[-empyre-] post for convergence; print to pixels

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Fri Jun 11 02:17:37 EST 2010

On Wed, Jun 9, 2010 at 12:07 PM, katherine hayles <nk_hayles at yahoo.com> wrote:

>  two books was of entering a different world, a world in which I was in passionate and deep conversation with the authors.  The experience refreshed me in a way that no Web reading has, notwithstanding the huge advantages of Web reading.  What I fear is not the passing of books--I think they have too many advantages to be going anyway anytime soon--but the passing of a mode of engagement that is not distracted, not hurried, not always rushing toward the next big thing.  How can I make sure that the re-wiring of my brain, which is surely well advanced by now, still has the capacity to have this kind of experience?

Dr. Hayles,

This is a great comment.  Like you, I have experienced that
divergence.  I can read online stuff energetically and
enthusiastically, flying through texts or over them, snatching up the
things I need and moving on to the next thing.  It has gotten to the
point where an entire day can go by, and I can scarcely remember what
I have done, but I have written thousands of words and put many urgent
pieces of information into the trash can.  On the other hand, I can
sit with a book and a pen and fill the margins, taking hours to chew
on a single chapter, and then go home haunted by the idea that I
cannot get out of my head.

My thinking on the matter is that there are two strategies for
cultivating a culture of careful reading.  One is to educate people to
read long texts, slowly, carefully, taking notes and re-reading.
Readers thus trained can even bring this disciplined attention to
online reading and writing.

The other strategy, and I think its value remains to be seen, is to
look for pieces of electronic writing that work cultivate a new mode
of careful reading.  I think, for instance, of works by someone like
Serge Bouchardon (check out: http://www.to-touch.com/), seem great at
getting readers to slow down and explore the text more fully.  Surely,
this mode of reading does not educate readers in the traditional mode
of reading literature....  but it does educate users in the readerly
exploration of a literary text. In general, I think that electronic
literature, while it cleaves very closely to whatever new technology
of writing is available, also tends to subvert (or at least
problematize) the heavily instrumental role of new media (and the
consequent instrumentalization of social life).

I don't know that this alone is enough to preserve the concentration
and critical thinking skills necessary to sustain a humanistic culture
(and, some have argued, and they might be right, that this is the
wrong way to frame the problem).  The enormous resources that have
been put into place to cultivate a civilization committed to serving
the interests of corporate persons, I think, would require that
humanists develop a radical educational program committed to
developing equivalent modes of reflection, thought, criticism.
Schools would need to teach students to read, think, and act as
something more than mere instruments....  which is why I am interested
in promoting the study of e-lit.  It might not solve all the problems,
but each work is an occasion of hope.  And the best works are more
than that.



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