If you are reading this essay, you’re a reader. You probably know this sentence, and if you don’t, you are comfortable with interpreting it. You can hear a character beginning to form: its romantic, optimistic, nostalgic voice; a voice yearning for simplicity; probably, in its deliberate imitation of a child’s singsong, the voice of a woman, a mother. You know it might take a few pages to learn just who this woman is. You’re skilled in this sort of patience.
But if you have never read anything more difficult than a Harry Potter book, how are you meant to proceed?
Well, there is only one way to go on, as I tell students – and that is to go on. This is the first and greatest difficulty they face. There’s no reason for them to continue reading. There is so much else to read that is shorter, and not just aimed at them, but, in the case of their Facebook feed, tuned to their experience. Marketed to them. Why would they bother reading something that was neither for them nor about them?
… “Some students want Nietzsche in the same way that they want a hamburger; they fail to grasp – and the logic of the consumer system encourages this misapprehension – that the indigestibility, the difficulty is Nietzsche.”
…many of his students are in a state that he calls “depressive hedonia … an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure”. I’m not trying to give my students pleasure, or make them enjoy themselves. I’m trying to show them how critical engagement with literature enables critical engagement with living. I’m trying to interrupt what Fisher calls “the constant flow of sugary gratification on demand”. And finally, I’m trying to help them pass that literacy test.