Monday, 17 May 2010

A Mistake

When I was but a sproggette, I was good at reading. I enjoyed it, too, partly because we were a bookish family (my father's study, lined with books and dark red curtains, is in many ways my ideal room) and heavily into words, read to and rhymed at and recited over from the earliest ages.

Plus of course every Sunday we got together in a large building with many of our neighbours and spent an hour or so repeating responses, listening to readings, singing hymns, hearing sermons and reciting prayers - some of which were in Latin (my father's missal was bilingual: Latin and German).

Being able to read, and then reading a lot, and then reading about reading and writing about what I had been reading seemed to be pretty important things to do. Everybody I met seemed to agree on that.

Eventually I fetched up at university, only negatively by choice - the careers advice at my school consisted of what university might accept us to do what subject-and naturally I chose to read my "best" subject at school: English. I really enjoyed it, and through reading, discovered
Philosophy, Politics, Criticism and such like exciting stuff.

All that time, as I did my BA and then my first Masters Degree, it seemed as if there was nothing so important, nothing so valuable as to read and to read well, to discuss what had been read with others who had read the same, to fine tune one's critical apparatus, to read what others had written about what you and they had read .... and there would be no end to it, but that was fine, that was what CULTURE consisted in, that was the cutting edge of what it's all about, and we were on it.

And now, 30 years later, it has become apparent that I was completely wrong.

The cutting edge, the place where our culture is making itself, is science, much of which is expressed in a language that I and most of my literary chums can barely read: maths.

I feel a bit of a twit now - though I'm still glad I read most of those books (if I had my time over again, as Woody Allen said, I probably wouldn't read The Magus).

Not that there's anything wrong with being able to read stuff and understand it, but never again will I be able to confuse reading a lot with the cutting edge of culture.

1 comment:

tinker said...

So I love that I understand and use my math almost every day, and I love that it opens doors to understanding all kinds of science, engineering, and even---through statistics---a lot of social science.

But I can't say as I've ever thought of it as expanding my CULTURAL awareness in any way that people (ok, I) understand the word. So take heart. ;-)