Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Beyond Literacy

In a society that has, for the most part, moved beyond literacy, what is the role of the writer?

We take reading for granted. It's something that you learn in school, and everyone learns it, and everyone reads and we want children to read for fun in the same way we want them to take piano and draw refrigerator art and do a sport. It's very important for children, but as adulthood comes, it becomes very important and... Most people don't really read in their free time. They know how. They probably did well in their English classes in college. But, the dishes stack up and the TV is easy and there are other, competing avenues for entertainment that require less intellectual and emotional investment. A book or two a year, when the mood strikes, maybe three or four, and we read so much for work and at work. We live at computer screens, reading. For us, mostly, we do not read enough.

Beyond literacy, then, is where I work. Authors already follow the poets and the painters into academia, where grants and tenure preserve something culturally important, even though few bother with it in their free time. I pursued my MFA,and wouldn't mind teaching one bit.

Beyond literacy, in a world where books are more like paintings that hang on a wall, or a few hour's peace on a plane, or the thing that's done because everyone is talking about a book and so it must be attempted.

What is our role, then? Where does the author fit, if at all, in a world where already the (for all practical, professional purposes) hobbyist and the teacher of aspiring hobbyists rule?

We cannot stop the shifts in the ground that have changed the way things are. We live beyond literacy, where reading and knowing how to read and doing it for pleasure has no meaningful cachet anymore. It is a thing that everyone does, that we take for granted, and for most reading is like piano lessons as a child - something learned once upon a time but mostly forgotten and isn't it important for all children to learn an instrument and occasionally an adult might sit down and pound out a half-remembered tune?

There is a liberation that comes from not mattering. There is a freedom, here,where we don't have to be concerned about what the grand, great world believes about our work.

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