I think I’m very quickly going to stop reading most modern books. I’ve already stopped reading books by contemporary women. This happened when I read Guns of August and A Distant Mirror, by Barbara Tuchman. People rave about these books, but Tuchman’s tendency to paint men in leadership acting like teenage girls was too grating. It is a sign of the times, however. These days, most women authors I see are putting out soma for the masses, largely auto-ethnographic emotional journeys (which largely aggrandizes what are otherwise mundane experiences). Don’t get me wrong, there have been very strong women authors in the west in the past, and Edith Wharton remains one of my favourites. However, our modern times produce modern books which reward modern follies and most authors these days happily fall into them.
I started listening to the audio version of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. In an instant I was enthralled. Every word was chosen for conveying clearly Conrad’s unified vision. He had laboured and struggled to create and convey this vision, and nothing in the story is wasted. You can go back a second time and see relations, allusions, meanings that you missed the first time. Most modern writing is a chore to get through, and very rarely even delivers what was promised by its title, much less leaving one feeling challenged or rewarded. It merits no looks, not a second look. It all seems to boil down to “look how smart and woke I be, and you be too!”
This comes on the heels of reading Bronze Age Pervert’s Bronze Age Mindset. He seeks a return to the principles and discipline that produced men at the crescendo of personal development as men. These are not the men of WWII, or the American Revolution, but of Bronze Age Greece. Those men who had little in the way of modern medicine or technology, but nonetheless, by faith in themselves and an acceptance of the inevitability of death, could by their will conquer whatever they put their minds to. They were students of constant striving to achieve the pinnacle of what a human being can accomplish. We have none of these left today in the West. So it goes with our warriors, so it has also gone with our authors.
Look at this diary entry by Bertrand Russell, on meeting Joseph Conrad. This was spontaneous:
It was wonderful—I loved him & I think he liked me. He talked a great deal about his work & life & aims, & about other writers…. Then we went for a little walk, & somehow grew very intimate. I plucked up courage to tell him what I find in his work—the boring down into things to get to the very bottom below the apparent facts. He seemed to feel I had understood him; then I stopped & we just looked into each other’s eyes for some time, & then he said he had grown to wish he could live on the surface and write differently, that he had grown frightened. His eyes at the moment expressed the inward pain & terror that one feels him always fighting…. Then he talked a lot about Poland, & showed me an album of family photographs of the 60’s—spoke about how dream-like all that seems, & how he sometimes feels he ought not to have had any children, because they have no roots or traditions or relations.
Who writes like this anymore? Who talks to others like this anymore? Who is this observant of other people anymore? We simply do not see it, and most certainly not in our written forms. Perhaps we have become too dependent on technology (TV, then the Internet and smartphones) for our interactions and not enough on our actual real perceptions and intuitions. Whatever it is, we in the west have fallen far.
In Unqualified Reservations, Mencius Moldbug once said that you should always read from primary sources, meaning, from authors writing about things that happened in their lifetimes, for which they actually witnessed. Going back to primary sources is a joy because authors from hundreds of years ago seemed to hold writing to much higher standards. (And, with no copyright, many are cheap if not free.) Perhaps it was because books were not cheap, and there was no plethora of writing available for free via the internet. You had to have higher standards, or you simply never got published. I enjoy old books from old eras for this reason. I’m not really learning anything valuable from modern books, there is nothing for those who strive to be something more than what they already are. The writing does not make demands of you to learn more, get smarter, or up your standards. There is no reward for delving deeper. Such is the times.