Sergio’s Tacos in Satler, Texas, on 3 May 2009.
“. . . . You have read all of these fine writers, Mr. Munday?”
“Nearly all.” And nearly all Adorno, nearly all Horkheimer and nearly all Marcuse, Mundy thinks, recalling a similar interrogation in Berlin a few lifetimes ago. I love them all, and I can’t remember a word any of them said.
Absolute Friends by John LeCarré, page 238.
Teddy Munday, John LeCarré’s protagonist in that novel, is at least honest with himself amid his life of subterfuge and deception. He endeared himself to me with that remark. He was by any measure “well read” in the area of radical philosophy and could not remember a word of it.
There is a delightful essay in the most recent Harper’s entitled “On Not Being Well Read” by John Crowley, a man in his eighties who is quite obviously enormously “well read.” One of the delights in it is his discussion of exactly what we mean when we characterize someone as “well read.” But overall the essay strikes a similar chord to that struck by Teddy Munday. A comfort it was to read.
On the discomfort side of the ledger, my enjoyment of the two films starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, “The Trip” and “The Trip to Italy,” is entirely compromised by the fact that those two men have lengthy passages from Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, and that sort at their fingertips. They recite at the drop of hat. I know. I know. They are actors. Those are movies. But still.
If there were an omniscience that could list for us the titles that I have read over a lifetime—it would take an omniscience because I certainly cannot remember—then I myself would certainly be considered “well read” on the strength of that list. I began reading voraciously as a boy. I majored in English and History in college for chrissakes and kept right on afterward, reading compulsively for a lifetime . . . to the great neglect of everyone around me I might add. And like Teddy Munday, I cannot remember a goddamned word any of those writers said. By next week I will have forgotten what Teddy Munday said.
So I was wondering in passing, what was the point?
But only in passing. I am not going to devote a lot of time to pondering this issue.