Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The irony that I listened to this through shell-shaped ear buds is not lost on me. Nor is the fact that I listened mostly while walking in the out of doors (and some while cleaning). Nor that Tim Robbin’s soothing tone could be compared to a constant drone that both numbs and distracts from the world around. In many ways, I could have wished for a different narrator.

The numbing of a world through the drone of a screen, video, advertising, jingles, radio, constant noise our our F*R*I*E*N*D*S being on a TV screen and our identification with their struggles. Of our Facebook “walls” and Twitter “Feed” and our dependence on screens but not ideas are all ponderable offenses following a reading of this masterful book. Even in my earbuds by a reader I don’t prefer.

Books here, are carriers. Carriers of culture and ideas. Of danger because they make you think, ponder, consider, change – but not just be happy and entertained.

I was shocked when searching for Faber’s quote about what culture needs and is missing that so many questions or statements were about the quality of information as the first key. It wasn’t the quality of information at all – or at least in the main. It was quality. Books, education, culture had quality – texture, nuance, ideas that could be informative but could also be formative.

The second item on Faber’s list was, I was shocked to hear, leisure time to be with ideas to rest, to receive them as C.S. Lewis and Josef Pieper might say.

The third item was the ability and freedom to act on those ideas. The fire chief’s misuse of ideas is one of the dangers of that freedom, but it is a freedom nonetheless.

The culture at large in F-451 has none of those things. They have limited access to quality. They have all entertainment, no leisure. Bradbury regularly speaks of “circuses” which I suppose is to make you think of ancient Roman “bread and circuses” food and entertainment to sate and calm the public. Here, there is no respite from the constant din of words and action and the excitement of driving fast through billboards designed to be read at high speed and the total self surrounding, immersion in yelling, attention drawing antics in their parlor screens. Finally, there is no way to act on ideas at all. Everything is scripted and anyone who is different – is different. Clarisse is interested in discussion and nature and ideas; she’s an odd duck and it is noted and disapproved of and unmourned at her death.

Destruction is entertainment, cancellation is necessary for emotional stability. “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.” says Faber. And yet Bradbury gives us the hope of the Phoenix bursting forth from the ashes. Granger, another displaced professor, explains to Montag that history is full of burning down and pulling out of the ash heap. As a family, we were listening to a series of lectures on Greek Myth which mentioned one between the Trojan War and Homer’s compositions; we know of the time when the Irish Saved Civilization; China’s badly named “Cultural Revolution”; and we think of the book burning under the Nazi regime. Ideas will resurface, can we save culture through knowing stories and the thoughts of the ages?

Here is Bradbury’s premise. It isn’t the destruction of the books exactly that he laments, but what is embodied therein and how we can embody that quality in ourselves. How we can share ideas with others. How we can conjecture and discuss. How we can even dispute and disagree. The microfilm didn’t work, the great books had to be embodied in people because they were safer than carrying a book around.

Bradbury is decrying the same-ness of everyone singing the same advertising jingle at the same time on the subway, of the lack of the individual who wrestles with ideas, who drinks a beer with his neighbor on the front porch and agrees to disagree – because he is free to do so. The flattening of society into non-identity purposely through a constant lowest denominator input is what causes the burning.

The antidote:

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

Be a free people.

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