In this small series I would like to show that there are different ways of reading. That there are not only different types of texts that require different approaches, but that there are also different qualities of reading itself. Different levels of reading skills that build on each other and that you need to master in order to understand difficult texts and read complex literature profitably.
We are a book culture.
We are a culture of the book and until a relatively short time ago we were still firmly rooted in it.
This means that in our culture the book was the most important medium for preserving and developing our thoughts and stories. Thus it had a massive influence on our thinking and our handling of reality and reached into the last ramifications of our society as a whole and into the psyche of each of its members.
I have already written about it elsewhere: About reading 01
If you look around you will see that we are on the way to an”illiteral” society. It would even be more correct to speak of a”post-literal” society, which is even more worrying given the consequences to be expected.
A large proportion of people even refuse to acknowledge this simple fact. They prefer to cling to images such as “there were societies without books also in the past,” only to draw the wrong conclusion that our future will not radically differ from the present through the loss of the book.
But this is only a sign of an extremely superficial occupation with history. Of course there are cultures without books and there are also cultures in which the book simply exists as another medium alongside many others.
But these are not book cultures in the narrower sense. One can only speak of a book culture if the book has the authority to interpret the thoughts of a culture and if it is the determining medium for dealing with knowledge and access to the world.
If this task is taken over by a new medium, then a different kind of culture will emerge and, inevitably, society as a whole will also change massively.
What are the dangers of losing our book culture?
Personally, I am afraid of it for various reasons and I mourn this loss.
I am aware that we humans have lived in oral cultures for thousands of years, that this way of living together is perhaps the more natural way of life and that a cultural heyday can occur in almost every kind of culture.
But I also believe that only a book culture gives its members the opportunity for this particular form of spiritual and human maturity that we can observe in their most outstanding people. And that only in a book culture can the values and convictions they developed and on which our culture is based endure.
If we take the step from a literal to a “post-literal” society today, then we have to fight with various problems that threaten our very survival.
One of the most important seems to me to be that today, due to the high population density, we hardly have any retreat areas left to avoid conflicts, but at the same time we have all the means at our disposal to destroy the earth several times.
Most of today’s societies still live in the ruins of our book culture. In other words, we all still live in a culture that, at the same time as its weapons of mass destruction, gave us a moral frame of reference that kept our lowest drives under control and saved us from extinction.
But if we leave this culture and thus its spiritual and moral frame of reference, then in the long run we also lose the basic values and convictions that shaped us and it is then as if we would send a horde of angry children with loaded guns to the playground.
But today more books are sold than ever before.
To a large number of people this all seems like a gloomy prophecy. They do not believe that the foundations of our culture can be shaken so badly and prefer to turn to denial.
Their favorite argument is that more books are sold today than ever before.
If you look at the pure sales figures, you cannot contradict that. What people do not notice, however, is that this is a purely quantitative fact that says nothing about the quality of literature and the importance of the book.
It’s the same as if they claim our eating culture is on the upswing, because more is being eaten today than it used to be.
If you look at the bestseller lists, you can see that the books with the highest sales and reception are either guides or shallow novels.
But reading is not reading and there are serious differences between this type of book and an”upmarket” type of literature.
For today’s most avoided “serious” literature addresses our mind and soul on a “higher” level than is possible with these books. It deals with fundamental questions of human existence and with the thoughts and dreams of our culture at the highest linguistic level, and only in this way is it able to convey new insights into the world and our humanity.
It’s not so bad, because on the net we read more than ever before.
Another hope that many, including the educated, cling to is that everything is not so bad, since more is read and written on the net than ever before.
But the differences between a book and the modern media are so serious that on closer inspection this attitude turns out to be a Trojan horse.
Because a book has a certain logical form as it structures thoughts and stories and therefore shapes the human mind in a direction typical of our culture. Writing in the social media, on the other hand, and most people’s use of the Internet is limited to this, is as unstructured as a conversation in its endless to and fro and thus fires a kind of thinking that will drive our society to an earlier stage of development.
Therefore, it can neither replace nor stop the book from decaying; on the contrary, it contributes massively to the downfall of our book culture.
The book has lost its interpretative sovereignty.
The most significant change, however, is that the book is no longer the primary means by which our minds are shaped.
This reads so easily and seems to be an insignificant fact. But in reality, this is far more dramatic and has far-reaching consequences than most people are aware of.
Everything that we see today as our great achievements on a social, human and artistic level has its roots in a time in which people educated by books, people with a mind sharpened by books, had the sovereignty to interpret our world.
As we leave this task increasingly to the electronic media and promote a different kind of thought and the handling of knowledge, our way of thinking and, in the longer term, our beliefs and values are changing.
This is the frightening development we are currently seeing. A development that massively shakes the foundations of our culture and is capable of eventually collapsing it.
Perhaps a solution
But I don’t want to end this contribution so irreconcilably.
We still have many people educated in the book today who would be able to take a step backwards and thus be able to curb this development and prevent its worst effects.
To do this, however, we need to face up to the problem, develop an awareness of the fact that our society will change massively for the worse if we lose sight of the book and that this is exactly what is happening at the moment.
And that if we want to save the best of our culture, we have to become readers again in the truest sense of the word, so that a sufficiently large layer of books is formed again.