Books and Communities
by C.H. McCants
From yesterday’s (May 2, 2014) New York Times, David Brooks, “Love Story”:
Today we live in a utilitarian moment. We’re surrounded by data and fast-flowing information. “Our reason has become an instrumental reason,” as Leon Wieseltier once put it, to be used to solve practical problems…
Berlin and Akhmatova were from a culture that assumed that, if you want to live a decent life, you have to possess a certain intellectual scope. You have to grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgments. Berlin and Akhmatova could experience that sort of life-altering conversation because they had done the reading. They were spiritually ambitious. They had the common language of literature, written by geniuses who understand us better than we understand ourselves…
I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.
It’s a complex piece, especially since I was not familiar with the poet, Anna Akhmatova, or Isaiah Berlin, but it is a vision of how individuals but more importantly communities can be shaped by a love of literature, especially poetry, and sharing their lives together in reflection and creation.