Montag must learn to think a little

«Listen to me, Montag. Once to each fireman, at least once in his career… he just itches to know what these books are all about. He just aches to know. Isn’t that so? Take my word for it, Montag, there’s nothing there. The books have nothing to say! Look, these are all novels. All about people that never existed. The people that read them, it makes them unhappy with their own lives… makes them want to live in other ways that can never really be. (…)

Come on, Montag. All this philosophy, let’s get rid of it. It’s even worse than the novels. Thinkers, philosophers, all of them saying exactly the same thing: “Only I am right. The others are all idiots.” One century, they tell you man’s destiny is predetermined. The next, they say that he has freedom of choice. It’s just a matter of fashion, that’s all. Philosophy. Just like short dresses this year, long dresses next year. Look. All stories of the dead. Biography that’s called. And autobiography. My Life. My Diary. My Memoirs. My Intimate Memoirs. Of course, when they started out, it was just the urge to write. Then after the second or third book, all they wanted was to satisfy their own vanity… to stand out from the crowd, to be different… to be able to look down on all the others. Ah, Critic’s Prize. This is a good one. Of course, he had the critics on his side. Lucky fellow. Just tell me this, Montag, at a guess… how many literary awards were made in this country, on an average each year? Five, ten, forty? Hmm? No less than 1,200. Anybody that put pen to paper was bound to win some prize someday. Ah, Robinson Crusoe. The negroes didn’t like that because of his man, Friday. And Nietzsche. Ah, Nietzsche. The Jews didn’t like Nietzsche. Ow, here’s a book about lung cancer. All the cigarette smokers got into a panic, so for everybody’s peace of mind, we burn it. Ah, now this one must be very profound. The Ethics of Aristotle. Ow, anybody that read that must believe he’s a cut above anybody that hadn’t. You see, it’s no good, Montag. We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books. (…)

Life isn’t like novels, novels and tears, novels and suicide. Novels are sick. That was sheer cruelty, Montag. You’re a cruel man. All those words; idiotic words. Evil words that hurt people. Isn’t there enough trouble as it is? Why disturb people with that sort of filth? (…)

What did Montag hope to get out of all this print? Happiness? What a poor idiot you must have been. This gibberish is enough to drive a man mad. Thought you could learn from these how to walk on the waters, did you? Montag must learn to think a little. Consider how all these writings, all these recipes for happiness disagree. Ow, let this heap of contradictions burn itself out. You know it’s we who, at this moment, are working for man’s happiness. Look, isn’t that lovely? The pages… like flower petals or butterflies, luminous and black. Who can explain the fascination of fire? What draws us to it? Whether we’re young or old. Nothing to say? That’s the spirit. That’s real wisdom.»

– “Fahrenheit 451” de François Truffaut.

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