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Anthony Marais

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Member Since: Jun, 2006

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Learning
By Anthony Marais
Monday, June 26, 2006

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Excerpt from GREETINGS FROM BEHIND THE THICK GLASS WINDOW

The older I get, the more conscious I become of the limited time we have to invest in learning, and more importantly the problem of choosing what to learn. Let us presuppose that the vast majority of people are smart—yes, I am an optimist in this regard—and learning to become a mechanic requires no more innate cognitive skills than that of a surgeon. I’m of the opinion that we are dazzled by what we can see, and those who are hailed as geniuses are just those people who are able to show us something we’ve never seen before. For the record, I don’t believe in "genius." For me, the category should be thrown into the same bin as "experts," "authorities," and other personality types resulting from insecurity—indeed, the only thing worse than an academic hiding behind a diploma is an artist cloaked in genius. What is this word "genius"? The term is too relative to be trusted: in theater it’s the bag of sand that lifts the curtain; because anyone who has the courage or ignorance to simply be themselves on stage will find this label tacked onto them.

Novelists have it tougher. Their product unfortunately can be counted in pages, and good readers are sensitive to vocabulary and rhythm. Thanks to Thomas Mann and Leo Tolstoy that unique essence that is you must be accompanied by a thousand plus pages of labor before the world grants you that elusive epithet called genius. Moreover, it has always been a minority who read demanding books, so novelists shouldn’t count on the awe of family and friends to boost their ego—at least not until their work has been adapted for television. I don’t mean to sound cynical—I am not—but rather I would like to point out the importance of subject matter in learning. What you learn has a profound affect on the life you lead.

What I am about to say is entirely subjective: my deepest, most fulfilling joy in life comes from what I call learning about the world in which I live. Granted, this is quite an expansive category of information, but it is not, in my view, all encompassing, and, more to the point, some kinds of information fulfill this objective better than others. As one treads along the narrowing path of specialization, there is a moment when the focus becomes so sharp that the background blurs away. For example, when I say “a tridacna adze fragment was collected from within the hearth and a Polynesian Plain Ware sherd was collected within the stained area,” although within its context it may be relevant to an archaeologist, these twenty-two words are at present not telling us much. This is technical information laid down by scientists to provide the foundation for learning about the world in which we live.

In this way technicians are martyrs. They spend those precious few hours a day—when we are not eating, sleeping or making love—using up their energies to generate information that someone else will analyze, synthesize, summarize and, most importantly, share with others. And if technicians are martyrs, then laborers are victims to a sacrifice. For they end up with even less energy to use for learning and less information to share at the end of the day; inevitably their conversations get trapped in a cycle of talk-show topics and ghetto gossip. Beer may help to ease the pain of this tedious existence, but in the end boredom consumes the soul like a cancer and nothing can stave off the nefarious sense of loneliness and failure that ensues. It is heart wrenching to witness the humble bits of experience these individuals grasp on to in a forlorn attempt at happiness in the final stages of illness. Dramatically, such scenarios call forth great pathos and emotion, but in reality there is nothing charming in such a life.

Here a question arises: whether it is better to devote one’s time to mastering a skill than to acquiring general knowledge, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to have both; but since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater satisfaction in acquiring general knowledge. I suppose this is not the answer you were expecting. It goes without saying that mastering a skill engenders a certain sense of satisfaction, but the feeling is ephemeral and dissipates once on the plateau of competency; because this kind of satisfaction is ultimately directed toward yourself (and the ecstasy of an inflated ego is apt to blow up in your face), whereas the investment of learning about the world is repaid in love—a love of the world, a joy of living, which is permanent and will last until the grave.

This is the reason I take movies so seriously. If you really meditate on the amount of free time you have everyday—think about it: how much free time do you have today?—it becomes clear just how precious that hour-and-a-half is. I mean: what have you learned today? Did the information you receive expand the bounds of your universe in any way? It is for this reason that I am obsessive regarding my choice of films to watch. I need to go someplace when watching a movie; I need to experience a new emotion, gain a new perspective of life, or delve deeper into the fantasies of the collective unconscious. That’s why I’ll be traveling to Hong Kong tonight in "The World of Susie Wong." Tomorrow I may visit San Francisco in "Vertigo," and after that perhaps I’ll take off into outer space with "Forbidden Planet." Everyone has seen a beach, but to experience "I Walked with a Zombie" is to have had an encounter with Caribbean culture that will unite your very soul to this dark and beautiful part of the world. I spent seven years of my life in search of the mystery of Polynesia. I found it: in "Bird of Paradise" with Louis Jourdain. Each time I watch one of these films my world gets a little bit bigger, my understanding of humankind gets a little bit deeper, and my frustrations with life and its problems get a little bit milder. This is what I want to learn.

  

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Reviewed by Nordica Francis 6/21/2009
I've only read this excerpt, and will go out to purchase the book as soon as the rain stops (I can order on line, but I like bookstore). I'm intrigued by this authors perspective on learning; a most interesting perpective, and I like the reason for which he wants to learn: to have his world get a little bigger, to understand humankind a little deeper, and to have frustrations with life get milder. I want that, too.
Reviewed by Andre Bendavi ben-YEHU 7/16/2006
*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*Greetings to Author-Poet Anthony Marais.

It was a LEARNING moment to visit this Den and read this "Excerpt from GREETINGS FROM BEHIND THE THICK GLASS WINDOW".

By taking this "Learning" as a sample of this author's work, ~ the majority of people ~ is going to agree that this gifted writer is a great promise of the twenty-first century's LITERATURE.

I have enjoyed the reading of "Learning".


May Your pen never rest, Inspired One.


In gratitude and admiration,


Andre Emmanuel Bendavi ben-YEHU


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