That is why I’m proposing an idea, for a sort of club where people come and listen to talks about a particular feature of the western canon — Virgil, Goethe, Milton, Van Eyck, whatever — and fill in all these enormous holes in our knowledge. It would be a bit like an old-fashioned salon, or a Lyceum club. Although there are local salons still running, this would ideally be national. This canon club — I’m open to suggestions for a different name — would initially start in one city, presumably London, but if there was further interest we could help set up branches across Britain (and then even maybe abroad). Each local club would run semi-independently, but the wider organisation would help with arranging speakers and so on.
It might be useful for authors wanting to sell books, but the club could also hire enthusiastic amateurs to just spread their knowledge for the sheer sake of it. Maybe there won’t be any interest in the events, but maybe there will — and I think there is a tendency to underestimate the public’s enthusiasm for culture.
A lot of people want to learn more, there aren’t really any mainstream institutions directing them where to go, and if you don’t know where to start, it’s that much harder. They also don’t like being hectored and are put off by the intrusion of theory, not to mention a very predictable sort of politicisation that tries to fit old works of art into a modern framing. (Making it ‘relevant’ — shudder).
I have no idea if this would be successful, but, like Ed, I think there might be a surprising amount of latent appetite out there. If it catches on, it would surely attract the droves of underemployed theory-spouting entryists who are also out there, but I suppose that’s a problem for a different day. We just wanted to be left alone to read our books and spin our idle thoughts, but as the philosophical troubadour Kenneth Rogers sang, sometimes you’ve gotta fight to preserve your cultural space when you’re an amateur bibliophile. (Words to that effect, anyway. He made it rhyme.) Roll up your sleeves, gentlefolk. We’ve got a life of the mind to save.
January 21, 2023 @ 7:30 am
From Erwin Chargaff’s (1986) Serious Questions: An ABC of Skeptical Reflections, the first chapter of which is about Amateurs:
“If the world can still be saved, it will be saved by the amateurs. The experts are more than most other people responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves. They know too much about too little, but each knows something special. They can barely understand each other; they do not talk with each other; they sit and serve. To the lay world, they are of very limited use. If you want to tap them, you must know exactly where: the barrels are studded all over with false faucets, releasing nothing but hot air. Only one spigot communicates with the fount of expert knowledge, ready to drench you with more than you wish to know.”
The book is available at: https://waisberg.micro.blog/books/.