Harry Potter (and the importance of literature)

The Phenomenon of Harry Potter 

If there are a few words I love to use (Hypothetico-Deduction, Kant, sex, Kant, Rationalism, Psychology, Transcendental Idealism), one of those in the list must be social phenomenon. HARRY POTTER!!! In the words of our time, stfu OMGWTF N***a? It seems everyone my age (haha I’m not telling you that yet! – but you could work it out by hypothetico-deduction [haha that’s two down]) is reading Harry Potter. I hardly follow ‘pop culture’ much, like Big Brother, the Charts, T4 or such like, but apparently Harry Potter is a really important event at the moment. Here is the phenomena as I see it:

 1. The Final Book of the series has been released

2. Harry Potter is a series of books operating within a framework of magic, semi-fantasy, and old-style Britishness (Romantic sentimentality? – We saw how this ended up *cough* 70 years ago)

3. Harry Potter is a popular series and product range

4. Harry Potter is primarily consumed by Books, and Film.

 Musings on Harry

I guess I am being rather fuddy duddy about it all. I attempted to read the Philosopher’s Stone once, by that, I mean, I found a copy one day and sat for 3 hours reading it. I must admit, it was fun to read, it is very readable, and it is a well-written piece of literature which has much appeal to children and adults alike. That said, I wouldn’t normally read it, nor would I want to. Because it is so well written, I read about half of the Philosopher’s Stone in one sitting, I’ve only done a book in one sitting once before, and that was when I had to read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (Wilde), but that was mainly because I had severe anxiety and I had to read it for a class (on Goffman; the lecture was on the ‘face’ in social interaction).

Why am I apprehensive about Harry Potter? Well, I must admit one thing, anything that makes people read more has to be good, and better Harry Potter than Mein Kampf (or Foucault – same diff). Because I saw Harry Potter being sold in a Corner Shop, once I was at a cash and carry, and they sold the book in BULK!!, they sell it in supermarkets! I mean, goodness, people don’t get culture from supermarkets, they get condoms, booze, vegetables and microwavable death meals; okay, so, maybe I’m not flexible about the book being sold in a wider range of places. I’m cool with a book being sold in a Co-op or Tesco. But, the KIND of books sold (this is more general than HP – and not necessarily inclusive of HP) in supermarkets and unconventional non-book stores are droll, populist literature, like celebrity biographies, pop psychology, or The God Delusion. I might seem like an atheist to you readers sometimes, but I cannot accept that Dawkins is being sold next to a 6-pint of milk! Maybe Hindu readers can find offense in that. I would rather supermarkets sell Holy Bibles than The God Delusion!

I mean, it’s not a bad thing to widen the range of supermarkets, I do not believe that at all, but if you want to diversify your range, do it well. If you want to sell more non-US/UK music, get in Finnish, Norweigian, South African or Jpop music rather than say, nose flautists of Peru; that is purporting an image of ‘world’ music as primitive, ‘world’ music isn’t even an approriate label. If you want to diversify, be representative. I wouldn’t like to think that the Atheist/Agnostic front is represented by Dawkins; why not say, Carl Sagan instead? Maybe I am being too apprehensive, I must admit, I suppose the fact that Dawkins is British has an impact on it being in a British supermarket.

What I really want to say is, yes, Harry Potter is important to people, and it’s great that children read something substantial. I am all for that. I hope adults after the age of 16 continue to read seriously after education. Reading is a great joy, one can enter fantastic, sensual, difficult, sentimental, challenging or just plain different worlds through reading. Art sometimes has the amazing impact of being so distinct from everyday life that we can experience the features of being human that we don’t always experience. To learn of the tender love between lovers, to know the pain of grief, the corruption of the powerful, the beauty of nature, the tenderness of men and the brutality of women (counterintuitive social images), the lives of those different from us, such as ethnic minorities, the disabled, those of sexual difference, and the mentally ill. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for that, and the import of literature has perhaps a greater impact on our practical knowledge than analytic philosophy does (I thank Martha Nussbaum’s Love’s Knowledge for that insight – it is a great book that anyone interested in philosophy and literature should buy). I want to emphasise that reading and entertaining one’s mind is so important in today’s age. A literate (and numerate) population is such a wonderful development of civilisation; no longer is it the elites who learn to read, but all (in principle).

So, what’s my beef? Okay, here it is:

Why don’t they sell a decent translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in BOOKSTORES!!!!!!!!!! I went to some bookstores I frequented as a college pupil in Wimbledon; and they did NOT have the Meikeljohn translation, let alone the Kemp-Smith! I demand quality translations of the most important philosopher since Aristotle in my two-storey local Bookstore! I go to a philosophy section of a bookstore, and what do I see? ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE? THE ART OF WAR? MADNESS AND CIVILISATION? SIGMUND FREUD? By Jingo, this is NOT philosophy (the last one is debatable). If people can have that, and not the finer works of Hume, Mill, Descartes, Spinoza, or Quine and Dennett, what hope is there for an enlightenment world!

In redemption of Wimbledon, I say this, there is a fine, fine used bookstore, somewhat ironically opposite a club named ‘Edwards’ – which is like the cantina in Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope, because no where else will you find a hive with more scum and villany within it; just anecdotally, Sinistre told me there is a man who sits by the sinks of the toilet and offers to wash your hands, saying rhyming motifs such as ‘no soap, no hope’ (referring to pulling [temporary casual romantic contact with] a girl), or ‘no cologne, you go home alone’. Anyhoo, the bookshop. I found some AMAZING books there. Logic, metaphysics, classics, epistemology, religion, sociology, cultural studies, even books on EXEGESIS! I found some of the classic commentaries on Wittgenstein, Hume and Kant there (I couldn’t afford them all – as they were antiquarian/expensive copies).

In the words of a dear friend of mine. Rant over. I really should not be so casual in my writing. It is because Sinistre and Destre aren’t around much!

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