Without really meaning to, I’ve spent the last couple of years limbering up for reading big, long books (with the likes of Wodehouse and Christie in between for perspective, and light relief.) Having a Kindle – and eschewing Amazon in favour of Project Gutenberg – has actually helped with this: with an e-reader, you don’t have to carry around doorstops; you don’t even know they’re doorstops; and a progress bar is far less intrusive, and hence discouraging, than a bookmark in the doorstop you aren’t actually carrying anyway.
Along with a couple of Dickens novels, I got through Ulysses again, understanding a bit more this time, especially some of the historical and political references. And, eventually, I made my way through War and Peace. Infamous for its number of characters, and their slippery Russian-aristocracy naming conventions, it definitely grows on you after a while, and the confusion over which name is the pet name for which “count” or “prince” does largely fall away. Meanwhile, I finished Finnegans Wake without really understanding, or expecting to understand, much of it: that was actually in paperback rather than electronic format; and since I (intentionally) only ever read it just before bedding down, then I only ever intended it to be a journey rather than a destination.
What next? Well, while K. borrows my Kindle to work her way through a certain witch-and-wizard series of books, I’ve turned back to those books on my to-read shelf that have the iconic status of Schindler’s List: you always want to have read them in the past, without at any point really desiring the burden of reading them in the present. The biggest one, and the one that it pains and saddens me most to have never made my way through, is – bizarrely – Kant.
That’s right: for this Christmas, as my fun holiday reading, I’ve chosen the Critique of Pure Reason. Honestly, if I were a character in a novel myself, you’d be raising your eyebrows at this point and saying “well, that’s a bit overegged, frankly. I mean, he’s no Donald Trefusis, is he?” Well, quite.
Kant occupies a weirdly mythological place in my own rather dilettante and scattergun philosophical investigations. There’s something admirable and – if you’re in the right mood – enjoyable about the clarity, purity and (frankly) dryness of his critiques; even then, he can be very, very heavy-going. But his quote about rainbows and the impossibility of grasping Sachen in sich (pp084-085) made its way into my thesis over a decade ago: as an epilogue; but also as a somewhat disillusioned comment on the transcendental usefulness or otherwise of the last four years of my life focussing on lasers of different colours. At the time, I hadn’t managed to more than skim-read the rest of the Critique, although I can’t imagine my examiners caring much; they were understandably more concerned with the correctness of my physics.
Anyway, I’m now trying again. And I’m armed with a pencil and annotating freely because – let’s be frank – it’s kill or cure this time. Either I get as far as the Architectonic of Pure Reason, or I give it all up as a bad job and just bluff based on my Bertrand Russell. I mean, who else is really likely to read this kind of thing? And these days, that insufferable sort is much more likely to be watching Schindler’s List. Or putting off doing so.