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Wednesday, March 16, 2005


the decline of literacy

via reason -- author robert lasner bemoans the death of first fiction and the woeful state of a publishing industry that refuses to cultivate literary authors. he offers a number of suggestions, but in the end, his conclusion is grim:

However, none of the suggestions I have made will matter it we don't increase the appetite for literary reading in this country. And short of destroying every single television set, I don't know what can be done. Literary reading is becoming a lost art, and according to "Reading at Risk," the greatest decline in literary reading is among the young, which is not a good harbinger of things to come. However, if something is not done, soon, not only first fiction, but all literary fiction, will disappear as a viable part of the publishing world.
an intelligent, literary public takes maintenance. just as we construct (or used to) an educated public by schools not only to have a competent workforce but a workable republic, why should we not further offer to construct a literary public that can interpret the meaning of events in our times by contextualizing them through western literature?

alas, we have largely abandoned such efforts.

people are animals. shiny balls will do for what we want -- 99% of msm is evidence enough of that -- if we are content to live in idiotic savagery. but civility takes social effort; it does not arise spontaneously ex nihilo. to the extent that it may impinge on the individual's prerogative to be a uninhibited drooling tool, so be it. the individual rarely enough seems to understand where his interests lie -- far more rarely still deprived of the social understanding conveyed by literacy.

i don't know that legislation and regulation are an answer -- if they are, they are a brutish one. government imposition is a poor proxy for social will. but the effectiveness of propaganda in convincing the human animal of the truth of artifice has been witnessed time and again (most recently in lebanon and ukraine, imo -- but if you can't admit that, then iraq). changing the dialogue of this country is easy -- but someone has to undertake it.

whether that be publishing houses or msm or what-have-you, i certainly hope it happens. a renaissance is sorely needed, imo.

changing the dialogue of this country is easy -- but someone has to undertake it.

Easy? Are you kidding?

I like your post. I've been thinking about it off and on for days, because I also lament the loss of literacy. I tried to remember where I read some statistics concerning book buying habits of American adults, but I couldn't come through. Sorry. I recall that a small percentage of Americans account for most book purchases. That squares with my personal experience. I meet few readers, but the readers I meet have read many books.

I place some of the blame for the current state of literacy on schools. I attended a terrible school system that is probably close to average for our nation. I pity those unfortunate students in worse schools, because there was not much literacy in evidence in my classes. No significant improvement of America's schools is likely.

And short of destroying every single television set, I don't know what can be done.

I own a television and it is not a problem. I seldom turn it on. However, it is commonly stated that the average American watches 4.5 hours per day. To stare slackjawed at the cathode ray tube every day is the best way to end up mentally out of shape. Parents need to quit using TV as an electronic pacifier, but that is unlikely.

I see no reasonable solution. I just expect to live in a land of illiteracy.

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