Teachers All Around

The Great Books of the Western World — “Teachers all around”.

I have always heard about Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Spinoza and Kant, but I had never thought that “normal” people should read them. They lay in History, and whatever they had contributed to society was already embedded in our everyday lives, having already influenced whoever did whatever had to be done to create the technological era we live in and the chaotic pseudo-civilised society we live in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to study Pythagoras — all I needed to know was how to calculate the hypotenuse. In fact, all we need now is to press the correct button in a calculator or to use the right command in any commonplace programming language. I have always been a practical man. I do stuff. I don’t sit at home engrossed in armchair thinking. Why should I read such complex arcane books? Moreover, I knew I wouldn’t understand much even if I tried.

But that book I mentioned, the recursive one, taught me more than reading techniques. It told me an almost fantastic story about books that you can’t exhaust even by the best reading you can manage, books that you can’t forget, books that grow with you — the Great Books. More than that, it made a clear case as to why I should read them. And by acquainting myself with the importance of those books, with their everlasting contemporaneity, with their almost infinite hidden teachings, I capitulated — I knew I would have to become a student again. I realised with a stabbing certainty that I had never read anything great in my life, and that was why, I concluded, I had learned so little all those years. I then hastily devoured what I could for a few days — a little bit of Homer, Plato and Aristotle. At times, I applied the reading techniques I had learned, but, in general, I hasted through the pages half-understanding, half-marvelling, just to grasp the gist of it, just to convince myself I had lost too much time. I had indeed. And only the gods will ever know what have been the consequences of my ignorance.

It was as if a door to the center of the Earth had been briefly opened to me. As I peeked inside, I could see deep down there all these great men in profuse conversation, and all around them, like ghostly images emanating from their auras, I could see everything that mankind had produced, from the wheel to the airplane to the computers to the glass of whisky I had in my hand. And I could hardly hold my tears. I recognised the feeling. Decades ago, when I was a little child in my grandmother’s house in the mountains, watching a documentary on the particle accelerator below Geneva, I learned for the first time that men could produce matter out of energy. The same kind of tears tried to escape me then — the tears of an ignorant child in profound awe by the genius of men.

Now, as I admired that great conversation going on, I could see waves of knowledge propagating through Earth’s metal core, as if gathering enough static energy to first navigate past the rigid mantle, then through the ductile asthenosphere toward the brittle crust, and, finally, to the outer surface of the planet where they have inspired and taught and exhorted men throughout the ages. Wherever I looked now, even in these crooked times, I saw teachers all around.

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