以史為鏡

以史為鏡」是中國的名言,出自唐太宗李世民之口,意為借歷史上的成敗得失作為鑒戒。這幾乎成為讀史者的座右銘。

其實也不單中國人有這種看法。希臘歷史學家修西得底斯(Thucydides)早有過類似的說法。不妨參考How to Read a Book 中的轉述﹕

Thucydides himself said that he was writing his history so that men of the future would not have to repeat the mistakes he had seen made and from which he had suffered personally and through the agony of his country.   He described the kinds of human mistakes that would have meaning to men other than himself, to men other than Greeks.  Yet some of the very same errors that the Athenians and the Spartans made 2,500 years ago, or at least very similar ones, are being made now, as they have been made over and over again since Thucydides’ time.(頁241)

本書的作者於是綜合出兩條讀史的建議﹕

The first is: if you can, read more than one history of an event or period that interests you.  The second is: read a history not only to learn what really happened at a particular time and place in the past, but also to learn the way men act in all times and places, especially now.(同上)

說法不算新鮮,卻很有參考價值。

小說.人生

How to Read a Book 談到如何閱讀小說時,有些說法好像跟一般寫評論的人略有不同。例如要讀得快,否則未讀至最後,前面的情節可能已忘記了大半,對整體看法可能有影響。

另外,要讀得投入,更要設身處地,不宜遽然批評內容和情節或人物。也即不要聽古駁古。Don’t criticize imaginative writing until you fully appreciate what the author has tried to make you experience(頁213)。此書作者固然有其道理。且不論這些,倒是有些講法說新鮮不新鮮,卻能點出小說與人生的微妙關係與不一樣的況味,無妨細味一下。

A story is like life itself; in life, we do not expect to understand events as they occur, at least with total clarity, but looking back on them, we do understand.   So the reader of a story, looking back on it after he has finished it, understands the relation of events and the order of actions. (頁219)

Paradoxically, however, a story ceases to be like life on its last page.  Life goes on, but the story does not. (頁220)

We suspect that life as we know it is unjust.  Why do good people suffer, and bad ones prosper?  We do not know, we cannot know, but the fact causes great anxiety in everyone.  In story, this chaotic and unpleasant situation is adjusted, and that is extremely satisfying to us. (頁221)

The tragic hero does learn why, though often, of course, only after the ruin of his life.  We can share his insight without sharing his suffering. (頁221)

是,真實人生很多時都令人欲哭無淚,因為不知道為什麼,也無從知道。有時,只能苦笑,或接受;算不算認命,就看當事人如何感受看待和處理了。小說,有時真的可以當避難所,有如置身生活中,卻又可以置身事外。直是既理想又便宜的世界。

事實.始.終

How to Read a Book 第14章的Genereal Rules for Reading Imaginative Literature 一節中,有不少說法可堪玩味。

例如,作者提到如何評論論說性作品時,有這個規則﹕「在你還未了解一本書之前,不要評論這本書——不要說你同意或反對這個論點。」我常常邊讀邊寫札記,難免會下一些判語,可能不時犯了這個規則呢。也管不得那麼多了,反正我一直都在自說自話而已。

再說由以上的說法,作者再作引申﹕

Don’t criticize imaginative writing until you fully appreciate what the author has tried to make you experience. (頁213)

作者很強調讀小說這類想像文學時,最好要融入作品,要受作品感動,與故事和人物休戚相關。所以作者鄭重地說﹕

The good reader of a story does not question the world that the author creates—the world that is re-created in himself….That is, we must merely appreciate the fact that a writer sets his story in, say, Paris, and not object that it would have been better to set it in Minneapolis; but we have a right to criticize what he does with his Parisians and with the city itself. ( 頁213)

不是不可批評,但不要搞錯方向。因此,作者說﹕

Before you express your likes and dislikes, you must first be sure that you have made an honest effort to appreciate the work.(同上)

自問已細意欣賞過作品,這才好表示你的喜惡。所謂欣賞,作者是另有解說的。

By appreciation, we mean having the experience that the author tried to produce for you by working on your emotions and imagination.  Thus, you cannot appreciate a novel by reading it passively ( indeed, as we have remarked, you must read it passionately ) any more than you can understand a philosophical book that way. (頁213-4)

連閱讀時的心態都要改變,可見如何讀書也不是一味「認字」而已。

作者也提到一個規則,就是想文學作品無論有多短,都總有開始、過程和結束三部分。這個,似也可以套用在日常生活中。原話是這樣的﹕

One other caution: the foregoing rules apply mainly to novels and plays.  To the extent that lyric poems have some narrative line, they apply to lyric also.  But the rules do not cease to apply to non-narrative lyrics, although the connection is much less close.  A lyric is the representation of a concrete experience , just like a long story , and it attempts to re-create that experience in the reader.  There is a beginning, middle, and end of even the shortest lyric, just as there is a temporal sequence in any experience, no matter how brief and fleeting. And though the cast of characters may be very small inf a short lyric, there is always at least one character—namely, the speaker of the poem.(頁212-3)

如何看待小說中的「事實」

如何看待書中的「事實」,出現在傳遞知識的書中,跟在想像文學中,大有分別。在How to Read A Book 中,就毫不含糊地說﹕

Don’t criticize fiction by the standards of truth and consistency that properly apply to communication of knowledge. (頁207)

如果解剖學有不準確的地方,地理或歷史有錯誤,都應該批評。讀小說可不一樣,

When we read a novel we want a story that must be true only in the sense that it could have happened in the world of characters and events that the novelist has created, and re-created in us. (頁208)

讀歷史小說,甚或以史實為背景的武俠小說又如何呢,某些愛在這類小說中挑骨頭的人無妨想一想的問題。尤其以下的說法,更是讀想像文學者,我也是,值得再思考的問題(頁208)﹕

我真的懂得閱讀嗎

愈看,愈覺得How to Read a Book 吸引。以為什麼都說盡了,卻原來「柳暗花明又一」。寫至第三部分,才進入「實戰」部分,教人如何閱讀各種類型的書時,先說「實用型」的書,更毫不「避嫌」以自己作例子,「本書就是實用書」。然後才教人如何閱讀想像類的書。How to read imaginative literature。

想像類型的書,最顯著莫如小說了。作者說,之前一直都「迴避」談論這類型的書,是怕造成混亂。說是說閱讀的方法大致相同,原來有些關鍵處還是很不一樣的。作者不點明,有些我真也不知道,或說不知其所以然。

例如這個矛盾,我似乎沒有真正想過。

The problem of knowing how to read imaginative literature is inherently much more difficult than the problem of knowing how to read expository books.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a fact that such skill is more widely possessed than the art of reading science and philosophy, politics, economics, and history.  How can this be true? (頁203)

作者毫不客氣地說﹕

It maybe, of course, that people deceive themselves about their ability to read novels intelligently. (頁204)

作者也不是隨便說的。他們的觀察和結論來自教學經驗。每當查問讀小說的人,究竟喜歡小說的什麼時,大都未能道出一個所以然來。他們只是享受讀小說的樂趣,可不知小說如何令他們愉悅,小說的哪些地方令他們開心。作者於是得出一個結論,說是雖非全是如此,起碼也有一半是真確的﹕

This might indicate that people can be good readers of fiction without being good critics. (頁204)

原因何在?

A critical reading of anything depends upon the fullness of one’s apprehension.  Those who cannot say what they like about a novel probably have not read it below its most obvious surfaces. (頁204)

很簡單吧。鬼唔知咩。且慢。

However, there is more to the paradox than that.  Imaginative literature primarily pleases than teaches.  It is much easier to be pleased than taught, but much harder to know why one is pleased.  Beauty is harder to analyze than truth.(頁204)

儘管我不盡同意以上所有說的,可能作者說的Imaginative literature,主要以「流行」作品為例,因為如海明威的《老人與海》,以及曹雪芹的《紅樓夢》等imaginative literature,就不是或不單是pleases than teaches。但無疑有些東西還是我忽略了的。

作者說,以上論點,要說得清楚明白,還得要進一步分析美學欣賞的問題。對不起,作者不打算多說這個,但會建議一些如何閱讀想像文學的方法。

哈哈,我不用像很多人愛用的四字詞那樣「拭目以待」,只要耐心讀下去就可以了。

咪得個講字

How to Read a Book 已進入第三部分,也即「實戰部分」,逐一介紹各類型書籍的閱讀方法。

最先介紹的是「實用書」Practical Books。這章書的篇幅不再那麼長,因為法則在前兩部分已一一講述,到這裡就是如何應用這些規則的時候了。作者可謂幽默。實用書嘛,當然要「用」得著啦,否則紙上談兵,不去實行實踐,最終也只是空談,得個「吉」。最顯淺的道理,如教了你如何掙錢謀生的方法,作者不可能由書中走出來幫你掙錢,還得靠你自己親自實行才能解決問題。

臨淵羨魚,不如退而結網,此之謂也。

說作者幽默,是作者不忘以自己寫的這本書來作例子,以說明什麼是實用書。包括烹飪書、駕駛指南之類,跟本書一樣同屬兩大類大類中的一類,基本上在說明規則,無論談論什麼問題,都是為了規則而來。「這類書很少有偉大的作品。」(There are few great books of this sort. ) 這樣說,算是幽默吧,倒又有點蒼涼。

再看另一類,主要在闡述形成規則的原理。「許多偉大的經濟、政治、道德巨著就屬於這一類。」(Most of the great books in economics, politics, and morals are of this sort. )(頁194)大概很易聯想到馬克思的《資本論》。

如何讀以規則為主的書呢。說來很簡單,就是找出那些規則。因為這些規則都是寫書的目的,它是在建議讀者什麼事值得做,而且一定會有收穫的。另外,作者可能會用原理來說明這些規則的可信度,或舉一些實例,證明這些規則是可行的。既然是實用書,舉實例當然較有說服力,但訴諸原理的論述,則較能將規則的理由說得清楚一些。可謂各有優點。

無論如何,最重要還是臨門一腳,否則方法有多好,理論有多完備,不去實踐出來,也是沒用。所以歸根到柢,要評斷一本實用的書時,一切都得與結果和目標有關。If you do not share Karl Marx’s fervor about economic justice, his economic doctrine and the reforms it suggests are likely to seem to you practically false or irrelevant. (頁196 )因此,既然為實用而看一本書,

Your main judgment will always be in terms of the ends, not the means.  We have no practical interest in even the soundest means to reach ends we disapprove of or do not care about. ( 頁197)

你既不屬意民主這一套,講述如何有效達至民主的書,你又怎會有興趣去讀去學習呢。

這章書說的都不是什麼大道理,不是巨著嘛,卻有很多提點,忽略了就是忽略了,不單讀書、做人,還是做事,有用的提醒或方式,及早知道總是好的。正如書中說到的一句話,「一針及時,可省九針。」(A stitch in time save nine .)(頁195)

點解釋好呢

How to Read a Book在講述如何藉著相關的經驗來了解一本艱深的書時,提到我們一般認識的兩種經驗,一是普通經驗,一是特殊經驗。

有趣的是,講解什麼是特殊經驗時,似乎較易明白。例如說,在月球上的無重狀態下走動就是特殊經驗;因為這不是一般人甚或沒有多少人有過的經驗。

那麼,什麼是普通經驗呢?餓和飽的感覺,當然是,也不用多作解釋就明白了。做兒女的經驗是嗎?但有些出生即成為沒有親生父母的孤兒,就不可能有這種經驗啊。這也算「普通」經驗(common experience)嗎?作者說,算。縱然這不一是普世(universal)的經驗。連做愛,雖然也不是人人都有過這種經驗,甚至也如一些要做實驗才有的「特殊」經驗一樣,也會在實驗室做做愛的實驗,但做愛仍是普通經驗。這樣解釋,算是難嗎?不多轉述了,看原文吧。(頁170)