Fri, 02 Aug 2002
I read all the way through Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War wishing that the book contained a map, so that I could figure out where Platea lay in relation to Thebes, for instance; and I got to the end and discovered that the maps were after the appendices.
I’ve spent the last two months reading Thucydides, a couple chapters every night just before bedtime, finally finishing it around three this afternoon. I’ve already forgotten everything about it. I think there might have been a war in there somewhere. I believe I could pick up the book and start again at the top and the early chapters would seem only vaguely familiar to me. Is my memory unusually short? I’m astounded by people who are able to recite dialogue and discuss plot points from stories they’ve absorbed months before. I saw Attack of the Clones less than two hours ago and the only thing about it that comes clearly to mind is that R2D2 has apparently been able to fly all along, go fucking figure.
I asked Warren how his memory was, and he said he had trouble recalling differential equations sometimes. That’s comforting. Still, I suspect that a truly deep appreciation of literature will forever elude me, because I can’t retain a complete enough picture of any story I read long enough to begin to understand it. Why bother reading, then, if my mind is as empty when I’m done as it was when I began? I can be diverted just as easily by sitcoms or by People Magazine. Am I only reading the classics out of some self-punishing delusion that I’m improving myself? What if I truly enjoy reading Thucydides (and I do)? – whom am I disrespecting if I read him as I would a free in-flight magazine? Isn’t it a pity that I’m just smart enough to recognise great writing, but not quite smart enough to appreciate it?
When I finished making my way through Herodotus, a couple months ago, I made a point of going back to the beginning and reading it again, skipping back and forth in the story, with my thumb in the index, to follow the arrivals and departures of various key figures in the narrative. And I still can’t remember a goddamn thing about the Persian War. I’m not sure if there’s any point doing the same thing with Thucydides. It would be nice to feel like I’ve come away having learned something. But it would also be nice to have something new on my bedtime table, for the first time in two months.