books, Buddhism, culture, education, history, James Joyce, Joseph Campbell, Life, spirituality, Zen
Thanks for an excellent question, Jon. Why today’s paucity of genuine ‘literature?’ And it’s one I’ve attempted to tackle in both video and blog, though as to how successfully who’s to say.
The best answer is that it is a condition of the very age we live in, an age of cultural decline, and an age of character decline (the two are synonymous). Who today has the courage to continue educating themselves, as you and I are doing, to continue the search, to continue asking hard and yet when you get down to it rather simple questions? Who is prepared to undergo a change in his or her life should an answer to one of those questions demand it?
Great works of literary art derive from a deep and courageous confrontation with what Joyce called ‘the grave and constant in human suffering’ and which Joseph Campbell amended with the word ‘joy.’ Who is prepared for such a confrontation these days? Who can forego a conventional and safe ‘education’ leading to a certain level of status and acceptance in society today? I’ve quipped in the past that today people cannot learn how to tie a shoe without taking a course. Isn’t it this very shepherding (sheep herding) through various corridors of education which stunts genuine and living curiosity, individualism, and ultimately character? Joseph Campbell, as I’ve both written and said in video, is scathingly critical of our modern education system (James Joyce’s Ulysses And The Failure Of Our Educational System). Just the other day I finished a fourth rereading of Campbell’s Masks Of God series, and I am even more convinced that it is by far the greatest written work of the twentieth century, by a long shot, and yet still I have not encountered a single soul who has read a word of it.
Because reading something two, three, four times to plumb its depths is hard. Hard and it takes time. And who has or takes the time for such an arduous and (seemingly) unrewarding task? Yet, how can there be further contributions to the heritage of humankind without the stupendous effort required of such an uncertain endeavour? Who has that kind of courage today?
Anyway, that’s all to say school these days is easy. Show up and you pass, which to my thinking is an absolute fail for the education system in general. Joyce by the way, as I’ve said, had nothing but scorn for it, in both Ulysses and The Wake. Only individual trial, effort and unflagging devotion can lead to true learning, enlightenment, or awakening. (My last video on Ulysses was slightly peevishly titled ‘James Joyce’s Ulysses, Wake Up You Blockheads.’ The truth was I had grown tired of the sort of comments left by school type lazy blockheads. This place, the Omphalos Cafe, was never intended for them.
So that’s it. I haven’t completely abandoned the blog, though I have grown tired of it after twelve or so years. Having moved to the beautiful mountains of Western Canada I find myself somewhat under-stimulated (besides the majesty of the Rockies) and contemplating a move back to my city of birth, Montreal Quebec. I find I need people around, and youthful people still engaged in the process of questioning, and perhaps even of growth.
Thanks for the question, Jon, it’s the kind of thing that gets me going. Feel free to continue this either here or behind the scenes at email@example.com. All the best, Jeff.