Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Have any of you read Jane Eyre?

It happened during an English Literature class at school when I was about 14 or 15, but I still remember it as if it was yesterday. Like most teenage kids, I dreaded looking silly in front of my classmates – particularly my friend “Fizz” who sat next to me. (In those days, I was known as “Buckets”, incidentally.) Fizz already thought I was crazy for getting a book called Letters of Giuseppe Verdi out of the library, and he also failed to see how I could find a book with a title like Memoirs of an Interpreter interesting.

But this particular day, our teacher, Mr Hodgkins, casually asked the class, in passing: “Have any of you read Jane Eyre?” If I remember correctly, one of the girls immediately put her hand up. A few seconds later, I put my hand up, too. This was an important test for me, you see, because of my religious convictions: I needed to tell the truth at all times and at all costs. Why the few seconds of hesitation, then? You’re probably ahead of me: I hesitated briefly (and humanly) because I didn’t want to look silly in front of Fizz and all the others, obviously. And if you’d been there, you would indeed have heard some sniggering when I put my hand up.

There is, however, one problem with that explanation: despite all appearances, it’s simply not true. It just so happens that fear of possible ridicule was not the reason I hesitated at all in this particular case. In fact, I would have been very proud to “admit” to having read the classic novel by Charlotte Brontë – and, indeed, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by her sister Anne Brontë, if it came to that (so there!). The reason I hesitated was because I was struggling to resolve a serious problem: I didn’t know whether or not I would be telling the truth if I put my hand up, because – get this – I honestly and sincerely didn’t know whether or not I had actually read Jane Eyre (or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall either, if it came to that)!

Confused? You bet I was. No, sorry – I mean: “And so you should be”. But, you see, the fact of the matter was that I had listened to the entire unabridged text of both of those books broadcast over the air as serialisations on BBC radio in the evenings. But I had no recollection of ever having set eyes on a single printed page of either of the two books. So had I read Jane Eyre? Well, I thought to myself, it depends what you mean. Yes. No. And also Yes-and-No. All three at once, in fact. But how do you indicate all that by putting up your hand, not putting up your hand, and putting-up-and-not-putting-up your hand all at the same time? Quite a problem, isn’t it? And there wasn’t a moment to lose! The question sent my mind (and my pulse) racing. Fortunately, I managed to figure out the right response in time. Phew!

If I’d got it wrong, though, maybe I could have emulated what Giuseppe Verdi did once after he made a social gaffe: “In a fury, I took a revolver and fired it into my mouth. It was made of chocolate. And I live – alas! alas!”


Tom Mahon said...

The Third Witness asked...


You bet I am! But then I am brainwashed by Armstrongism, so that is not surprising.

So when you put your hand up, were you lying or telling the truth?

The Third Witness said...

Hi, Tom. Sorry to hear about the brainwashing. Sounds serious. I guess this must have happened fairly recently; back in the late 1970s, when Armstrongism was really in vogue, you were the one who was encouraging me to study the writings of some of the Early Church Fathers. Anyway, I’m glad to see your sense of humour is alive and well!

But seriously, that’s an interesting point you raise. If we define “lying” as deliberately saying something that is untrue, then I certainly wasn’t lying when I put my hand up. My desire was to tell the truth. But was I mistaken about what I believed to be the truth? I don’t think so.

What I’m about to say is not meant to be scientifically rigorous, but I’m just attempting to describe something I have experienced: Sometimes when I recall something I’ve read, it is as if I can hear the memory “in my mind’s ear” – it’s as if the original input had been auditory rather than visual. So my brain doesn’t seem to “mind” – I seem to be able to process the data either way. Viewed in this light (or should I say “heard at this pitch”?!), I think the real issue at stake was whether I had consciously processed and interpreted all the data – in this case, the entire text of Jane Eyre. I had certainly done that. So, I concluded, I had read the book.

People who are blind are commonly said to “read” when they use their fingers to follow a text encoded in Braille. As I understand it, people who listen to audio books are also “reading” in this sense.

Tom Mahon said...

The Third Witness said...

>>Hi, Tom. Sorry to hear about the brainwashing. Sounds serious.<<

According to those who left WCG screaming that HWA was charlatan, it is very serious.

>>I guess this must have happened fairly recently; back in the late 1970s, when Armstrongism was really in vogue, you were the one who was encouraging me to study the writings of some of the Early Church Fathers.<<

I don't remember encouraging you to read the Early Church Fathers. But if I did, it doesn't appear that you read them, or if you have, they were not the ones I had in mind.

I was introduced to the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, after reading a biography of Blaise Pascal by the American author, Morris Bishop.

In 1974 when I started to seriously study the bible, I reread Morris Bishop's biography of Pascal, and it led me to the writings of Saint Augustine, especially his seminal work, The City of God. The City of God opened my eyes to some of the erroneous doctrines of WCG.

However, WCG under HWA leadership was still the church of God. But the ministry was blinded by the Laodicean disease of materialism and greed.

Perhaps it is too late for you to benefit from reading the Early Church Fathers, but one never knows.

BTW, your explanation or analysis of the process of your mind puzzles my comprehension, but then you won't be surprised.-:)