I can proudly tell the world that I’ve not spent my childhood time in idle daydreaming. I read intensely and devoured any classics that I can lay my fingers on. I focused on classics because, well, they are classics – something that everyone will say is good and something that I can make sure I have well spent my time on. I read Dickens’ Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities, most of H.G Well’s science fictions, Shelly’s Frankenstein, Stoker’s Dracula, Stevenson’s Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and even Plato’s Republic and Rousseau’s Social Contract. All is very well. The only problem is that I understand none of them.
It seems I enjoyed the process of reading: a prolonged period of time that I can fix my attention on a page filled with words. Yet, I appreciated very little the meaning of the words. I understood every word but not when they are put in order. I understood every sentence but not the paragraph. When I did understand the paragraph, I don’t get the book. One reason I can have such luxury of doing this futile way of reading is that as a child, I simply have so much time to spend (or waste).
Now I grew up, and learnt a bit of literature and politics and had better ideas of the books I read as a child. The dire living conditions and the foggy weather that Dickens described for England during the Industrial Revolution found modern parallel in the hopeless air quality in Beijing and crammed housing in Hong Kong. The significance of Republic lays not in Plato’s unsympathetically aristocratic blueprint of a state but in his way of favoring a priori principle over the material world. A different problem, however, appears: I don’t have the time.
The daily hassles of life, like stealthy malware or invasive germs, keep seeping in your life and slowly eat up your mind, so that you no longer have the mental power to see something beyond the tasks on your hands. Assignments and exams are the light infantry. Your boss acts as the supreme overlord and sends wave of deadlines to wear you down. The remaining time is drained for any clean – up works at home. At the end of the day, you are bruised and battered. The mind is emptied out, and you are left in a spiritual vacuum.
When you have the time, you don’t have the brain. When you have the brain, you no longer have the time. That’s the paradox of a modern society.