Monday, February 13, 2012

Going To Melody

Leon Wieseltier: Going To Melody | The New Republic
This article is a beautiful meditation about the too often ignored costs of our emerging (emerged?) digital age.  We prize the immediacy of news and information.  We equate Googling with learning.  We fail to recognize that in the process we may lose the meandering achievement of knowledge.  Wiesletier writes:
It is a matter of some importance that the nature of browsing be properly understood. Browsing is a method of humanistic education. It gathers not information but impressions, and refines them by brief (but longer than 29 seconds!) immersions in sound or language. Browsing is to Amazon what flaneurie is to Google Earth. It is an immediate encounter with the actual object of curiosity. The browser (no, not that one) is the flaneur in a room. Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations. On Amazon, by contrast, there are no accidents. Its adjacencies are expected and its associations are probable, because it is programmed for precedents. It takes you to where you have already been—to what you have already bought or thought of buying, and to similar things. It sells similarities. After all, serendipity is a poor business model. But serendipity is how the spirit is renewed; and a record store, like a bookstore, is nothing less than an institution of spiritual renewal. 
He speaks of the recent closing of his favorite record store.  I think as well of the closing of Borders and the many Barnes and Noble stores.  My town recently lost its record store as well.  Its independent book store, the wonderful Book Revue, still continues.  I wonder if it thrives.  Recently I wandered through its doors.  I soon found myself in the poetry section and discovered another Rainer Maria Rilke poetry book.  I was not looking for his poems.  I do not need yet another book, and another book of his poems, but how could I resist buying, "Book of Hours: Love Poems to God," especially when I read:
All who seek you
test you.
And those who find you
bind you to image and gesture.

I would rather sense you
as the earth senses you.
In my ripening
ripens
what you are.

I need from you no tricks
to prove you exist.
Time, I know,
is other than you.

No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
become clearer
from generation to generation.
I was searching for nothing.  That, at least, is what I thought.  Perhaps Wieseltier is right in his distinction between searching and browsing.  But the rows of poetry books always beckon me.  I found something even though I did not search for anything.  True knowledge surprises--and astounds.  That is its gift.  We lose these when we rely only on the internet and our computers.  Had I remained at home peering into my laptop I would not have discovered these poems.  And that is Wieseltier's great insight.  We no longer wander.  We no longer meander through rows of  books.  We no longer browse!  We no longer find comfort in the corners of libraries, surrounded by the learning of prior generations.  We only want answers.  We no longer search after knowledge and understanding.  Rather we type our questions into Google and scan its many answers.  But answers are not the same as learning.  And searching is no longer the achievement of knowledge.  Over these recent years search has grown more definitive while knowledge grows ever more diminished.  Wieseltier concludes:
My father had furniture stores. I grew up with the pathos of retail: you throw all your money into a location and an inventory, you hang out a sign, you trick out a window, you unlock a door, and (if you lack the resources to advertise formidably) you wait. If they come in, you use your skill; but they have to come in. When my father was ill, I would quit the library and mind the store. One day I set a house record for sofas sold because the store was located in a neighborhood where many U.N. people lived, and I knew more than most furniture salesmen about the crises in Iran and Cyprus. Eventually the store failed. But the failure of some stores is more repercussive than the failure of other stores. The commerce of culture is a trade in ideals of beauty, goodness, and truth. A hunger for profit exploits a hunger for meaning. If the one gets too ravenous, the other may find it harder to subsist. The disappearance of our bookstores and our record stores constitutes one of the great self-inflicted wounds of this wounding time.
And finally I return  to his earlier words: "But serendipity is how the spirit is renewed; and a record store, like a bookstore, is nothing less than an institution of spiritual renewal."

If everything becomes virtual how will we learn what we do not know we need to learn?

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