Another brief homily, this one on the subject of what a good thing literacy is. Which is ever so slightly redundant in a book such as this, which, let’s face it, no one (not even me) would pick up for casual reading.
This is the last chapter of the Book of Parables, for which I personally am thankful. Coming up next: the Book of Concord, which promises to be, well, most likely more of the same.
A simnple parable this one, a brief – though not brief enough – lesson on the subject of putting down a book and getting some exercise once in a while.
This is good advice, but given the eminently put-down-able nature of this book in particular, it is perhaps a poor move tactically on Grayling’s part to place it so early in what promises to be a long and wearying slog of a read.
These three chapters belong together, as they each concern a tale of the King of the City of Stones. In each of them, someone abuses – or attempts to abuse – the generosity of the king. And in two of the, the king is shown to be such a poor judge of character that we can only assume that he inherited his reign – although to be fair, he is quick to set right the results when he learns the truth.
Of all the parables seen thus far, these are the easiest to understand and the most simply expressed. And yet, they all make much the same point: that generosity and abuse of generosity each return a just reward.
It’s only their repetitive placement and moralising that makes these three annoying. Three chapters in a row that say exactly the same thing? That close an aping of the Bible we could do without.
I’ve lumped these several chapters in together because they tell a continuing story, that of the interactions of a ‘wise man’ named Charicles with a never-named stranger who is also, apparently, ‘wise.’
It consists of a circular story that turns out in the end to have all been a dream, and contains numerous tales within its tale, and at least one tale within a tale within a tale. It reads like an academics attempt to replicated Borges, in which the structure is recreated but the soul is missing.
Wisdom, according to these chapters, looks a hell of a lot like speaking in metaphors instead of saying what you mean, or of deciphering metaphors. About the only concrete wisdom that I can derive from this confused exercise in missing the point of metafiction is as follows:
- Foxes and serpents are not to be trusted
- Wine may or may not be a good thing
- There’s no place like home
In fact, the only actual wisdom I can derive from this mess is that there is no one better at lying to any person than they themself – wisdom which apparently Grayling never considered when he was composing this work, or it might possibly possess intentional merit.
Because each chapter of this book is a separate parable (well, sort of – we’ll get to that), I’ve decided to treat each chapter as a separate post here, the better to tease out the meaning of the parables.
That is, if I can stand it. There’s a good chance that even my Bookmadness will be insufficient to carry me all the way through this book (and so far, I’m only about 10% of the way through it). The reason for this, as mentioned in previous chapters, is Grayling’s increasingly insufferable smugness and self-satisfaction.
The first chapter of Parables details a conversation between Plousios (a king) and Penicros (a beggar). Structurally, it more resembles a Socratic dialogue than a parable: Plousios asks questions and Penicros answers them, and Plousios marvels at thw wisdon Penicros (whose name is, presumably by coincidence, an anagram of ‘Orc Penis’ – which he resembles in subtlety at least). At very least, we can be certain that whatever Grayling’s points of agreement with Catholic dogma might be, that pride is a sin is not one of them – Penicros is so wise that he apparantly doesn’t realise that boasting about one’s wisdom is unwise. (“Guess our minds must be too highly trained, Vroomfondel.”)
The fact that Penicros is a painfully obvious author mouthpiece aside, his ‘wisdom’ is dubious at best. Among other things, he says that is fine to lie to one’s spouse (if there is a Mrs Grayling, I hope she’s read that bit). He also paraphrases McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” badly – so badly, in fact, that it’s possible that my identification of the paraphrase is faulty. But I can find no other meaning that could apply to that section.
Like I said, cats and kittens, I’m not sure I can finish this book. But I hope I’ve at least made it clear to you why not.