Analyzing ‘why the technocrats in this country do not read literature’, the writer shares the views of professionals around the world who opine that ‘literature takes them out from the laboratories and get them to know the people through the characters, helps to resemble, compare, and contradict with the authors’ world view, and develop new ideas’. The discussion comes to a conclusion that ‘as the reading is not an instant phenomena but a culture, therefore, it has to be nurtured, and it starts from family, and continues till the professorship. An ideal example of non-reading culture could be our universities, where literature reading is considered an irrelevant activity.
Are you a scientist, doctor, engineer, or lawyer, and you do not read literature? If it is so, then you should read this note. Sure, there may be more than one reason for literature readings. Likewise, there may be a dozen pretexts for not reading the literature. In the 1980s, literature reading was an unavoidable part of socialization in Sindh. Literature was read by doctors, engineers, and professionals. Gradually, doctors, engineers, economists, and other professionals portrayed them quite differently. They opined that literature reading is a non-beneficial activity, it is abstractive. Some of them went too far and said that literature reading for them may be a leisure activity. However, clever ones appreciated its aesthetic and soothing effects. But they stated that they do not have time to read thick books. Their message between the lines was ‘what is new, what type of data book trades’, simply before them utility was important.
But an important point of today’s lockdown note is about non-reading habits among technical people. I have asked this question to several qualified professionals, what they said I have summarized in the above paragraph. Quite ago I emailed the same question to my friends, who are well-known physicists, chemists and mathematicians, and science popularizers. I again, repeat the question for you, the question was ‘why in our part of world scientists, engineers, doctors, and technical professionals do not read the literature?’ I have summarized their responses in a brief essay. It starts here.
A quick email came – it is an absurd question, who said that scientists, mathematicians, and doctors do not read the literature. They are reading and they should read. I am saying so because literature takes us out from the laboratories, we get to know the people through the characters. The literature helps us to resemble, compare, and contradict with the authors’ world view.
One of the scientists from our neighboring country wrote a detailed email. But I am referring to the relevant portion. She quoted Mark Turner that human being thinks through the stories. And, fiction is a more refined form, where stories, characters sharpen our thinking –plain thinking, thinking in patterns, thinking in complex forms, and even thinking abstractedly – and it only comes through the literature reading.
One of the USA based friends texted that reading catalyzes creativity. The reading creates the cusps, and these cusps help scientists to look and explore the connections and patterns in their fields. Creativity surges when ideas after literature reading come and collide with our scientific ideas. It is an act of burst – bursting of creativity. She warned that if we scientists restrict ourselves to our field of specialization, then gradually we would land on groupthink and non-creative spaces. She was of the view that literature’s alternative meaning, artistic arrangement of words, sentence, and paragraph forms new structures, which are beyond our routine thinking patterns. So, reading of literature breaks our monotonous thinking styles.
One of my friends, a world-famous science popularizer wrote that reading of literature helps scientists to explore the deep question of their subjects’ insights. The reading of literature subconsciously helps scientists and technical professionals (doctors, engineers, accountants, and mathematicians) in visualizing non-traditional patterns. The novels’ word distribution, poetry’s rhyming-cycles, and drama’s structured words form new patterns or overlap the existing patterns. In addition to that, literature in this short span of life, boosts confidence and refines creativity, and pushes us to think in a Cosmo political way.
One of my Islamabad based friends told me that he has also noticed that in Pakistan most of the professionals/people from science do not read literature. However, it does not happen in the USA and Europe. He suggested that it could be better to check at American Scientist magazine’s Scientists’ Nightstand. I searched, and the first profile popped up was of Vaclav Smil who is a distinguished professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba. Let me quote what he told about his generic/ literature reading, ‘I tend to read in bunches. So the summer of 2006 was taken mostly by the first biographies of Mozart (both third or fourth rereads from my collection of Mozartiana) and by Jonathan Coe (a discovery for me) and Naguib Mahfouz’. He read these books in summer, ‘Friedrich Schlichtegroll: Mozarts Leben, Franz Xaver Niemetschek: Lebensbeschreibung des k.k. Kapellmeisters W.A. Mozart, Jonathan Coe: The Winshaw Legacy, The Rotters’ Club, The House of Sleep, Naguib Mahfouz: Midaq Alley, Children of the Alley, Akhenaten, The Thief, and the Dogs, The Beggar, Autumn Quail, Arabian Nights and Days, Ryu Murakami: 69, Junichiro Tanizaki: The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot, Jake Morrissey: The Genius in the Design, Stefan Grundmann: The Architecture of Rome, Ian McEwan: Black Dogs.’
I also searched for other scientists’ profiles. Honestly, their readings and diversity amazed me. I wrote back to my Islamabad based friend, that scientists are amazing readers and their general reading is more systematic. He added it is said that literature reader scientist enjoys Chaos Theory and Quantum Physics in comparison of non-literature reader scientists. He added, when scientists read literature, their mind bumps into ‘counter-intuitive-happenings’. Literature creates a world of compassion, empathy, and understanding, where the reader through the characters change or accepts the different identities, and also feel the experiences – a lady can experience as a man, and the man realizes the agonies of woman, a white man can emotionally realize black man’s insults – it could only happen in literature reading. He also told that literature makes the boundaries irrelevant, and promotes understanding based on humanity and suffering. However, he pinpointed that reading is not instant phenomena, it is culture. Therefore, it has to be nurtured, and it starts from family, and continued till the professorship. Both of us agreed that an ideal example of non-reading culture could be our universities, where literature reading is considered an irrelevant activity. Therefore, most of them have poor reading and writing skills. He was of the views that instead of research paper writing, they should be offer an incentive to give an open seminar about the books, one from the subject and other form his literature reading.
I understand these are ideas, but not beyond the practice. However, the question stands that why we should do it – neither there is reading culture, nor inertia to cross the safe zones. Let me share with you that in the current lockdown, I spoke to a friend, who is a full-fledged professor (Physics). He complained that now lockdown is irritating him. I suggested him, ‘why don’t you start reading?’ A handy and convenient reply came ‘should I still read? Yes, ‘You, I and We should still read, a lot has to be done, as nothing has been done’. He ended silence with a respective tone that okay we will speak later now Aftari time is reaching, dear. He politely said, ‘Allah Hafiz’, and ended the call.
(Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of History, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods)
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier