There is much that can prove to be our undoing. Fashion can be included among that. Granted, it’s not the same as a superbug or a nuclear explosion, but it is the medium through which we are forced to view ourselves. For the sake of style we are forced to have our trousers altered, either tapering the legs or flaring them out, either shaving our heads smooth or braiding our hair into hundreds of cornrows, etc. You become so ashamed of your natural appearance that you feel like a freak, and so you try any way you can to conform to the prevailing taste. But taste is fleeting. Like the winds of a hurricane, new fashion trends sweep away the old ones several times a year, forcing everyone to rush to the boutiques to squeeze into something really outré. And the issue isn’t really about clothes, but the fact that three times a year we are indoctrinated with ideas about what is beautiful, and in the end it may be that the very word “beauty” no longer means anything to us.
Fashions come in various flavors. There are, for example, fads in literature. Some hyped book emerges on the scene, and suddenly even people who haven’t read anything other than an occasional newspaper since they left school can’t put it down. Is there anyone left nowadays who hasn’t heard about the “great contemporary writer” Paulo Coelho? We ask ourselves, how did this man become so famous? Are all his readers really such experts on Latin American literature? If they had ever read Márquez or Cortázar then they would have been unlikely to have ever picked up a second book by Coelho after finishing the first. And if they had never read either Márquez or Cortázar, then what is so great about Coelho, that he can bump aside all the real Latin American heavyweights?! The answer is fashion, ladies and gentlemen.
There have probably been more print runs of books about Harry Potter than printings of the original series itself. And what do we see? Is it really so brilliant? I think that, once again, it’s a question of fashion. We see a money-making venture. We see the power of advertising. You might be embarrassed to shrug your shoulders and and mumble “nothing” in answer to the question “What have you been reading?” thus admitting that you haven’t been keeping up with the crowd. And this is an example of nothing but the lowest form of slavery and the most disgraceful dependence of millions of people on the public opinions that someone or other has concocted.
In the 19th century Russians devoured French novels. When asked what he thought of Zola, Vasily Rozanov answered, “I haven’t read him, but I don’t like him.” This was a fairly daring, flippant position to take, reminiscent of everything else Rozanov did, but it was inherently a very liberated stance.
Or, for example, take the book The Da Vinci Code, which caused such a sensation. The opening pages pull you in, by the time you’re a third of the way in you understand that it’s a pure fairy tale, and you don’t get to the real meat of the story until the final third of the novel. The whole book is just a vehicle for the one key chapter in which a certain professor expresses some anti-Christian slander and establishes the foundations of the “religion of the future.” Christ allegedly had a wife and children, belief in His Deity was allegedly an notion propagated by the Roman Empire, and the Church has allegedly been lying for centuries, concealing some secret truth. And all would have been well if only everything had been revealed back at the beginning. So nothing new here — these ideas are as old as time itself, and each era has had its devotees and evangelists of them. And people of superficial intellect, even those who have been expensively educated, take the bait. It is as if a broad stratum of “sympathizers” for the future world order is being created, which must be built on the smoking rubble of Christianity. It should never be dismissed as innocuous that such books sell out so quickly. This is a trial balloon, an indicator of a mass fall from grace. And you thought that after gobbling up a bestseller, you were standing at the apex of global civilization? Believe me, the authors of those bestsellers will be the first to laugh in your face.
They practically dragged you to the slop trough by the scruff of your neck, and once forced to guzzle out of it, you chew, suppressing the urge to vomit, and look to your right and left at the long lines of other people just like you, and you smile at one another. You wink: it’s supposed to be delicious, right? We are at the pinnacle. We have embraced the culture. This, in my opinion, is a snapshot of how contemporary, “brilliant” opuses in the world of literature and art are consumed.
Millions of people have learned to read, but have not learned how to cull their choices of books. Tons of DVDs are available to millions of people, but the ability to cull a pearl from the manure is not. They devour music and videos like Gargantua eating breakfast. Illiteracy may be horrible, but today’s version of literacy that lacks faith and taste is even more horrifying.
In addition to newly released books and movies, there are a lot of “new” things in the world that the consumer does not know about. Any book that you have not read is new to you. Any film that you have not watched is, strangely enough, also new. It is important to understand that no one is dead in God’s eyes. The books that are handed down to us are like a telegraph wire, a way of communicating with the people who wrote them. We are all contemporaries of everyone who has ever lived or will live on earth. Socrates, Shakespeare, and Giordano Bruno may all very well be seen as our contemporaries. It is incumbent upon us to chose with whom we commune and from what era.
To narrow our infinite options down to the offerings available in one brief instant of modern life (and not even of life but of a tempest in a teapot) is a betrayal of one’s true purpose and a sin in the face of eternity.
You cannot seek your friends from among those who hang on your every word with an open mouth. You must seek out those who are wiser than you. You need to cultivate the desire to sit silently at their feet or to camp out on their doorstep. The desire and ability to learn is a sign of wisdom. This is again why we need to ask questions of those who came before us. Find someone who seems intelligent — a deep thinker and sound of reason — and ask what was the last book he read. If we’re going to follow someone or listen to something — best not to listen to unintelligible noise, but to the lucid words of someone better than us.