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Passions in Poetry

The End of Reading?

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Brad
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since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea


0 posted 02-18-2002 08:27 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Here's a link that exemplifies some of the problems that occur when academics meets the media:
http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~kamuf/

From the text:

"This page was created initially on 12/19/2000.  The principal aim was to respond to requests received for the text of a lecture that, unexpectedly, became the focus of attacks first in the Web magazine, Salon.com, and from there in many other publications, notably US News & World Report.  The lecture itself was delivered at the conference Book/Ends, organized at the University at Albany, October 12th –15th, 2000.  The conference sought to explore the state many have called “the end of the book” from a great many perspectives.  I titled my own contribution “The End of Reading” to reflect research I had begun some months earlier into scientific discourses around reading, and specifically around so-called “reading disorders” or “dyslexias.”  My own background is in literary theory, so I was exploring unfamiliar terrain.  And yet, as both a teacher and a scholar, I have been principally concerned with the activity of reading for many years, and the theorists most important for my own work have made the reading activity or experience the focus of their thinking.  The central aim in my lecture was to question the assumption that there can or should be no communication between scientific approaches to the reading process and those that set out from the literary, philosophical, psychoanalytic, or linguistic insights informing work such as my own and many others in the humanities.  This assumption maintains severe limits on the possibilities for interdisciplinary exchange around the subject of reading, limits that, in my opinion, are unjustifiable.  I sought above all in the lecture to challenge these limits and call for more truly interdisciplinary considerations of the reading activity.

In the audience at my lecture, there was a freelance journalist who got Salon.com to buy a piece she wrote about it.  They bought the article because this journalist, Amy Halloran, made it sound as if I had ranted for 45 minutes about the violence mothers do to their children by reading to them.  Salon never contacted me to check the accuracy of her story.  Her article appeared in the 10/30 issue of that publication.  I responded at length to this piece of outrageous distortion, which seemed to me to betray the sort of anti-intellectualism and “academic bashing” that has, alas, become so commonplace in our Limbaugh-ized society.  Salon posted my reply, but with 3 days delay.  The Salon piece got noticed fairly widely, notably by John Leo who writes a weekly column for USN&WP.  Leo put his own spin on things and then things spun really out of control, with local newspapers picking up his statements to the effect that I had denounced reading to children as a form of “victimization”!  Or even child abuse!"  


--I took a class with this professor and, honestly, didn't do very well. So, while I have some sympathy for the mistakes made (because I made similar ones), the whole thing, to me, revolves around a certain different attitude towards the term violence and repression.

--Reading through the material, it seems odd that no one has pointed this out but that just goes to show the difficulty of communication.

Brad

[This message has been edited by Brad (02-18-2002 08:30 PM).]

serenity blaze
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since 02-02-2000
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1 posted 02-18-2002 11:49 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

"Limbaugh-ized society."

This both got my attention and made me smile...so I guess I'm seeking definition here!  
Interloper
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2 posted 02-19-2002 12:12 PM       View Profile for Interloper   Email Interloper   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Interloper

Another "intellectual" who, out of anger, uses a "made up" word, denigrating society, instead of using words of a "common" vocabulary.

Seemingly, an upset liberal accusing the liberal media while labelling society as conservative(or possibly fascist?).

Or, is she just upset that "intellectual" history may become "Darnton-ized?"

What a breath of fresh air she is...NOT!


[This message has been edited by Interloper (02-19-2002 12:24 PM).]

jenni
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since 09-11-99
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3 posted 02-19-2002 04:52 PM       View Profile for jenni   Email jenni   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jenni

You’re right, Brad... the hoopla (such as it was) was caused by different a attitude toward – I would even say different meaning of – the terms “violent” and “repression.”  I, too, can see why Kamuf was upset with Halloran’s article; the article did not really accurately summarize Kamuf’s overall remarks.  But Halloran did zero in on an important part of Kamuf’s speech.  Kamuf said that, under a model of reading as a technique for capturing information (a model I’m not sure whether she agrees with, actually):

"Reading is . . . getting produced and maintained as site for the patriarchal, paternalistic family’s reproduction of itself. The practice gets passed down, most typically, in the voice of mothers, usually mothers, reading aloud to their children. There where this ancient practice of reading aloud survives, before the child’s invention of silent reading, it is the mother’s voice that has been made to echo with the letters taking shape on the page. I say “has been made to” because the scene is certainly not a natural one. It has also to be produced, reproduced, instituted. With the scene we are evoking of the child learning to read by listening to the mother’s voice, it is the institution of written signs themselves, and thus of all possible institutions that is being passed down. The institution of the family of man takes place in a scene of learning to read. But what we forget, what we have to forget or repress is that this is always also a violent scene inasmuch as it has to repeat, reinflict the violence that wrenches the human animal out of the state of sheer animality, where, as we are taught to believe once we can read, there is no such thing as reading in this common sense, the sense we all supposedly share, sharing thus the belief that only humans read or do what we call reading."

What isn’t clear – or isn’t clear to me, anyway – is whether Kamuf believes that reading is essentially a technique for capturing information.  Or, if she does, whether she further believes that this violent wrenching of the human animal out of the state of animality is a bad thing.  From what I can figure, I think she does, on both scores.  In any event, this whole notion of calling a mother’s reading to a child an unnatural, “violent scene”, one “repeat[ing], reinflict[ing] . . . violence,” is plain ridiculous.  It is simply not “violence” in any conventional sense of that word.  It is not an “an exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse,” nor is it even a “vehement feeling or expression”, to cite two possible definitions from my dictionary.  It is, perhaps, an “injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation,” but only to someone who already believes in the theory that reading out loud to one’s child is the dreaded imposition of written signs, and therefore, by extension, of “all possible” patriarchal and paternalistic institutions (which are, presumably, evil).   As I see it, Halloran simply took what Kamuf said at face value, exaggerating only somewhat for effect.  But Halloran and Kamuf are really operating in two different worlds, and Kamuf is hardly in the position to cry about distortions.  

The most interesting thing to me, actually, was the notion that we must be taught to believe that only humans read “or do what we call reading.”  Perhaps this is better fodder for the anti-intellectualism thread out here, but when academicians say stuff like that, they’re just asking for it, lol.  

[This message has been edited by jenni (02-19-2002 04:54 PM).]

Phaedrus
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4 posted 02-19-2002 06:34 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


I’ve read the whole thing a couple of times now and the one of the things that struck me as slightly humorous was the fact that a lecture purporting to clarify the act of reading was:

a) So badly written (or badly read - see below)
b) Misquoted and misunderstood

I have to say I had a really bad time understanding where Peggy was going with this, she seems to have been calling for a unified science of ‘readology’ in parts and touched upon reading disorders in others, but both rather vaguely, offering no real insights into either.

At the risk of being guilty of both A and B above here’s the main points of what I think I read (Brad, if you can play Mom and let me know where my reading went wrong I’d appreciate it   ).

The main gist of the piece, as far as I see it, is the author’s intention to classify the act of reading the written word with every other information gathering method. This is demonstrated by the “reading” of the reader reading example, the base sensory inputs and mechanisms, or so the author claims, are the same in both the act of reading and the act of observing and deducing the reader is actually reading.

Once the act of reading the written word is fused in such a way with all the other ways we “read” the world the author then precedes to tie what we read to what we believe. This is attempted using the perceived violent subjugation of the normal methods of “reading” as proof of a repression of the common information gathering methodology set in the scene of a mother reading to a child. This unnatural method, the author claims, forces a repression of the natural animalistic trend of information reading to accept the truth of the signs as read by a third (and institutionally higher) party. The further claim is that this reversal of the normal “reading” methods leads to some self-perpetuating indoctrination of belief by proxy.

Do animals read?

Yes, but probably not in philosophy forums on poetry sites.

Does what I write make sense?

Probably not - and probably in exactly the same places.
Tim
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since 06-08-99
Posts 1801


5 posted 02-19-2002 07:04 PM       View Profile for Tim   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim

Why is it a problem of when academics meets the media? Is that not how the media operates in relation to any individual or group it comes in contact with?
The writer made some comments that no matter how you intrepret them are over the wall.
She got caught and paid the price. The media rarely focusses on the totality, but the sound-bite.  If you venture into the real world, you are held to real world standards.
The Bell Curve; has any attempt ever been made to focus on the entirety of the book in the media?  No, they focussed on one premise in one chapter and ignored the rest of the book.  Again, you venture in the world of media, you pay the price.  I suspect there are more than a few politicians who feel the entirety of their positions were never covered, rather the most newsworthy bllopers. Clinton or any number of former presidents, V.P.'s or any level of politicians, businessmen, or those getting their fifteen minutes of fame would agree.  What is humorous is the academic response.  How can you possibly question my intellect?
The answer is quite simple, don't do battle with those who buy ink by the barrel, it is not a battle of intellect, but a battle of controlling the medium.  Know your audience.

[This message has been edited by Tim (02-19-2002 07:06 PM).]

Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


6 posted 02-19-2002 08:06 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

So, nobody has sympathy for Prof. Kamuf?

Isn't she, at the very least, questioning the complacency that causes us to think, "that's just the way it is"?

I'll try to Mom later, Phaedrus.
Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


7 posted 02-19-2002 09:01 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I don't know. Would it be 'over the wall' if reading to a child were described as a form of brainwashing? Or how about conditioning?

Would you automatically assume, if that were said, that you shouldn't read to your child?

But if you don't read or even speak to your child, isn't that a form of negligence?

If a writer should know his or her audience (mostly academics as was said), shouldn't a reader also understand the context?

And isn't this farce really about readers ripping things out of context because, well, it's not an article in Parents magazine, is it?

And isn't that how Amy H. is reading Peggy K.?

Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


8 posted 02-21-2002 02:18 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Reread the article again and it's interesting what Jenni and Phaedrus focus on. I really don't think those points are all that important or essential to what she's trying to say.

What is she trying to say?

1. You can never prove what happens when someone reads.
2. Scientists and some historians ignore this.
3. No verifiable results have resulted from this ignorance.
4. Therefore, we should look at other 'soft' studies of reading (literary theory and psychoanalysis).  
5. This is important because so much depends on reading in this society (reading test scores and so on).

As far as I can tell, that's the core. The normal approach to 'readology' as Phaedrus calls it is founded on wrong premises. We need to try something different. Hey, why don't you try what I do?

I think she thinks 'information extraction' is too limited an idea for the act of reading (the whole echo bit). Otherwise, why do we write poetry? Why did she write the article in this way?

Why not write everything in bullet point memos?

As far as the whole 'violence' part, she uses violence with little interest in intent. Forcing unconsented change on someone or something is perhaps closer to what she means. Violence is often a term you hear when people dissect or analyze poems but no one means that you're trying to hurt the poems or, in this case, the child. If you don't think criticism of poetry (telling someone what they should or shouldn't do) isn't in some sense violent than you've never seen some of the reactions I've received when doing it.

Repression, here, is simply forgetting the process of assimilation. Once you can speak a language or learn a word, we often forget that feeling of confusion, that queasy feeling in your stomach when trying to understand something. Understanding is never automatic but we often see it that way.

On another level, sometimes we simply reject the whole thing out of hand. How many of us would try to understand a Chinese newspaper for example?  

Is any of this important?

For a poetry website and a casual philosophy forum (whether or not other species are participating), I think so. Many of the things, the misreadings, the sense of insecurity, the jumping to conclusions, the anger are explained quite well by these ideas.

Reading is hard and we hide that.

Brad  

Interloper
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9 posted 02-21-2002 11:49 AM       View Profile for Interloper   Email Interloper   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Interloper

Brad ~
I don't believe reading is especially hard.  It is far more difficult to write in such a manner that the reader follows, comprehends, and maybe even enjoys.

Unless I'm sitting for the LSAT, reading legal opinions, purusing scientific theses, or really digging for research, for instance, I don't care to read something that is difficult to follow or comprehend.

But, then, I am only of average intellect
Brad
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Jejudo, South Korea


10 posted 02-21-2002 07:05 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

But no one is asking you to.

I really don't think it has anything to do with intellect, but it does have something to do with interest.
Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


11 posted 02-25-2002 04:32 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Well, now that I've scared everyone away from this thread, I want to turn around and agree with everyone.

There is a problem, but it comes from students (who become professors) and the pressures of being an undergraduate and graduate student. Derrida (and Peggy Kamuf is in that school) is on record as saying that while he is never difficult to be difficult, he does want to take time. This makes sense to me given what he wants to do, but how does this mesh with our current system of higher education?

It doesn't.

Students read quickly, "just the facts, Ma'm, I've got a test tomorrow", even humanities students are caught in a bind to read great literature and difficult works too quickly. They apply the bullet point method to poems, essays, novels, whatever you want to call what Derrida does, and turn all these things into dogma. But that's exactly the wrong approach. In fact, it's an approach that Derrida, Kamuf, and others are attempting to combat (let's call it logocentrism, that's what they call it anyway). So, I think what happens is that students and beginning professors read these works and AGREE with many of the absurdities that so many of you have pointed out.

I once asked Professor Kamuf about this and her response has always stayed with me. She became defensive, and said that that wasn't Derrida's fault. Fair enough, it's not, but when this has become the dominant discourse in humanities (but always almost on the way out), somebody should start taking responsibility to explain this difficulty as difficult.

And nobody is. Everybody wants of be 'hip', everybody wants to be 'in on it'. Everybody wants the bullet points. Even if some of them (us) should know better.

Brad
 
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