Man, I hope that title doesn’t get taken out of context….
I stand by my assertion, however, if only in the context of reading. I want you to imagine for a moment a world where the reader holds no preconceived ideas or judgments about any author or work. We’d better expand that, actually. The reader should have no prior inclination towards any particular belief, theory, or ideology because these are the ideas with which literature concerns itself. Each book could then be read in a vacuum, appreciated for its own artistic and intellectual merit without the shackles of comparison and perspective.
Now imagine what this ideal state would require. As we are all bombarded by thousands of instances of stimuli each day which shape our judgement and perception, all that would have to be erased. An amnesiac in a sensory deprivation chamber would be the ideal reader. And, once having finished a book, that particular amnesiac would then have to immediately forget it’s entire contents because, by the very act of remembering, s/he would be recalling the content of previous works and thus tainting any future readings s/he intended on pursuing.
So, short of a near-constant state of amnesia, any reader is invariably prejudiced for or against a countless number of ideas, ideologies, ideals, styles and anything else that could possibly be written or thought of.
And this is good. Prejudices are made to be shattered. They are what allow us to be challenged by a book and, by being challenged, shape who we are and who we want to be. I’m experiencing this now in very personal way. Having been raised in a very pleasantly religious household, reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is a direct challenge to my prejudices and beliefs. While my beliefs and prejudices won’t change in precisely the way Dawkins and his ilk would hope, my personal worldview and philosophies will certainly be affected and I’ll come out of the experience a slightly different person.
It’s the tweaking, reshaping, and sometimes shattering and rebuilding of prejudices that make us human beings. We should carry our prejudices into our readings if only so we can hold them up to challenges and attacks and see how they fare. Whether they’re reinforced or destroyed, life-altering or trivial, these prejudices teach us about ourselves and enable us to grow. And that is why they are a good thing.
(Post inspired by this weeks Literary Blog Hop at The Blue Bookcase.)