Alexander Dumas was a great writer as anyone who has read “The Count of Monte Cristo,” or “The Three Musketeers” can attest. I ran across a quote of his that, except for the last three words, I understand. But before I get to those words lets start at the beginning.
The beginning is easy. He said, “To learn is not to know; there are the learners and the learned.” I understand this part. What Dumas is saying almost echoes Woody Allen’s line, “Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach; those who can’t do either, teach P.E.”
But let me take the Dumas quote and apply to writers. One can learn to write, but because one learns how does not mean that someone can. Understanding all that you are taught about writing is not the same as implementing what you learned Understanding creativity does not mean you are creative.
The second part of the Dumas quote is “Memory makes the one, philosophy the other.” Memory applies to the learners, philosophy applies to the learned. To learn is to know because you remember what you are taught, so if you are not creative, you teach writing, or if you can’t do that, you teach P.E. I think I got it anyway.
It is the philosophy part that is my bugaboo. Let us look at the quote in its entirety. “To learn is to not to know; there are the learners and the learned. Memory makes the one, philosophy the other.” As a student I was the learner, learning from the learned, my professors. Understanding what they taught me-or at least some of it- is still in my memory. But that does not make me learned. But according to Dumas philosophy does make one learned.
Philosophy, according to my American Heritage dictionary, is “Investigation of the nature, the causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning.” It also say, “A system of values by which one lives.”
Perhaps Dumas was saying that to be learned one must implement what one has learned. But I don’t know. The French are just different, as anyone who has read Camus or Sartre, will tell you. Dumas was the learned one and I the learner, but I am not sure what I learned. I guess I should teach P.E.