Variation Three

Andrew Wyeth - Christina's World

Andrew Wyeth - Christina's World

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief. - Franz Kafka

Kafka's most famous quotation, much celebrated today to note 100 years since his passing, finds me asking the question: what type of reader was Franz Kafka? Never mind the inspirational value of the quote: what is it like to read a book that, for all intents and purposes, has the capacity to lead one into a very personal catastrophe, the metaphoric equivalence of being stabbed or wounded by what one has read? Was he a stylised reader, forbidding certain kinds of texts, reading only on the proviso that the piece of literature in question had the aforesaid capacity to "wound" him? Did he read absolutely everything he could lay his hands on? If not, what did he eschew, and was his world made narrow due to this conceit?

Is it really pertinent? Why would you want to know? Because, like it or not, we all secretly harbour a distaste for those who, after being lauded for holding a principle so high, fail to live up to what they believe.

The work of Paul Ekman on depictions of facial actions for studying emotion was the gold standard for many years, and lent a lot of credence to the hypothesis that human expressions were universal, regardless of culture. Recently, the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett (et al), has upended this hypothesis, causing her to state in a Guardian article that: "Research has not revealed a consistent, physical fingerprint for even a single emotion." A general take on how she came to this conclusion is laid out in the article The Secret History Of Emotions, and links to many of her academic articles and other pieces on the web are available from her website. Basically, her experiments and meta-analyses of the literature have shown that the classical view of emotions are a fiction.

This Is A Work In Progress

Sampson Endilylar


Books As Emotional Catalysts


Brace for Spoilers

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