Odd thoughts on books and knowledge
It hit me the other night that that the novel is such a modern invention. There were very few examples of novels before 1800... and most were written after 1900. For 100 years or so, the novel (followed by film) was the driving force in western culture. Authors became celebrities. The pursuit of writing "The Great American Novel" was among the highest of achievements. It was not for all of human history... then it was.. and now seems to be fading away again. When we look at the leaders of thought and culture pre 1850 or so, we find men who actually could and did know everything that was knowable at the time. They were great generalists with huge libraries full of science, math, religion, philosophy, history, etc... but very little fiction. As literacy and leisure time expanded, fiction found a larger audience. This was also the time of an explosion in knowledge of science and technology. Now no one can know all that is known. But, we have everything knowable available via the internet. Yet, knowledge is becoming more specialized. The person who is an expert on one subject only, the specialist, as encouraged in university education is "the expert" the modern intellectual hero. Yet, the specialist is seldom a great man or woman... seldom the great cultural influencer that our generalist, more broadly educated ancestors were. Meanwhile, functional literacy is declining. Fewer people, even high school and college graduates, can actually comprehend and retain what they read. I do not know the end result, but I am very concerned that we may be entering an era of primitivism.... a regression, albeit with all the modern trappings of technology and "stuff".... a lot of chatter with little meaning or understanding... increased aggression and disassociation from those things that encourage a higher nature and human development.