Difference and Indifference

I’ve become aware of an interesting phenomenon over the past month or so regarding the reading of argumentative non-fiction. It’s probably because of the JPo project, in which we read a bunch of literary criticism about our focal poet, but I’ve experienced it regarding other subjects as well, including philosophy and politics.

What I’m talking about without naming is essentially an experience that I’ve had multiple times, in different forms: I read a book. I disagree with the argument of the book, and “officially” declare that to be my response to the book. I go about my life. Days, weeks, or months later, I encounter something related in some way to the argument the book made. I then approach the new situation in the light of the book I previously read, whether explicitly or implicitly, and treat it as providing me a unique insight into the new situation, regardless of the fact that I completely disagree with the book when I originally read it.

I have a theory as to why this happens. Essentially, I think, when I read something, I’ve invested several hours, perhaps days, into reading and thinking about what it is I’ve read; that time spent has created an emotional bond with the material. I may disagree with what it says, but I disagree with it; I don’t just vaguely not like that way of approaching the subject, I have grappled with a particular person’s argument and formed an emotional bond with it – perhaps negative, but still, an emotional.

After writing that last sentence, it occured to me that this seems related to something I’ve written before, I don’t remember where, about interpersonal relationships. To dislike someone is still to have an emotional connection to someone. To actively dislike someone – rather than simply ignoring them – is to have a closer bond with someone than to just vaguely not mind their being around.

Also, I think, a strong enmity is more likely to turn into a strong friendship than into nothing at all; and, in fact, I think it is more likely to turn into a strong friendship than is a weak friendship, by which I mean one where the two people are not good friends not because they don’t know each other well, but because they just don’t particularly like each other, even if they don’t particularly dislike each other. The former case, after all, is just one of changing the type of emotion felt; the latter is one of changing the intensity of emotion, a more difficult proposition.


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