Monday, May 25, 2015

Plowing forward

At the library yesterday I made myself sit with A Suitable Boy and push forward.  I had been in a rut of reading only 3-5 pages at night before falling to sleep, which is really not a winning strategy with a 1500-page book.

I will confess that I have been challenged by the relatively late in the novel introduction of the Chatterji family. As if it weren't sufficiently challenging to keep straight all the Kapoors, Mehras, and Khans, and then other pivotal figures like Kabir Durrani, here's a whole nuther brood I have to wrap my skull around.

It brings to mind the concept of the Dunbar number, the idea that on average people can only have reasonably deep social relations with 150 others.  I think that's about right, but how much more mind-bending is it then to have to try to keep track of another 30 to 40 characters and roughly hold them in memory.

The functional limit on "knowing" is one of the things that drives us to abstract, generalize, and think in categories:  girls, boys, old people, people in golf clothes, liberals, Catholics, etc. To get by in the world, you have to do this. You cannot move through the world on a day-to-day basis and not utilize some abstraction.

And of course, this makes it all too easy to fall into prejudicial behavior.  Black people do this, hispanics do that, etc. Good novels, movies, and other art invite us to get to know individuals and remind us that, behind the generalizations we make, there are individuals.

Man, this post is degenerating into a little preachiness.  Oh well, must go to the store and put the laundry in the dryer.  This is what holidays are made of.

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