The Redefinition of “Reading”

I was going to title this “The Assault on ‘Reading.'” but that sounded to curmudgeonly. Here’s an example of what I mean by the redefinition of reading:

I go to a site online to read a brief article–a blog post. The site could be CNN or ESPN or a newspaper. I find my way to the piece. As I’m attempting to read it from top to bottom, as I have been taught, according to the old Gutenberg-print method, advertisements pop up in boxes, or maybe the piece is encased on all sides by advertisements, like an artifact packed in cotton. Anyway, these things distract my reading, at least according to the way I read. But maybe the common form of reading now is to be able to “read” (see, hear) many texts at once, or at least to place them in your reader’s field of vision.

What’s more common every day is the presences of videos, so going back to my example, above or below the article will be a small “screen” (box). I may have choice of clicking on an arrow–or I may not. The video might just start. Then, in another, smaller box elsewhere on my screen, another video will be cued and will probably start on its own. So before I start reading the article, I have to take note of and deal with one or two videos (and their noise).

The conservative in me–not politically conservative but, well, old fashioned–is tempted to say that the technological culture is doing away with conventional reading, which I’ll define simply as reading one thing at a time. The culture needs to hurry and harry us because it seeks attention, which–in theory–means more money coming in, for every distraction comes with another “opportunity” (temptation, baiting) to be confronted with a visual, textual, or aural pitch for a product or a service.

Obviously, the old way of reading is just that: a relic. At least online this is the case. I still read novels (printed on paper or “printed” on Kindle) the old way–more or less one word, phrase, clause, sentence, line, paragraph, page (etc.) at a time, although of course I have different speeds and techniques, including speed-reading ones (in the event I’m getting bored–but if I get too bored, I simply stop and go to another book).

I wonder what the effects of the new reading will have on people’s brains, their argument- or narrative-processing equipment, so to speak. What effect will the new reading have on logical analysis? On genre? That is, will a typical article/essay/piece/story become shorter and shorter, and more hastily slapped together to keep up with the speed of multiple virtual conveyor-belts?

At any rate, the new reading has to have multiple consequences related to Orwell’s classic essay, for Orwell focused in part on the extent to which we are lulled or distracted by bullshit. Orwell was over the top in concentrating on jargon, euphemism, and “long words,” but his overall point about being dulled, lulled, and distracted obtains.  I think online we’re meant not to think with some degree of patience and discernment about units of expression–an article, a line of argument, a narrative unit, , etc.

Wither “close reading”?  Wither concentration? (Wither words like “wither”?!) It all rather seems like a vast, ceaseless magic trick, with multiple levels of misdirection. Good luck to us.

Book on Orwell Goes Full Kindle

Not that you asked, but the book my co-blogger and I wrote, Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy  is  available on Kindle now.

 

Image result for ostrom haltom

Contemporary School Segregation in the U.S.

Without intending to do so, I seem recently to have had a lot of conversations and run across a lot of articles concerning the re-segregation (or continuing segregation) of American schools.  The issue pertains to “politics and language,” I think, because segregation probably correlates to ignorance about African American history, vulnerability to racist appeals, white echo-chambers regarding race, policing, the justice system, etc.  School “choice,” public funds for segregated charter schools, manipulation of school-district boundaries, lip-service (at best) to achievement-gaps, continuing white flight or white gentrification all contribute to a comprehensive effort to maintain segregated and unequal schools, all these years after the Broad v. Board of education decisions (plural).

It is as if, since the 1950s, White Supremacy has simply found ways around new federal civil rights laws so as to maintain segregation and inequality, preserve white citadels of power, make thinly euphemistic and direct racist appeals in politics, and make life much harder than it should be for African Americans and other ethnic groups, as well as immigrants.  (Astoundingly, a widely used textbook in Texas folded slavery into the topic of “patterns of migration” to the U.S. so as to pretend slavery didn’t exist.  (Perhaps Kanye is relying on that textbook.) Thus in the guise of Donald Trump did the spirit of George Wallace get elected president and the Republican Party become the Dixiecrat Party 2.0.  Sadly, even alleged “liberal” media still treat the GOP as acceptably “conservative,” not radically racist.

All of this is by way of introducing an article, “School Desegregation is Not a Myth,” by Will Stancil, The Atlantic, March 14, 2018.

A New Book About Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”

My colleague and co-blogger, Professor William Haltom, and I have published Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy with Routledge/Taylor & Francis in Routledge’s Series on Rhetoric and Composition. Now you will be prepared should someone ask you, “Do you know any recent books concering George Orwell’s famous essay about language and politics?” If you know any librarians who might want to order the book, we would not strenuously object to your mentioning it.  Here is a link to the book on Routledge’s site, followed by an image of the book’s cover, by which you may judge the book.

link to book

bookcoverostromhaltom

“Liberal,” “Conservative,” and Other Useless Terms

What good are the political terms “liberal” and “conservative”?  The patron saint of this blog, G. Orwell, championed clarity in prose and precision in terminology; from that point of view, the terms are as useless as money in the afterlife. Worse, they function as chutes through which to pass mind-numbing, rote discussions and debates, as well as profiles of mass mediated punditing.  The theater of oscillation between the terms is as mechanical as a metronome.  The Oscillator is THE mold into which most of our political discourse is poured.

Let us first stipulate that the two major political parties in the U.S. are corrupt and cult-like, ensconcing amphibians like McConnell and Schumer in atrophied institutions.  That said, “conservatives” represent evil in a way “liberals” usually don’t, although “liberals” distinguish themselves chiefly by their ineptitude and taking on such evil.

“Conservative” has nothing to do with preserving “values,” limiting government, preserving “individual freedom, and so on.  The Republican Party conserves White Supremacy through various means: the Southern Strategy, voter suppression, & de facto segregation of the economy, education, and neighborhoods.  It is more likely to blow up the budget than the Democratic Party.  It refuses to accepts the science behind global warming and thus conserves suicidal ignorance.  It has been Red-baiting and race-bating since the 1950s.  If you substituted “White Supremacist” for “Conservative” as you listen and read, you would achieve greater terminological clarity.

Thanks to the White Supremacist Party (GOP), “liberal” has come to connote intellectual interests (as a bad thing), support for government-located programs to help people (as a bad thing), environmentalism (as a bad thing), diversity (as a bad thing), and women in politics who aren’t Stepfordites (as a bad thing).  Liberals are antagonists in a drama produced and directed by White Supremacists. Remember Gingrich’s “tax-and-spend liberals” was of language?  Note that the Constitution constituted a government empowered to a) tax, and b) spend.

In reality, Democrats massage the interests of large corporations and the military-industrial complex as much as Republicans.  Little difference there. True, they are more likely to support Voting Rights, more likely to include and support people from a wide range of backgrounds (in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class-status); that they do this, when they do this, in order to hold power, not out of altruism, is a given. Still, it’s better than a sharp White Supremacist stick in the eye. Still, part two, “The Feckless” describes “liberals” better than “liberal.”

At the moment, the White Supremacists control all three branches of the federal government.  Among what they conserve is racism, environmental collapse, body- and sex-policing, poverty, addiction to war, torture, hatred of women, hatred of education, rampant death by guns, and hatred of empirical evidence.  I’m missing a few embodiments of evil here–including Christian hypocrisy raised to a fugue-state, thanks to the support of Trump– but you get the drift.  The Feckless enable this evil by various means. What amazes me (it shouldn’t) is the extent to which American political discourse, political self-identification, and policy rely on these this useless bifurcation of “conservative” v. “evil” and help make the country and the world more vulnerable to impulsive stupidity and a political culture dedicated to awful decisions, not to mention depravity. Dump these terms.

Anti-Social Non-Media

 

The idea holds promise. It might look like
sitting alone, phoneless and thinking,
which at least allows you
to imagine a country that has unfriended
racism, faved equity, pinned
knowledge, twanked twaddle
into truth, and stopped following.

As the media are mainly
a village of the damned celebrities,
it may be wise sometimes
to reduce the status of the spectacle
to that of an evening gnat that
passes by your eyes and ears–
a momentary minor whine.

hans ostrom 2017

A Simpler Explanation for the Use of Jargon, Buzzwords, etc.

As we know, Orwell in ‘Politics and the English Language,” came down Puritanically hard on the use of jargon, “foreign phrases” (provincial much, George?), and academic-insider diction and vocabulary.  He virtually makes such usage a moral issue.

A simpler explanation, and one that fits our age of communication-deluge, is that how we learn language and, via language, how we learn to fit into families, schools, jobs, and so on, induce us to use “the latest words.”

I’ve seen this fitting-in phenomenon in academia frequently.  New terms will spread like a flu-bug during a large or small academic conference, and people reflexively start using them, not necessarily because of their efficacy but just because they are new and moving up the popular charts,  and people do not want to be perceived as being not fully current, not being part of the group that’s using this language.

It seems as if younger academics may be more susceptible to this anxious need to keep up on new lingo, but even if this is true, it doesn’t mean academics of every stage don’t do the same thing.  That said, there also seems to come a time in most academics’ careers when an opposing reflex kicks in: generally weary, and acutely weary of academia, many academics become hostile to new things and new words, and they become increasingly likely to dismiss the latter and align themselves epistemologically with the credo, “There’s nothing new under the sun!  Therefore, leave me alone!”

But it can happen anywhere–job sites of every kind, political groups, social groups.  The right-wing servicer, Frank Luntz, developed dozens of slippery phrases, to a) lie in a most “Orwellian”way, b) heap scorn on “liberals” (a term he never had to define), and c) further fortify White-Right political identity.  Members of the group, new and old, lap up the new cream like kittens, not least of all because they like that feeling of being righteous and accepted.  Of course the same thing goes on in virtually every kind of group.  I do think it’s pretty clear that, in the U.S., the Republicans have been much better at this language-game than the flat-footed, befuddled Democrats, who haven’t exactly put effective roadblocks in the way of right-wing flim-flammers from Reagan to the current bloated, narcissistic loon, Our President, who is too lazy, and too rewarded for his laziness, to use new language.  He sticks with words like terrible, sad, tremendous, bad, and good.  Before the end of his term(s), he may just start grunting at his rallies and in his press conferences, and a large percentage of White folks will cheer each nuanced sound effect. Animal Farm, indeed.

In any event, counteracting both the keeping-up-with-the jargon mania and the curmudgeonly hostility any new words and terms can be difficult because to do so with the former requires checking the impulse to fit in immediately, and to do so with the latter means checking your own desire to stop learning.  In other words, discernment and self-discipline are crucial.

After all, in whatever specialized group one may think of, new language will arise, and much of it will be appropriate and useful–a reasonable acknowledgement (if I do say so myself) that is tough to find in Orwell’s essay.

Simple forms of such discernment come in the shape of questions: “Why am I using this new word/term, exactly?”  “Am I sure I know what it means?”  “Why are ‘they’ using this new word/term, exactly?” “Are people using this term more or less unthinkingly, out of reflex, habit, or an anxious need to fit it?”

Discernment in vocabulary and diction, in writing, speaking, and reading/consuming: a good aptitude to develop, and one distinct from Orwell’s clumsy eradication-policy vis a vis (foreign phrase!) “jargon.”

%d bloggers like this: