Monday, July 31, 2006

The things I promise

Ah, I said I'd write about the magical books I've been reading, didn't I? And here I am out of time--though I have had a pretty productive day for me.

Somerwhere in May I jotted a note to myself to read some Lessing; went to the library and found a new Doris Lessing that was a sequel to Mara and Dann, so had to read Mara and Dann first. After I tried to read the sequel immediately, but a major character DIES about 15 pages in and that was so heartbreaking to me I couldn't continue for a while and read some other things in between. Among them I read A Call for the Dead by John LeCarre because we had gotten the old BBC series of Smiley's People from Netflix. I was going to write about that too at some point--this was in that strange, sad draught of mid to late June where I stopped posting. I was going through a video game addiction at the time. They wax and wane with me depending on how much of life I can face. Anyway when we watched Smiley and then it's PREQUEL Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy I realized I'd never read the FIRST Smiley book even though I'd picked up the original paperback free somewhere so stopped to read it. Very thin, but dense. Actually got H to read it two weeks ago because the first chapter is just amazingly written.

Lessing as I mentioned isn't on the shelf because she writes soooo much in so many different fields and genre's so I actually own very little Lessing but she's there in spirit. As a side note, the very first Lessing that I ever read was Particularly Cats when I was about 9 or 10, a bit early, but my parents never stopped me from reading anything I wanted. I remember being amazed by her sometimes graphic detail, but also by her extraordinarily clear eye. It was never self-pitying, never merely anecdotal. It was as near to objective as one can be in autobiography. I aspired to that kind of writing.

Anyway, finally returned to General Dann. It's not as satisfying as the first. It's only about a third of the length for starters. Where the first one was an exploration of survival in this future world, the second is a character with not much at stake (generally less interesting) but what he is able to consider and worry about is the loss of knowledge. When all that we know and have is reduced to broken machines and fragments of books, even though there may still be humans living, will we still be able to call it a civilization? Empires have risen and fallen and much knowledge has been lost over the last 5,000 years, but overall there's been a progession towards more knowledge (not all of it good), what we call progress. What will happen when it starts to regress? When each generation knows less than the one before overall. I know that many feel that this has already begun as we lose knowledge of nature and old ways, but again it's like the stock market, things dip and rise, but I would say that knowledge is expanding. We know more about the brain and the body than we did 100 years ago. Again, whether that knowledge is always for the best is debatable, and whether human instinct can keep up with human intellect is also a difficult question, but I would still say progress is generally positive. Those who are touting a simpler way of life really wouldn't want to do with outdoor plumbing, unpasturized milk, and no medicines at all but herbals if it came right down to it.

General Dann ends with a very positive image, though. Dann manages to make a peace of sorts and one city becomes a Mecca for the last of civilization. At the gate to the city is a great white wall and on one corner is a little square (like 3" x3", like I said, I don't have the book now, I returned it to the library) that represents what they know compared to what there is to know and what the ancients (us) knew. They have an appeal that anyone who has come across or been passed down some knowledge that might not be known to others bring it to the government for the betterment of all. Wow! What a dream...

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