Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Reader" by Justin Taylor

In issue six of Canteen, there is a short prose piece by Justin Taylor titled "Reader." The author starts off by stating that the reading is not a group activity, comparing it to attending a sporting event or seeing a concert. Instead, he asserts, "the act of reading is one of deep. fulfilling, isolation." I had never really thought about comparing these different activities but I can definitely say I agree with him.
He goes on to discuss how the importance of literature in society today has drastically depleted from previous times, proclaiming that: "We live in a period where the value of self-knowledge has been undermined, debased, and perhaps abandoned; when the very notion of the self is held in profound suspicion." This is, unfortunately, a harsh reality of today. The majority of people of our generation spend their time on social networking sites, which only contributes to an increase in narcissism on a global scale. It is a sad time, not only for the economy, as Taylor points out, but also for the arts, which have become far less important to us.
Taylor also discusses the importance of private discourse in leading to "productive public discourse amongst individuals." which is certainly true and relates directly to the act of reading a piece of literature. This decrease of interest in literature is disheartening, particularly for someone who cares about it as much as I do, and as much as most of you probably do as well. Hopefully there will be a revival and people will realize that spending time on your computer facilitating false relationships will never replace the person to person interaction that literature instigates.


Popped said...

Too true. The ironic thing about networking sites is that while reading promotes discussion, texting and facebooking, etc. tends to silence it. Over the years, I've noticed that younger generations are becoming increasingly unable to interact with one another outside of the virtual world.
Aside from the merits of the story itself, reading is such a tangible experience: there is a smell to a book and textures to its pages. A book doesn't crash or become corrupted (unless an author decides so! :) ) and is not separated from you by a piece of glass. I used to work in a library, and I loved every moment of it, so it saddens me to see a decline in books and reading. You raise a good point about the future, though the circumstances of today's decline makes me a little worried. People do tend to move in patterns of circular behaviour (i.e. education, fashion, schools of thought, etc.), but instead not having access to books, such as in the Dark Ages, there is an abundance of other things. Hopefully, though, books will come back.
-----Jen G.

Popped said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Popped said...

Hm. While I agree that the internet has certainly decreased the amount of time spent reading, I'm not so sure that I agree that reading has to be a solitary event. So much of reading was--is--meant to be read. Epic poems, poetry in general... I know that when I write I try to keep in mind how it would sound when read aloud. And, of course, whenever someone comes to the writing center, I usually suggest that we read through their essay aloud.

I find the sports-watching metaphor interesting. Was the writer talking about viewing sports on TV at home? Because seeing sports in public seems like an immensely communal activity. So many people have gathered together in little groups, divided into the two teams they're rooting for, and the emotions of the crowd feed off each other. I'm not a sports fan, but I always get worked up when I'm watching with others.

What seems a shame to me is that the internet has not become a way to talk about art. It would be so easy to have conversations with a wide range of society about different stories and their components. Granted, I actually spend most of my time on the internet dealing with this kind of material, but that's because I seek it out. Still, if it came down to a choice, I would far rather attend a book club than communicate online. My sense of humor is hard enough to convey when I'm it's next to impossible!

Of course the upside to online communication is that the few people like me who express themselves better in writing and aren't always aggressive enough to speak up get a chance to say exactly what we're thinking.

--Sarah Lawrence

Popped said...

I remember when I was younger I was listening to the Wicked soundtrack with my family. The song "Dancing through Life" (which is sung by the scarecrow) really bothered my dad. He told us, "the unexamined life is not worth living," which is the opposite of what the scarecrow is professing in the song. Reading your post made me think of this because I think it is true that there is a fair amount of self-centered external focusing happening in our society. That is that we obsess with how we are being treat/interacted with by the rest of the world and don't look inwards all that often.

On a different note, I'm not sure reading really is a solitary activity. Reading is a family thing at my house. I grew up listening to my parents reading out loud to us, and we all take turns now. - But maybe this is just my family. In any case it sounds like an interesting piece.