Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am less intelligent than the book I have written.


Susan Sontag once said she was ‘less intelligent than her essays’. I understand this. In person I am much less knowledgeable than my book on Colenso. 

I am less intelligent than the book I have written.

 This is, I think, the wonder of book culture - or of linear thought. One erects a ladder and then climbs it to a certain point. Arduously one creates another ladder and climbs to another point and again creates a ladder. And so on. 

You can end up somewhere quite different to where you started off just as your knowledge of the subject deepens and grows in complexity. 

Ironically however you still remain the same person who eats the same things for breakfast and has trouble remembering things in the supermarket. 


To me this ladder building is the glory of book culture - people producing work that is so much more intelligent than the individual. This is the difference between, I suppose, a world made up of tweeting - instant responses in which people luxuriate in being ‘themselves’. It is all about being in the instant, feeling proximity, revelling in what one might almost call a glorious promiscuity of scattergun thought. 

The making of a ladder, then the making of another ladder is laborious and possibly antique as an occupation. But it can lead you to places you didn’t even know existed. You can also produce something which is, in effect, more intelligent than you are in daily life. And this was, until recently, how human society evolved.

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