Sunday, September 6, 2009

On the value of impractical things

I've been reading a lot of stuff lately, so my house is starting to look like a bomb has just gone off in storeroom for books. I've got books about postmodern philosophy, radical orthodoxy, design thinking, visual culture and many other topics strewn all about the place. The thing is, I have to read a lot at the moment; I'm busy writing a proposal for my PhD thesis. So the books-everywhere-mess is understandable. 

It's just that every now and then, I step out of this beautiful theoretical bubble and I wonder what the use of all of this is. I mean, the things I'm reading are all very interesting, and generally I find myself utterly enthralled by the ideas I'm encountering; but on any kind of practical human level – the level that we're all forced to live in at least 80 percent of the time – I don't know if it does me any good. Answer me this, Jacques Derrida, what is the point of your deconstruction? What does it help me to always be aware of the inherent decay of language and ideas? (For example.)

Okay, so, just in thinking about this for a few minutes, here are my thoughts on why it's important to read things that are of no practical use to anyone:

1) Practicality is over rated anyway. It's the impractical things like art and music and intricate, interesting theories that make life worth living. You can't brush your teeth with music or art or any of these weird ideas, but can you honestly imagine how drab and dull life would become without them?

2) Humility is an essential to living a decent, aware life; and there's no better way to be humble than to realise just how much you haven't figured out yet – or, better, to realise how little every one else seems to know as well.

3) Awareness is also essential to living a decent life, and there's nothing that wakes me up more than imaginative, well argued ideas. 

4) Man cannot live by bread alone, and while I'm pretty sure not all of the stuff I'm reading can be taken as direct quotations of the Maker of the Universe, I can't help but think that God is there in the words of this variety of thinkers. At least, I'm made more aware of God's being through these ideas that I'm reading. 

5) It's fun. And I like things that are fun.

6) Order is over rated. It's good, once in a while, to have your house covered in books because mess makes life interesting (but, again, only once in a while.)

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