Schopenhauer and “the art of not reading”

During an afternoon of reading and writing, came across this timely rumination by Leland de la Durantaye in the Harvard Review, “The Art of Ignorance: An Afterword to Ludwig Börne.” The article features a translation of Börne’s prescient essay “The Art of Becoming an Original Writer in Three Days”, about which I blogged back in 2006, and goes on to consider Börne’s influence on Freud and Schopenhauer’s typically ornery take on a world in which there is too much to read because too much is published. Sound familiar?

Schopenhauer is , of course, author of one of the best aphorisms about reading:

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.

An excerpt from de la Durantaye’s short piece follows, but the article is worth reading in full.

“In 1851, towards the end of a long life of reading, Schopenhauer wrote of the “high importance” of “the art of not reading. This was a response to new developments—what he called “the literature which in our days is spreading like weeds.” This “Unkraut der Literatur” that, in his view, threatened to overrun the age is what he was seeking to address. His dialectical mind was not long in finding the means to this end.

If there was too much to read, the solution was to not read. For Schopenhauer, a singular danger awaited those who did not cultivate this “art of not reading.” This was that the clever minds of the day might become “der Tummelplatz fremder Gedanken,” the “playground of others’ thoughts.”

To make the matter clear he offered a comparison. Just as in physical matters when someone never walks but only ever rides, he will sooner or later lose the ability to move of his own accord, so too, he reasoned, must things proceed in mental matters. Given the profusion of things to read, he worried that his age would “read itself stupid.” It was to counter this danger that he recommended his special art.”