Injury and the Ethics of Reading
September 3, 2012 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Symmetry is at hand in, for example, the meter of a poem, and provides inspiration and guidance for the centuries it will take to bring about symmetry in the realm of justice [...]

I'm occasionally struck by the human affinity for symmetry (whether in poem or mathematical theorem) which to my mind stands at odds to the universe's necessity for asymmetry. Admittedly I'm no physicist, but to the best of my understanding the origins of the universe (as best we can suss out) boil down to a certain breaking of symmetry. And yet, our best tools for understanding not just the origins of the universe but also the deeper wrinkles of mathematics (or poetry) ultimately could be said to be all about the symmetry, or lack of, found therein. As a person with a mathematical bent, I've counterintuitively found camaraderie with those of a poetic disposition, more often than not. Make of that what you will.

Interesting post, but DUDE, it's the middle of the night and I ought to be sleeping!
posted by axiom at 2:31 AM on September 3, 2012

There once was a man from Nome
Who was injured by a terrible poem
The rhymes seemed to match
But then came the catch
That the last line went on and on about the deplorable state of poetry in the Western world and how nobody remembers the subtlety and beauty of careful word-craft and its possible influence on the appreciation of our existence, the remembrance of gentle play and the fine-handling of nuance that accompanies any deliberate and very focused verbal utterance having been displaced by sharp stabs at the basest desires and sensibilities in order to sell product after product which supplants our more humane intuitions and leaves us with little, very little, left to take home.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:13 AM on September 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Narrative empathy another call for the use of the book to encourage empathy with others.

I know I recently read something about teaching children empathy through reading, but I can't seem to find it now.
posted by aetg at 5:22 AM on September 3, 2012

So the church failed to teach empathy but the profane world succeeded. There's some kind of moral there.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:33 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Fizz at 5:54 AM on September 3, 2012

literature has in fact helped to diminish acts of injuring

Can't understand arguing this line in the face of the bloodiest century in world history, the tens of millions lost to starvation in a world with plenty of food, and the decades-long threat of nuclear annihilation following the most barbarous single act in human history.

If ordinary, everyday violence in the streets has subsided, it's been replaced by massive institutions called states working an equivalent, if more covert and subtle, violence. If literature has had a hand in creating the benevolent personas which mask all that, the reality of massive suffering has changed very little. The avarice behind the masks is intact.
posted by Twang at 5:36 PM on September 3, 2012

Yeah, I think the argument is stronger regarding the rise of civic institutions in the late middle ages. You can only take it so far.
posted by homunculus at 8:05 PM on September 3, 2012

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