“It was a pleasure to burn.”
FAHRENHEIT 451 (1952) opens with this frightening line. Ray Bradbury writes of a dystopian future where books are burned along with the homes where they are hidden. Here, the firemen’s job is to start fires instead of putting them out. The masses are addicted to watching and discussing TV shows flashing from their “four-walled televisors” and are oblivious or indifferent regarding the imminent genesis of a nuclear war—about their world being “swept with confused alarms and struggle and flight / where ignorant armies clash by night” (Arnold, Dover Beach).
Hitherto, Bradbury’s prophetic legacy remains resonant—even almost solid and identical—in its unnerving resemblances and implications to this modern era of rapid technological progress but with the most of humanity still mindless of its repercussions. Take for example the irony of their ignorance: with tons of information bombarded and crammed into people’s heads, only a little time is now left for quiet introspection and skepticism. People are “[rushed] quickly to conclusions [their] minds [haven’t] time to protest” and thus learning only a little, which is “a dangerous thing” (Pope, An Essay on Criticism).
Due to the ubiquity of the Internet, the endless blabber flooding the social media, and the online articles abominably compressed for quick, shallow reading, elements essential to critical thinking—such as “the quality of information,” the patience and “the leisure to digest it,” and “the [carrying] out [of] actions based on the interaction of the previous two”—are inanely abandoned.
History does not lack but rather possess an almost plethoric memory that bears the perversities of obliterating books, libraries, and whole nations. During the Nazi regime, a bonfire for thousands of books was set in the streets of Berlin, Germany. “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people” (Heine). The first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang also commanded the rigorous abolition of the all chronicles written before his reign and the burying of their scholars because he wanted history to begin with him. The ancient library of Alexandria, a house of incalculable scrolls, suffered from fires throughout the centuries.
Destroying books is the prime symbol of censorship and oppression of thought. But “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” says Bradbury. “Just get people to stop reading them.” In Fahrenheit 451, we must note that before the government decreed the burning of books, it was the public who first turned away from reading.
(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: January 18, 2016)