Judging the reader by the reader’s reading

A post from basil.CA’s first year:

17 May 02:  I run into educated people who, if they don’t necessarily judge a book by its cover, do something even more stupid:  judge a person by the books he or she reads.  Last year, for instance, I loaned a feminist friend Christina Hoff Somers’ Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, thinking, “Hey, she’d probably want to sharpen her positions by reading this controversial book.” Whoops! I hear she’s still out there on Vancouver’s hipper streets slandering me as a priapic blight. 

Recently  I calculated that I have spent about 95,000 hours of my life reading, or almost eleven years — mostly polemical nonfiction of some kind.  The amount of time I’ve spent reading material that I’ve agreed with:  Maybe a year, probably less. The amount of time I’ve enjoyed myself reading:  pretty much always, even those many months in early adulthood reading people like Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh or Rudolph Steiner (fifty or sixty books apiece) (I had friends who were believers, and I determined that reading works by their heros would help prolong our conversations); lately I’ve devoted myself to studying the history of Palestinian and Israeli propaganda — what’s to agree with there, when certainty itself is the blight?

For the last ten years, publications put out by the International Communist League have always been lying around on one of my reading tables. My favourites:  The Sparticist and Women and Revolution, which I often used in my “Bill of Rights” classes at Stanford University.  Each article ends with a call for international socialist revolution guided by the principles of Leon Trotsky; what I call “placard rhetoric” is positioned everywhere:  A recent piece entitled “Down with the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt” concludes:  “Mobilize Multiracial Union Power in a Mass Labor-Centered Protest! Defend Immigrants, Blacks, Labor Targeted by anti-Terrorist Laws!” 

These obsolescent stylistic devices aside, there are a lot of great political pointers even for those with no Marxist sympathies at all.  These Trotskyites helped me win more than one debate. I once torpedoed a dear buddy during a conversation about the Dalai Lama, seeing how far I could go as temporary Sparticist, arguing that China was liberating Tibet from the shackles of a theocratic society that had exploited and even enslaved women.  As the afternoon wore on, I expanded my onslaught, supporting every decision made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party over the past twenty years.  This bit of contention between us was artificial, true, but we went at it with great energy and seriousness. Against a finer mind,  I won that argument.  My buddy told me awhile ago that he hasn’t engaged in adversarial political discussion since, though I have indeed tried to bait him.

1 Comment»

  Clarissa wrote @

So true! I’m reading a novel by a Spanish fascist right now. The entire novel is an apology of fascism. Obviously, I find the ideology repugnant but I can only say that it is repugnant and explain why it is so because I’m almost finished with the novel.

People have told me that they find it disturbing that I read fascist and neo-Nazi writers and bloggers as if reading them meant I was in agreement.


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