Second Thoughts

After I posted my thoughts on the number 2 and books, I had second thoughts. Maybe I caught my second wind. No, I just had second thoughts.

Secondary literature — books based on other books or written sources — is sometimes easier to access than primary literature. Example: Some guy called Plato wrote dialogues thousands of years ago. I’ve never read Plato in Greek, though I’ve read a little Plato in translation. I’ve not caught the world of Plato from the primary sources, the writings of Plato. I’ve read lots ABOUT Plato, books that reference Plato, books that analyze Plato, books that compare Plato to Aristotle (among others). I’ve learned about Plato from secondary sources.

One of Margaret Atwood’s collections of essays and articles is called Second Words. In her introduction to the collection, Atwood gives two reasons for the title: she is first a novelist and poet and only secondly a critic and essayist; and people have to write literature before that literature can be written about, thus all criticism is secondary literature by its very nature.

Secondary literature is not inherently bad or necessarily poorer than the primary work it reflects upon. Atwood makes this clear: “This is in no way to imply that words spoken first are always better than the critical fabrics raised upon them. It is only to state what seems to be obvious; that is, that you can’t have a thought about a stone without first seeing a stone. (Which leaves us in a curious position vis à vis unicorns.)” (Second Words, 11.)

All the writing I do in this blog is secondary literature. Of course you can use it as primary literature, you can see it as about me, as something to study, and then you build the fabric upon the fabric.

Possibly it is time to move on from the number 2. But it has been fun.

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