Saturday, September 4, 2010

Will the Book Survive Generation Text?

Carlin Romano, The Chronicle Review

...My own peculiar worry about Academe 2020, offered with less than 20/20 foresight...the death of the book as object of study, the disappearance of "whole" books as assigned reading. Does that count as a preposterous figment of extreme academe, or is it closer than we think?...

Three years ago, Weidenfeld & Nicolson launched its Compact Editions series of classics such as Vanity Fair and Moby-Dick. The publisher explained that they'd been "sympathetically edited so that most of them are under 400 pages," but that the cuts "in no way detract from the spirit of the original." Surgery simply rendered such classics less "elitist." Dripping drollery in The Times of London, critic Richard Morrison opined that truth in advertising behooved the publisher to adjust titles as well, perhaps to Vanity Off-Peak Fare, and Mini-Dick.

Any wonder that last year, two cheeky University of Chicago undergrads with literary parents—Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin—published Twitterature (Penguin), boiling down classics of world lit to 140-character bone? Here's their speed-read version of The Epic of Gilgamesh: "@UrukRockCity—Great. That's it. I'm leaving Uruk. My best friend in the world is dead, all because the gods couldn't handle our bromance."

The signs of readerly surrender pop up everywhere. Princeton student Isia Jasiewicz, reviewing a book for Newsweek this summer as an intern, admits in her last paragraph that she bothered to read only the first 10 pages. Linda Nilson, director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness at Clemson University, posts a piece titled, "Getting Students to Do the Reading" on the Web site of the National Education Association, advising: "Look for readings with graphics and pictures that reinforce the text, and pare down the required pages to the essentials. The less reading assigned, the more likely students will do it" ...Read it all

Note: Silly me, I thought that when C.S. Lewis wrote about The Abolition of Man he was indulging a little hyperbole. But I was much younger then, I'm older than that now. "Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity."---G.K. Chesterton

--->Revalorizing the Trades by Camille Paglia. "Vanishing of jobs will plague the rest of this decade and more. Meaningful employment is no longer guaranteed to dutiful, studious members of the middle class in the Western world. College education, which was hugely expanded after World War II and sold as a basic right, is doing a poor job of preparing young people for life outside of a narrow band of the professional class.

Yes, an elite education at stratospheric prices will smooth the way into law or medical school and supply a network of useful future contacts. But what if a student wants a different, less remunerative or status-oriented but more personally fulfilling career? There is little flexibility in American higher education to allow for alternative career tracks.

...The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics. They bear little relationship to the liberal arts of broad perspective and profound erudition that I was lucky enough to experience in college in the 1960s...Read it all

Note: Might anyone spare a small bottle of Vodka?