Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on reading as consumption

One of the problems with reading fiction, and possibly reading at all, is that to properly read it (where properly equals attentive/connectivedly) is to have to pay attention constantly. This paying attention is not only to the storyline but also to attempting to determine the raison d' etre of the story that is both integrated with the storyline as well as the possible socio-historical context of the author. Not trying to show off using 'socio-historical' but it's a good word and appropriate. So why read fiction? Why attempt to make a difference between Grisham and Grass or between Patterson and Wallace? The first response is that it's healthy, stretching and places one in touch with Kultur(Humboldt) as well attempting to place the current standing of the zeitgeist as perceived or responded to by the author. It's also entertaining. Narrative myth is a powerful method of dealing with the world and attempting to plumb the trueness of that myth. Should time be spent then with only a small number of texts, the quote unquote essential ones, or with as many texts as possible knowing that I will not possibly remember them all?
The thought that I have though is that ten years from now when asked/contemplated being asked what have I done with my time and I respond read is that enough? is that sufficient?
In my head I respond that it is necessary to continue to read to absorb and connect think about these texts as much as possible because one never knows when one of these texts will apply. or when opening up the new book catalogs that land on my desk on a regular basis and the popping and snapping of certain titles from the pages makes the demand directly of me to read or at least add to my list. Why do these certain books enact desire w/in me to be read? (This is an entirely different question)
The problem I've begun to think about though is this approach is inherently flawed because while I may eschew the consumption of television still what I'm doing is consuming texts
which may not be any healthier esp. if I can't coherently talk back the work to the interested party and end up sounding like a schmuck who read the book just for the intellectual kudos/notch on the proverbial book-reading-belt or shelf. There is where conversation comes in and writing but if there is an irregular contact of conversation is it still worth the reading as I would prefer or is it required to shift reading into channels that allow for mutual conversation? Does writing about reading on this blog suffice or should it through more academic channels? Again the argument in my head is that any writing is good bc it's some sort of practice or even praxis but the fact of wanting to be read and known makes publishing to the blog occasionally incredibly exasperating bc of that wanting. Of course this then brings the question if I'm simply a narcissistic solipsist consumed with the texts swirling in my navel.
The issue with the academic channel (grad school/seminars) is that this constitutes a system that is designed to help the student consume and compete. "American economic and cultural systems that work very well... in terms of selling people products and keeping the economy thriving, do not work as well when it comes to educating children or helping us help each other know how to live…and to be happy… if that word means anything. That feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire, is, it seems to me to be a strange kind of slavery. Nobody talks about it as such, though. [Everyone] talks about it as freedom of choice, and you have the right to have things." (From a transcript of a short German interview with David Foster Wallace)
In seeking out these works to read am I a part of this consumptive cycle? I don't feel that I have to buy every book especially as I wouldn't have time to read them all. Knowledge, or simply information, are presented as purchasable, consumable items with an end result being nebulously presented as a 'scholar' or being able to trundle out words like 'socio-historical'.
Steiner suggests that "...we would recognize in today's idolatry of the 'informational', of classificatory logistics and data storage, an almost parodistic fulfilment of the encyclopaedic lust in the medieval spirit, of that omnivorous appetite for a summa, for a summa summarum (all in all) of the writ, glossed, annotated world." (Real Presences-43) This is in the context of his arguement against the continuing spiral of commentary about works.
In attempting to avoid simply being a consumer of texts, is there a correct way to read? Sire suggest that it is by reading slowly that this is the method to follow. Of course the problem with methods is that they can turn out to be ends rather than means.
Perhaps the issue is that my terminology is wrong. If in continually glossing, annotating, checking definitions and ideas when moving through a text this process prevents me as the reader from consuming bc this process is a braking one, especially that of taking notes while reading.
In an interview with John O'Brien, David Foster Wallace and Richard (I believe) Powers, Powers is answering the question why he writes and he responds that "...I write out of pleasure and every morning I can't believe I'm getting away with write to enhance your pleasure of life and increase your sense of where you are and where you've been dropped down." (19:00) Perhaps this is where the purpose of reading then stems from, all concerns about consumption aside, to increase my knowledge of where I am and where I've been dropped down.

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