I can’t read

I had been getting fed up with urban life and the constant stream of distracting noise that entered my sphere of experience. That was the part of me that is addicted to self-control, that feels the need for purpose in thought and action.

Ads are bad,
They make me sad,
When I think of thoughts I might have had.

To and fro on public transport, that dead time in the transit between work and home, between my public self and private self. A great place to think. The atmosphere of people ignoring each other bizarre. Quiet, warmth and movement. I could read so much travelling this way. Except for the words tearing through the silence. Adverts for car insurance, beer, cheap international phone calls, educational opportunities. Newspaper headlines; the challenge of reading articles over the shoulder of the determined non-sharer. And the free papers, left behind, tempting me with their lies of the present.

Hypnotic like the imperceivable fleeting flicker of a telivision screen, I took in all the lies around me because I felt no lines of escape open to me. Once I had seen the ad it engaged me. I was forced by some intellectual tourettes syndrome to contemplate the advert. To form an opinion, although usually not the intended I suppose. The constant adverts and vacuous newspaper surveys demanded my attention. Because of the words. Visual noise shattering my mental nirvana, my concentration on what I thought I wanted to be doing.

Then one day, during a moment of actual conciousness of what I was reading I discovered the posibilty of freedom. I was reading Time, The Hunter by Italo Calvino, and discovered a character who had taught himself how not to read. He had unlearnt the ability.

To achieve this could be a road to tranquility. A visit to Japan confirmed this. I couldn’t read a thing and could concentrate on the real rather than the printed simulacra of the world that occupied me for so long at home. It was beautiful.

Words are marks, invented by humans. We have an in built ability to recognise certain reprasentations, but written words do not fall into this category like the most basic representation of a human face even turned on its side 🙂 Reading requires learning. I started my project by trying to see all words as squiggles on a page. Of course that didn’t work. Too simple. If only it were that easy. I then tried not reading at all, but the words fight their way through. Then I discovered the key. Concentrate on reading. When you try and understand the process of reading at the same time as doing it you find that you have read several pages, but cannot recall any of it. Perhaps it is in there, in the unconscious, waiting to slip out as if my own spontaneous thought. However this only works for things I want to read. The minutae input from everyday life slips in without any conscious effort. The phrases and meanings are short. So a form of conscious disinterest is required to shut out the unwanted stories.

Unfortunately all this requires such concentration that not being able to read in itself makes it impossible to do the things I hoped would become possible as a result. My thoughts are still full of the subject of reading. I don’t know how to achieve full intellectual independance from the mundane. My experiment may point in some other directions.

  • Develop unconscious determination to shut out what is unnessecary and a waste of my time.
  • Move to a place where you are not subjected to mundane promotions and base media lies. The countryside.
  • A foreign city where you can’t begin to interpret the language (how long would that last, before you started to learn again…)
  • Put out my eyes, an extreme solution that shuts out so much more than words.

Now of course I discover that I can’t write and I lose my train of thought. Perhaps my destiny is a cork lined room. Shut away in my own solipsism, refusing to deal with the world I inhabit. Is that a nirvana worth seeking?


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