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Do I need to read a lot of books - or even one?
Plato: Books can be your worst enemies
From: Plato, Phaedrus, translated by Benjamin Jowett * Plato Home Page
Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.
Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from "oak or rock," it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.
Phaedr. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that the Theban is right in his view about letters.
Soc. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?
Phaedr. That is most true.
Intelligence needs knowledge of the circumstances
BALD heads forgetful of their sins, / Old, learned, respectable bald heads / Edit and annotate the lines / That young men, tossing on their beds, / Rhymed out in love’s despair / To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.
They’ll cough in the ink to the world’s end; / Wear out the carpet with their shoes / Earning respect; have no strange friend; / If they have sinned nobody knows. / Lord, what would they say / Should their Catullus walk that way?
From: W.B.Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole. 1919
Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.
Phaedr. That again is most true.
Soc. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, and having far greater power-a son of the same family, but lawfully begotten?
Phaedr. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?
Soc. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.
Phaedr. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?
Cf. Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet | Kierkegaard, My work as an author
Emerson, Self-knowledge | Gibson - McRury, Discovering one's face | Emerson, We differ in art, not in wisdom