A collection of other people's writing

About the name: it doesn’t have any direct significance. I loved the word the first time i encountered it (in Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel “The War of the End of the World”). Heresy has always seemed more interesting to me than orthodoxy, though most heresy is just another orthodoxy awaiting canonisation. The real heresy has no priests, no leaders, no heresiarch at all.

About the blog: For as long as i can remember i have felt like a person without ideas of my own, in the sense that any ideas or concepts that mattered to me seemed to have been enunciated first by others

Nonetheless i have often felt that there was some sort of “meme set” of these ideas that added up to a unique intellectual identity, a kind of map of my mind. And that if someone were to read what i’d read they would inevitably be reconstructing me in some form. Obviously an atheist’s fantasy of afterlife and and silly withal: two readers reading the same book read a different book, just as two photographers photographing the same street photograph a different world. We can read unmarked copy but even so some passages will be underlined by our moral values, our aesthetics.

Still, whimsically, I had it in mind to try to enumerate this map in a website, perhaps as a interconnected dictionary of concepts or authors or philosophies or something. I made a lot of notes but never began to write.

This blog is in someways a successor to that idea, less ambitious in every aspect: not written by me, it is only the words of others; not inter-connected, it is not a map; not limited to ideas, it includes pieces which i like merely as writing.

In my early twenties, at about the same time as i was reading “The War of the End of the World” it occurred to me that reading was an activity that was, consciously or unconsciously, incredibly selective. We have perhaps 60 years of reading if we are fortunate and outside of academia or the literary world we are unlikely to read more than a couple of books per week, for most people much less. 52 times 60 times 2 is 6240 books.

It sounds a lot. It is a lot. But there are tens of thousands of books published every year and millions already published. In one sense we are already readers in Borges’ Library of Babel. Whatever path you take through the written word will be more or less unique to you and more or less a drop in the bucket of human writing.

I decided early on to try to be selective in what i read, rejecting the temptation to read solely for enjoyment or to read all the works of an author once one book had captured me. In academic terms i’m not widely read, i haven’t come close to reading 2 books a week or even the equivalent of two books a week in other formats. But i have had the pleasure to read a lot of good books.

For this blog i intend to revisit all the books that i still have in my possession, those that i remember thinking highly of, and excerpting a passage from each one. This is an exercise purely for me but if anyone should look over my shoulder and be drawn to an author previously unknown to them i would be delighted.

Posted on October 1, 2008