Is Books Making Us Stupid?! #RHIZO14


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“There’s something in print I’ve never trusted. There’s something in print that encourages objectivity” and “it moves towards the definite and not the relational”.  When Dave first spoke those words my eyes widened with disbelief, but my heart twinged that way it does when I want to not believe something but sense there’s a truth in it.  This is the way a writer feels when you challenge something really big about her identity. Because of that, I introduce you to a post that is a scrambled mixture of what it is to write, to read, to argue, and an oral tradition that is leading people back to the light.

“To write is to step or stumble over the edge of the known into that category of desire that defined itself, always just a hair’s breadth short of fulfillment”  Robert Kroetsch

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To confuse myself I will speak about what it is to write, and write about what it is to speak.

In the article from which this week playfully takes its name, Nicholas Carr laments the ease of access for information which makes us fidgety with longer pieces of work. This idea that test is little more than data to be neatly organized into accessible bits of information is true, when talking about how computers think, but not humans we don’t work that way. So much of this conversation hinges on ideas that are found in the basis of rhetorical delivery. I’m thrilled I get a chance to talk about rhetoric because I studied it in my undergrad and I use the knowledge gleaned from those classes every day.

Memoria: the term for aspects involving memory. It was one of the five canons of classical rhetoric. Oratory debate was the dental medium for intellectual and political life in Ancient Greece. A part of memoria was memorization including mnemonic devices to assist speakers. However, the sole focus is not route memorization and recitation. There’s fluidity expected from an orator—and it goes beyond carefully prepared arguments. One must have a wide body of knowledge in order to improvise.

We lament memoria though it was never that large of a topic in rhetoric, partially because not as much is written about it. We lament the short attention spans that people have in reading while ignoring the reality that most of our attentions spans max out at ten minutes technology or no technology. We lament that people do not read, that they read the wrongs things and surely we are going to hell in a hand-basket. We’re not. We’ll be ok. Charles Dickens wrote verbosely because he was paid by the word, and the writing on the Internet is sleek and efficient because that’s what we demand.

I put out this gem in the middle of an inflammatory discussion around Stephen King and Woody Allen. I’m a media critic and sometimes that means ruffling some feathers on Facebook or Twitter rather than writing until one of my editors emails me and tells me to stop it. It’s fun, you should try it sometime. What do I mean by this comment (SK stands for Stephen King by the way). I mean that in a written medium of 140 characters the people wishing to stand up for a man they’ve never met will make a lot of assumption about you while also claiming the maximum amount of objectivity for themselves. They might even link to something they’ve read as proof. They don’t want to hear your side however. None of this has anything to do with Stephen King’s books, of course, (or does it?).

It isn’t books, or online spaces that are making us dumb it is a lack to believe in the intentions and humanity of those around us, and ourselves. Meeting face-to-face is a great way to have to recognize another humanity.

While I don’t think books are to blame I would like to point you towards indigenous knowledge systems. I’m Métis and though my family was late in embracing our first nations status I grew up with a close friend who is aboriginal. Even as teenagers one of our favorite things was to sit and listen to her father’s stories. He was the most natural storyteller I’ve ever heard. This is not meant to bring forth the trope of the Mystical Indian but a lot of heritage on his mother’s side was passed down through story. We have Eurocentric myths about the inferiority of indigenous pedagogy positioning the oral history as quaint and antiquated. Where I live, children were removed from homes and put into colonial school systems that forced them to not speak their own language or practice their own religion. A part of the reclamation of humanity around this is to reclaim space and voice, and this is not something that books provide. Instead we gain this knowledge in the circles of our elders, and through their stories we can see more of the world than we could before.

Just some thoughts.

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6 thoughts on “Is Books Making Us Stupid?! #RHIZO14

  1. Loved the blog. Especially the video and to call to read someone we disagree with. We all have an ungraceful habit of judging those we think are wrong without studying our automatic inferences. I think we also struggle with our right to be “wrong” and responsible, even happy, to correct ourselves as part of owning who we are. We need to support all of ourselves and feel complete and I wonder if the residential schools’ greatest damage was to assume people could switch over without damage to a more “acceptable” version of themselves? Not more thoughtful, gentile or inclusive, just acting a role that someone else wrote.

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