Why Everything is Good for You
“Personal Choice does not count for much these days.”
“The process of reading is not a half-sleep; but in the highest sense an exercise, a gymnastic struggle. . .”
Anything we read ( and I use that term in the broadest and I think most accurate meaning : decoding all of the signs we run into in whatever contexts we can mangage) and any time we read we are engaged in a mental activity that is very complex, from reading Pound’s Cantos to devining the auguries in sheep entrails. Therefore the more complicated the “reading” is, the better it is for us. (The purpose of that, to use Neitsche, is to continue to build the bridge toward the ubermensch, which of course is unreachable). Of course if we can make no meaning from the “text” then we are not reading, no more than children who bark at the page are reading, nor me when I am reading these research articles too late at night. Too much has been made of reading the right kinds of things (this from someone who is often accused of being a literary snob), or watching the right “intellectual” movies, yet ultimately I feel that the more we engage with “texts” the more our brains seek out more complex patterns to decode, because we can decode them because we read more. It is the changing and the changed working on each other. Here is a poem by Richard Wilbur:
The Beautiful Changes
One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.
Anecdote of the Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
As I was sitting at my son’s nine hour karate test Saturdayin Dallas reading for class, this Wallace Stevens poem popped into mind. I think it was the defining and redefining defining and redefining my definitions like nothing else in Tennessee. One of my students a few weeks ago said as I started rambling off on some subject, “Man, do you have a story for every situation?” I think it would be more accurate, or at least more pleasant, to ask if I had a poem.
The Rattle of the Chains at My Feet
So what do I have to lose? The marxist reading was sad because I agree too often. I am not all that convinced by the copyright law article, at least as far as the limits it puts on creativity. The market has always put limits on creativity, yet somehow the creative work still gets out. I think specifically about contempory poetry over the last couple of decades. The L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E poets are not at all easy, accesible, or marketable yet somehow they have managed to become fairly widespread, at least widespread enough that I can find them in Austin,Texas, a long way from New York or San Francisco. Ann Lauterbach has Penquin for a publisher now. If all of the books have to pay for themselves, what’s up with Ann? Yes, small bookstores are being absorbed, but pretty much anything I have run across that I want I can find on-line, and I am looking for poetry that is not in Walden or Barnes and Noble. Another thing: the collapse of backlists might be bad for the writers, but when books get remaindered they appear at Half-Price books or from Deadalus, the discount book catalog. For me at least that is a good thing, I can buy books that otherwise were too expensive. So maybe I am arguing for the end of copyright so that I can get cheaper books. OOOh, that smacks of Libertarian self interest: the next thing you know I will be reading The Fountainhead to all my friends. Quick, pass me another copy of the Manifesto! Is it the sound of chains or cashregisters that is the problem. Or are they the same thing?
“Congealed Mental Labor”
I agree that the essay as it is taught in the school system is clotted kind of thought pattern. I think it does not have to be that way. A friend of mine went through the writing program at the University of Iowa with her focus on the essay. To differentiate the essay from what is taught they call it creative non-fiction. She claims that all essays are or perhaps more accurately should be personal narrative. I think that if we taught essayistic writing modeled on “literate” essays like Montainge, V. Woolf, or any volume of The Best American Essay series, then not only would the writing be better, but the students would discover their voices faster and see themselves as creators of knowledge rather than future clone-worker-bees to fill the line at Dell. I suppose I am still stuck in the idea of the liberating nature of education; the idea from the middle ages that the Liberal Arts were the essentials to being a Free human, thus Liber as in Liberty in the name. I have always thought it ironic that we spend a lot of time in the classroom telling the students that they should be themselves, to think for themselves, while at the same time telling them to be like everyone else. A bumper sticker (another exposure of the low level of my thinking) I have posted in my room: Always remember You are unique, just like everyone else. While on the other side of the overhead screen: You non-conformists are all alike. It made me sad to think that I, as a participant in the public school system, am just another turn of the mortar and pestle grinding out the individuality of my students. Even sadder to think that perhaps the same is happening to me as I sit in my grad classes. Sigh. A Ziggy cartoon I cut out in high school and stuck in my binder had the perpetual loser Ziggy sitting at a desk writing, behind him was a sign that read: Think, but not too much.
Just Tooling Around
My first response to the Eisenstein article is “Yeah, isn’t this obvious.” Or am I just exposing my tacit beliefs? Here are my questions: Isn’t the move from a scribal culture more of an expansion in literacy through a change in technology rather than a change in consciousness? I can understand a shift from oral to literate, but I don’t see a revolutionary shift from scribal to print. Where I don’t want to say that “it changed nothing,” because the level of expansion coupled with the speed a text could be disseminated helped spread “literacy” at a plague-level rate.
While I liked the idea that the intelligentsia was a part of the “workers” I think that the introduction of the printing press led toward a deeper division. During the scribal era, weren’t the “intelligentsia” the scribes? The scribal workers and the intelligentsia being one and the same?
“We may examine how our predecessors read various portents and auguries” Are we any different from our predecessors in how we read our own “auguries?” Are the things we read and discuss (the news, sports, the latest novel, or orality and literacyfor that matter) any different than birds flying across the sky or the guts of a cow spread across an alter? Have the tools changed? Heideggar in his essay on technology said a hammer was only a hammer when we use it as a hammer.
Give a child a hammer and the world becomes a nail. If I had a hammer . . .
“”Vernacular translation had little to do with the major landmarks in early science:” Yes, but didn’t vernacular translation help spread the ideas of the major landmarks in early science, thereby helping science and the enlightenment to spread beyond academia.
I kinda posted on Ong in my first posting, because I read part of his book this summer after I picked it up in one of my trips dredging for books in the coop. I like to go through and see what books are being taught. I don’t normally care what classes. I have done this for years, trolling mainly through education, English, Lit Crit and philosophy, my fields of interest. But back to the topic ( I don’t want to be like Deena and get corrected by the teacher). The Ong has sent my thoughts all over the place. I think I can imagine an oral culture: it would be nothing like the one I grew up with. I think we have lots of residual orality free floating in our world. People tell stories to each other still. Many of the stories are just variations of other stories, not just in the way Joseph Campbell says that it is all one story, but that too. In the scheme of time, we have not been literate that long. I don’t think we can shake off the oral residue that quickly. I think you can see it in the way we talk in conversation. As I tried to say in class the other night, but I feel incoherently, we all use various tools, stories, puns, bad jokes, riffs of thought like jazz musicians whenever we talk to anyone. Conversation is improvised. But again like in jazz, the musicians are not just making it up as they go. There have been hours and hours of practice from which they build their licks. This, I believe, is similar to the fragments of iambic or whatever meter the oral poets used to fill in where needed. “Originality consits not in the introduction of new materials but in fitting the traditional materials effectively into each individual, unique situation and /or audience.” I am not sure this is any different for text based writing. Yes, originality is stressed, but how far out of the norm can something be and still be included in a language system. Yes, Finnegans Wake is wacko, but it can be unpacked to some degree. No, it could not be done solely as an oral text, but it has to be read out loud to get even a portion of the multi-linguistic puns embedded in it. I also like the physicality brought up on page 67. It brought to mind a story about a very text based poet, Wallace Stevens. He was described walking to work with a very noticalbe rhythm to his step. He would stop frequently and rock back and forth keeping the rhythm of his walk. Then he would move on. He went to work early to dictate his poetry to his secretary who he paid extra to come in early, because his wife would not let him write at home. It has been proposed that when he stopped he was working out a problem with a line. If you look at his typescripts there are very few corrections. Was this a kind of orality? I am rambling: there is a line at the end of one of Wittgenstein’s books, The Tractus, I believe where he says that we can’t really say anything, and we should keep silent when we have nothing to say. Which brings up the old John Cage standard: I have nothing to say, and I have said it and that is poetry.
This is Not a Performance?
Language events, Verbal art as performance, interpretive frames: My thoughts have been jumping all over the place.
I start with my students experiencing Shakespeare through performance. Not by watching a play, but by becoming part of the play. I have taught Twelfth Night and Macbeth (not at the same time, but I am thinking of doing that this year), for nine years now by following the recommendations of the Folger Shakespeare Library: have the students on their feet with the words in their mouths from the very first day. The varied interpretations of the plays still stun me. The insights my students have into very difficult texts by having to figure out what the characters are doing as they are saying the words is always amazing. The Bauman article speaks of the very structured expectations of various performance traditions. Shakespeare’s plays, in some ways, come with I think our own culture’s performance expectations. I find that when my students are allowed into the language of the plays and expected to find meaning through the performance of these plays on their own that a fairly wide range of meaning emerges. In a Teachers as Scholars seminar I attended on Friday, Dr. Alan Friedman said, “Every performance is an interpretation.” Perhaps these ramblings of mine came about because of the proximity of the seminar and reading the Bauman article, but I found the connections to be relevant.
Another thought, much briefer I hope: Aren’t all language events, whether spoken or written, performances? And aren’t all of these performances framed within certain expectations? And aren’t how effective these performances are dependent upon how well they achieve these framed expectations as well as how they push the boundaries of these expectations?
Richard Rorty thinks that all writing should be seen as just different genres of literature. Perhaps all language from converstation to stark academic articles on psycholinguistics should be seen as different patterns of performance.
Greetings:By post-literate I mean post-text based literacy: the milieu of media from Television, Film, internet which has to be “read” in increasingly complex ways. These media are very non-linear. Will they or have they already changed the way we, post-literates, think?
The Thanksgiving Dinner piece was interesting to a point. I kept waiting for her to make a point, but finally just relaxed as she continued to catalog the linguistic devices she and her friends used during a casual dinner conversation. If anyone actually took the time to think of all of these devices as they were speaking, very little would get said. Language is complicated. It has amazed me for years that what with all of the obstacles to communication we have to overleap that any thought occurs at all. William Burroughs said that language is a virus from outer space. Miscommunication caused by language difficulties certainly has killed quite a few of us over the years.
I missed the first class meeting with Bomer, because I cannot read a course schedule. A bad start to a program in Literacy. I read the comment about Nietsche and the typewriter from another classmates blog, it made me think of Roland Barthes comment in an interview I read years ago where he said his writing changed depending upon what type of pen he was using. I started reading the Ong book last summer after I found it in the Coop. It got me all worked up. Massively divergent ideas concerning Orality and Literacy. The idea that literate cultures think differently because of the linear nature of text made me think of M. McLuhan, “The medium is the message” mantra. Are we in a post-literate world now that most of what we, or at least my students, gather from the world comes from non-print media: TV, film, the web? Does this affect our thinking? In a graduate class years ago, we were reading passages from Finnegans Wake. It is a difficult text, to state the obvious. We came to the conclusion that the only way for meaning to be made was through a communal effort, which to state the obvious, is how meaning is made with any text.