Monday, 22 December 2008

Martel Sends Fictions to Harper: When Its Good to Read (Or Hear) What You Don't Want to Read (Or Hear)

Yann Martel just sent Stephen Harper a collection of short stories by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Fictions, as the end-of-year offering in his campaign to provide the PM with some good bedtime reading. It’s the 45th in the series, and it’s not even a book that Martel likes. Doesn’t sound like a present sent with much holiday good feeling to me.

But, as those who’ve been keeping track know, Martel accompanies his fortnightly gifts with a letter of introduction. This time he explains the book was chosen “because one should read widely, including books that one does not like. By so doing one avoids the possible pitfall of autodidacts, who risk shaping their reading to suit their limitations, thereby increasing those limitations. The advantage of structured learning, at the various schools available at all ages of one’s life, is that one must measure one’s intellect against systems of ideas that have been developed over centuries. One’s mind is thus confronted with unsuspected new ideas.”

Hmmh. That’s interesting, particularly when you take a look at the list of the names of Harper’s economic panel who have, we’re told, agreed to spend two days this pre-holiday week for the token sum of a $1 a year. There’s only one economist in the lot, the rest are all business types, and certainly Harper is not likely hear anything from them he hasn't heard before, and wouldn't be happy to hear. No Canadian equivalent of Paul Krugman among them, for sure.

So Martel’s point is probably very pertinent. As was the letter he sent with his last offering, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck sent December 8, the day the Lib/NDP coalition was supposed to bring down the Harper government. Martel pointed out that while Buck’s story is still found in bookstores everywhere because it remains an “excellent introduction to old China and a vivid parable on the fragility of fortune." He goes on: "This lesson will not be lost on you considering the political turmoil you are now going through. The fate of a politician is so terribly uncertain.”

To be continued at the end of January.


Jack Ruttan said...

I'm not very happy with Harper. I keep imagining him showing up here with thugs to break all my brushes and pee on my laptop, while barking at me to "get a real job."

(Actually, hearing that last comment a lot is why I left Calgary for Montreal)

I guess at least he's a source of one type of inspiration, like many irritants.

lagatta said...

Same kind of person driving an SUV who'll bark at middle-aged people like us riding bicycles to "grow up and get a car"...

Though while Borges is an admirable writer in many ways, he does share in Harper's wilful blindness (no, not a bad joke about Borges' physical blindness). His silence about the evils of the vicious dictatorship in his country (friends of mine were murdered and tortured there) is anything but admirable.