Where do ideas come from? From the brain. From the memory. From the remix that our brain makes out of elements from it, from our memory. Therefore, where do ideas come from? From experience. From reading. From how we interpret our own experience, which to a large extent concerns reading. Reading what? Literary and informational texts, audiovisual discourses, advertising, social networks, talks and podcasts, absolutely everything that surrounds us.
A person’s culture is above all a system of categorisation and management of what they have read, which may be useful regarding what they are experiencing. The more we have studied, that is to say, paid attention to what we have read, the more we will be able to integrate each new text, each new image, each new visual-textual discourse, in a larger framework, in a critical processing system, in a personal library or archive with criteria that prioritise or question or discard. Culture, therefore, is not so much knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but rather getting to know what we know.
And the more you have read and seen, in any language, in any context, if you have built such a solid network in which to progressively insert so much fluid knowledge, the speed with which you are able to process the new information increases. And that speed, which is directly dependent on your cultural level, is essential in a society in which information flows and multiplies at a breakneck pace, growing exponentially. Well digested general culture provides you with the criteria to judge what is true and what is not. It teaches you ways of accessing quality information. It reminds you of the importance of trustworthy sources. It increases your capacity for oral and written expression. It allows you to question topics, common places, alternative facts, false news, prejudices, manipulations. It activates you as a citizen. It gives you defensive tools as well as ones to employ when passing judgement as a political subject. It not only makes you more effective professionally, but also a little freer. Not much, but it can make all the difference.
For example, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, a classic, which, now, was published 200 years ago. How was it possible for a shy girl of eighteen to write such a novel? Without a doubt: because she was brilliant. But also because she was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, a writer and feminist pioneer, and Godwin, an illustrating editor. Because in her childhood, she could listen to Coleridge while reciting his The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere. Because at the time of giving birth to Frankenstein, she was the wife of the poet Percy B. Shelley. Because they both read Mary, her mother’s first novel together. Because they travelled and were nourished not only by reading, but also by who they met and by landscapes. Because they travelled and generated, with Lord Byron and other writers, the ideal creative environment for original writing, far from the country’s control, with critical distance, essential to refute received ideas, to interrogate the very idea of god as the father and of a natural born son. Without a doubt, anyway: because she was brilliant and cultured and she felt free.
We have to work every day to build that culture that makes us creative and gives us spaces of freedom.