

Wilhelm: Or, is it only that we desire to display the implied superiority found in censurship? Because if we are all censures, I have a hard time not believing we are little more than impostors who impose reading and our love of reading upon others.

(01) Montaigne, Michel de. Essays II, x, “On Books.” (1580). Trans. Charles Cotton. Project Guttenberg. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#2HCH0067>.

(02) Apuleius, Lucius. “Cupid and Psyche.” The Golden Ass. (~200 A.D.).

(03) Johnson, Samuel. The Rambler 02. March 26, 1750. (¶ 1).

(04) Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self Reliance“. (1841).

(05) Johnson, Samuel. The Rambler 02. March 26, 1750. (¶ 2).

(06) Cooper, Anthony Ashley, Third Earl of Shaftesbury. Sensus Communis. (1711). In Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times.


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