Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading, Twitter, and The Relevance of Great Writing--Saturday Journal #1

A while ago, our College initiated a campaign to encourage students, staff---everybody, really--to read more.  Volunteers were asked to pose for a photograph in the library, holding their favorite book.  I read a lot of many different types of books, and to that point, my all-time favorite was "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole.  In a later post, I will share my thoughts on this remarkable comic epic, and the story of its author, and the bittersweet way it was published, received, and ultimately won a Pulitzer Prize. 

(The photo, I think, leaves something to be desired...I looked as tired as I most likely was that day....and I have since re-invented myself into a somewhat more compact frame!)

When I heard that  The Library of Congress entered into an agreement withTwitter to archive every public "tweet" ever written, it was well-received by some historians as a boon to studying modern culture.  Even though I lamented the dearth of letters as a first-hand source for historical research, I was more skeptical about Twitter's usefulness for in-depth study.

From a story in Reuters:

The Library of Congress’s blogger Matt Raymond says there’s research gold to be found in the archive:
“I’m no Ph.D. but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive.”
Hmm.....I think we'll be surprised how little depth we, as a culture, do have. I suppose everything that will be worth knowing about ourselves, by future generations, will have been well-covered by people of intelligence and foresight.
Twitter, as a tool for historical research is, I think, a fad, a joke, though many want to convince us it's important.
While millions are "tweeting", people and animals are neglected, published works of remarkable power are not being read, the world spins past us, and those who know better are taking full advantage of our distraction.....

A friend remarked to me that "published works of remarkable power" may no longer be relevant to current culture, and are not worthy of our collective contemplation.

I would respond this way:
Powerful works come from great poets...Shakespeare...all the old masters... Even contemporary thinkers, and dreamers. Those that have the ability to read these works, but will not, are no better than those who cannot read at all.

Great writings are as worthy of our contemplation as great paintings, or opera, or any art form that, amazingly, still speaks to us after centuries, or decades... They deserve to be preserved, and enjoyed again and mined for relevance. It's there.

Yet, we can no longer be bothered to make the effort to participate in this most exciting yet demanding form of communication, preferring instead to have our eye dazzled, our ear pounded, our adrenaline boosted, and then off to another sensual experience.

Reading, like anything else, can be taken to unfortunate extremes. Good readers know how to pick the right material for themselves, and how to use the ideas therein.

Like anything else, time can increase the appreciation of the work, and not just in the marketplace, LOL. Some are too hasty to dismiss great work, or herald bad work, with no underpinnings of learning, or thinking.
So much for my rant....Soon I will post an item about the "death" of professional critics, the rise of "amateur" criticism, and the dismaying opinion among a new generation of filmgoers that "Citizen Kane is overrated....

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