Blogging and Bayard

BLOG – the four letter word that actually gets you into trouble if you don’t use it! Blogging today is not only for those who wish to share vacation stories, special family moments, or the antics / drudgery of everyday life. No, in today’s world blogging has become an art form and in some cases a required art form. Schools, especially at the university level are using the Internet as an electronic forum for assignments. Even those out on the job market aren’t safe from the world of the blogger; potential employers often seek prospects that are Internet and social networking savvy. I can attest to this firsthand as I was recently laid off after 17 years. But thanks in part to the ‘almighty keyboard’ I landed an awesome job in the city. Hopping aboard the social network train was one mode of transportation I never thought would be important but it proved to be quite a pleasurable ride! Last semester found me working in Canada so being able to post to my Trauma website enabled me to work with my professor in real post time if not in real face time. And although I am in the Information Technology field the idea of spending time on the computer for anything other than work was at first unbelievable; now thinking of not using it for my personal life especially my studies, is inconceivable!

But alas! I did have to reach out to one of my fellow students (whom I believe we will all have the pleasure of meeting in class this week) for a quick trip through Blogland before I actually submitted this. And doing so gave me the idea to make a play on Bayard’s book “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read“. Although in this case it was actually presenting an image of book which not only hasn’t been read; it hasn’t even been written (yet)! But the thought process behind displaying it falls in line with what Bayard is trying to convey in the first section of the book “Ways of Not Reading”. I thought why not cite a book that would provide an easy track into blogging. And with Tara’s help maybe we can publish this for real one day… but that’s another blog all together…

Getting back to Bayard, there were so many great moments in this book which of course could only be found if one actually read it and not just skimmed through the chapters or the preface or back cover. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the stories and arguments he presented. Not because they were simply absurd but because they were simply absurdly true! This blog presents some of my favorite parts of the reading which I hope will inspire some of you to comment. It is always interesting to see others’ perspectives on things you have written. And in true Bayardian fashion your perspective counts whether or not you have actually read the sections cited within this blog of are just commenting on my comments.

In the preface Bayard outlines his intentions for the book and includes his own literary abbreviations which are quite clever: UB books unknown to him; SB books skimmed by him; HB books he has heard of; and FB books he has forgotten. He also notes that the two most obvious RB books that he has read and NRB books he has not read are notations that are not used nor will ever be used in his text.

In the first section Books You Don’t Know, Bayard introduces us to the quintessential non-reader. This is the person who doesn’t read a book per se but reads around it. The most important characteristic is the reader’s ability to gain a perspective on the text by placing it in its proper location within the literary world. Once the non-reader does this he / she is able to intelligently speak about a text without actually reading it. Bayard gives us the example of the librarian whose life revolves around millions of books most of which he has not even opened. He has however read catalogs – or books about the books; and by doing so can successfully speak about any of the books in his care. My summation of this section is that you need to base your level of non-reading by ‘what you want to accomplish versus what you need to accomplish’. I can use Bayard’s idea of perspective in my job as an IT Analyst. Success comes not in focusing on the specific task but rather how that task will affect all other systems with which that task may directly or indirectly come into contact. Therefore understanding not only the perspective of the task but its relative location is important to delivering a successful design and implementation.

In the second section Books You Have Skimmed Through, Bayard cites the works of Valery who prides himself on knowing all there is to know about books without knowing anything about them. He is adamant about separating the author from the book for he feels that a literary piece does not define the author or his style but rather a point in time in the author’s life; more specifically the time that it took the author to create that literary piece. Bayard’s belief is that the successful ‘skimmer’ respects the depth and richness of the text without getting bogged down with all the details (Bayard, 15). I agree that reading too much may inhibit an author’s ability to be truly original and creative. He then brings us into Valery’s world of acknowledging authors without truly acknowledging them or their works. Rather he is a ‘word aficionado’; a true expert at delivering compliments to the living or deceased that, like Chinese food, has you wondering if you really read (or ate) anything of any substance a few hours later. The one problem I had was Valery’s authenticity when relying on the opinion of others, Once again if we look to Bayard for direction we have to wonder that if skimming the actual text or others’ reviews of the text can be detrimental to the author’s credibility as it is truly not his / her opinion but rather someone else’s; someone who in their own right may have also been a proficient skimmer! It makes one wonder if the critiques we read are based on actual readings or “skimmings”. As Bayard quotes “Blessed are those writers who relieve us of the burden of thought and who dexterously weave a luminous veil over the complexity of things” (Bayard, 23).

In the third section Books You Have Heard Of, I sum up Bayard’s observations as “possession (of a book) in this case is NOT nine tenths of the (literary) law; rather comprehension (on how to formulate ideas) is”. He cites the book “The Name of The Rose” but from what we have garnered about his character makes me wonder if he actually read the book, skimmed the chapters, or watched the movie! I believe he chose this text because it brings to light that there is danger in knowing too little about something and too much about nothing. I liked his concept of the ‘collective library’ and actually think this could be an invaluable tool especially when preparing for comps. It was also interesting to read about ‘screen books’ which can replace (per se) books with either objects or memories. Bayard points out that neither Jorge not Baskerville actually had the book in their full possession as Jorge was blind and therefore only able to rely on memory and Baskerville wouldn’t touch the pages for fear of being poisoned. One has to be able to understand how literal possession versus virtual possession affects how we perceive books. Basically our own as well as others’ literary criticism can change the way we look at or feel about books we have read and what we remember may not be the truth if we examine it more closely at another time in our lives.

In the fourth section (and the last to be discussed here) Books You Have Forgotten, Bayard argues that a book you have forgotten could very well be classified as a book you haven’t read. He introduces us to Montaigne who not only forgets books he has read but also forgets books he has authored. His trick for remembering that he actually opened a book is to write a summary at the end of each text that embodies not only his thoughts on what he has read but also facts about the author. Montaigne laments “And if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retentiveness” (Bayard, 49). How many times have you read something and sometime later accepted the same book from a friend forgetting that you had already read it? It’s even worse when you actually buy the book — twice! And forgetting isn’t limited to books, we can even say this about papers we have written over the years. On a side note, this weekend someone asked me if it was possible to plagiarize yourself if you don’t quote yourself when using information from a literary piece you had previously authored. A friendly argument ensued and the consensus amongst the family was yes, you can. I’m sure some of you will certainly comment on this!

Back to Bayard: So my fellow bloggers, I would like to pose two questions for you:
— How do we balance knowing too much with retaining too little with forgetting text all together?
— And what truly constitutes non-reading as compared to un-reading, a term Bayard uses to explain away Montaigne’s (and our own) literary memory loss?

It will be interesting to see the comments on this, the first blog of many, for our class. I look forward to learning what I did wrong, what I did right, and what I could have done better. Happy reading (or non-reading)!

About Steve Mentz 650 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and early modern literature at St. John's in New York City.

2 Comments

  1. “absurdly true” is a nice phrase for Bayard. It seems to me that by asking the question, “Has he read *The Name of the Rose*?”, you’re falling into the trap he sets. No one “reads” books, he suggests, though we do skim them and forget them and write and talk about them. We also know things about them w/o reading.

  2. I guess I just simply identify with Montaigne. I feel his pain as he seems to be losing himself in the act of forgetting what he has read. I have this experience of losing myself in front of students sometimes. I know I read something really to the point of the discussion but, darn, what was that again? And I’m supposed to be the teacher? To answer your question, Cathy: Montaigne (and I) probably would know too much if our brains didn’t have the habit of sloshing it out when full. But what I take comfort from in Montaigne’s sad story is that he so valiantly continues to read and takes the time and thought to make notes, even if he does tend to forget those too. I think I will never stop trying to cram the reading in to my incapable brain either because the act of the initial reading is so satisfying, and because maybe in a conversation some day some colleague or family member will remember that which I cannot and delight me all over again.

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