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Friday, 8 February 2008

Books we have never read - Pictures we have never seen

How to talk about books that you haven't Read by French psychoanalyst and literature professor, Pierre Bayard, looks at the different levels of reading that we do, and how it is possible to talk knowledgeably about books we have never read. It's a personal thing for him - he "has no appetite for reading" and moves in circles where one is obliged to read and talk about books. Failure to do so can lead to guilt and feelings of social inadequacy, so what can the professor do, what can we all do beyond wearing the right glasses and having a look of earnest concern on our face at all times?

Bayard divides one's knowledge of books into four categories, books he is unfamiliar with, books he has glanced at, books he has heard discussed, books he has read but forgotten.

Such categorizing should enable us to talk knowledgeably about books we have never read and rid us of "...the oppressive image of a flawless cultural grounding, transmitted and imposed [on us] by the family and by educational institutions, an image which we try all our lives in vain to match up to. For truth in the eyes of others matters less than being true to ourselves, and this truth is only accessible to those who liberate themselves from the constraining need to appear cultured, which both tyrannizes us and prevents us from being ourselves."

Well said. Now what are the equivalent ways of not knowing a photographic work? Works we are unfamiliar with is simple enough, but then what? What are the levels of understanding of visual images and how must one see an image to really understand it?

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