Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

literacy shifts of yore

By the by, remembered something interesting in our literacy discussions.

It used to be, people read aloud - always aloud. No silent contemplation at all.

Picked this factoid up from St. Augustine, circa 390, illuminated in depth courtesy of *this source*

Eyes scanning the page, tongue held still: that is exactly how I would describe a reader today, sitting with a book in a cafe across from the Church of St. Ambrose in Milan, reading, perhaps, Saint Augustine's Confessions. Like Ambrose, the reader has become deaf and blind to the world, to the passing crowds, to the chalky flesh-coloured facades of the buildings. Nobody seems to notice a concentrating reader: withdrawn, intent, the reader becomes commonplace.

To Augustine, however, such reading manners seemed aufficiently strange for him to note them in his Confessions. The implication is that this method of reading, this silent perusing of the page, was in his time something out of the ordinary, and that normal reading was performed out loud. Even though instances of silent reading can be traced to earlier dates, not until the tenth century does this manner of reading become usual in the West.


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