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robertogreco : highculture   4

We have gone long enough without raising the... - more than 95 theses
"We have gone long enough without raising the question of whether reading makes you a better person. The short answer to that question is No. It doesn’t. And the long answer doesn’t differ too dramatically from the short one….

Responding to the claim that not just reading but “high culture” in general is morally improving, Terry Eagleton points out that, during World War II, “many people were indeed deep in high culture, but … this had not prevented some of them from engaging in such activities as superintending the murder of Jews in central Europe.” If reading really was supposed to “make you a better person,” then “when the Allied troops moved into the concentration camps … to arrest commandants who had whiled away their leisure hours with a volume of Goethe, it appeared that someone had some explaining to do.”

There’s simply nothing about reading, or listening to Mozart sonatas, or viewing paintings by Raphael, that necessarily transforms or even improves someone’s character. As the eighteenth-century scientist G. C. Lichtenberg once wrote, “A book is like a mirror: if an ass looks in, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.” Nevertheless, I am going to argue, from time to time throughout the course of this book, that if you really want to become a better person, there are ways in which reading can help. But the degree to which that happens will depend not just on what you read … but also why and how. So consider yourself either warned or promised, according to your feelings about moralistic exhortation."

[See also: ]
alanjacobs  reading  2014  highculture  highbrow  lowbrow  terryeagleton  gclichtenberg  learning  change 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Rediscovering Literacy [Way too much here, quotes are from only the beginning]
"Literacy used to be a very subtle concept that meant linguistic sophistication. It used to denote a skill that could be developed to arbitrary levels of refinement through practice.  Literacy meant using mastery over language — both form and content — to sustain a relentless and increasingly sophisticated pursuit of greater meaning. It was about an appreciative, rather than instrumental use of language. Language as a means of seeing rather than as a means of doing…

The written form itself was merely a convenience…

Before Gutenberg, you demonstrated true literacy not by reading a text out aloud and taking down dictation accurately, but through exposition and condensation.

You were considered literate if you could take a classic verse and expound upon it at length (exposition) and take an ambiguous idea and distill its essence into a terse verbal composition (condensation)…

the fundamental learned behaviors that constitute literacy, not reading and writing…"

[Update: Adding the final portion to this bookmark]

"This might sound like engineering elitism, but I find that the only large classes of people who appear to actually think in clearly literate ways today are mathematicians and programmers. But they typically only do so in very narrow domains.

To learn to think with language, to become literate in the sense of linguistically sophisticated, you must work hard to unlearn everything built on the foundation of literacy-as-reading-and-writing.

Because modern education is not designed to produce literate people. It is designed to produce programmable people. And this programmability requires less real literacy with every passing year. Today, genuinely literate reading and writing are specialized arts. Increasingly, even narrowly instrumental read-write literacy is becoming unnecessary (computers can do both very well).

These are not stupid people. You only have to listen to a child delightedly reciting supercalifragilisticexpialidocious or indulging in other childish forms of word-play to realize that raw skill with language is a native capability in the human brain. It must be repressed by industrial education since it seeks natural expression.

So these are not stupid people. These are merely ordinary people who have been lobotomized via the consumerization of language, delivered via modern education.

We dimly realize that we have lost something. But appreciation for the sophistication of oral cultures mostly manifests itself as mindless reverence for traditional wisdom. We look back at the works of ancients and deep down, wonder if humans have gotten fundamentally stupider over the centuries.

We haven’t. We’ve just had some crucial meme-processing software removed from our brains.

Towards a Literacy Renaissance

This is one of the few subjects about which I am not a pessimist. I believe that something strange is happening. Genuine literacy is seeing a precarious rebirth.

The best of today’s tweets seem to rise above the level of mere bon mots (“gamification is the high-fructose corn syrup of user engagement”) and achieve some of the cryptic depth of esoteric verse forms of earlier ages.

The recombinant madness that is the fate of a new piece of Internet content, as it travels, has some of the characteristics of the deliberate forms of recombinant recitation practiced by oral culture.

The comments section of any half-decent blog is a meaning factory.

Sites like are sustaining basic literacy skills.

The best of today’s stand-up comics are preserving ancient wordplay skills.

But something is still missing: the idea that literacy is a cultivable skill. That dense, terse thoughts are not just serendipitous finds on the discursive journeys of our brains, but the product of learnable exposition and condensation skills.

I suppose paying attention to these things, and actually attempting to work with archaic forms like maxims and aphorisms in 2012 is something of a quixotic undertaking. When you can store a terbayte of information (about 130,000 books, or about 50% larger than a typical local public library) on a single hard-disk words can seem cheap.

But try reading some La Rochefoucauld, or even late hold outs like Oliver Wendell Holmes and J. B. S. Haldane, and you begin to understand what literacy is really about. The cost of words is not the cost of storing them or distributing, but the cost of producing them. Words are cheap today because we put little effort into their production, not because we can store and transmit as much as we like.

It is as yet too early to declare a literacy renaissance, but one can hope."
production  jbshaldane  oliverwendellholmes  larochefoucauld  words  aphorisms  comprehension  jargon  wisdom  knowledge  banter  citation  correspondence  conversation  self-indulgence  technology  printing  web  content  composition  civilization  memorization  oralculture  creativedestruction  recitation  history  highculture  popculture  culture  internet  education  2012  gutenberg  text  understanding  condensation  exposition  literacy  communication  language  writing  reading  venkateshrao  unschooling  deschooling  moderneducation  schools 
september 2012 by robertogreco
Swimming with the stars - Five-Minute Museum -
"When I started thinking about it … I realized that in many ways, in the post-war period, Southern California was the ideal of what the American dream was going to look like. At the center of that was the swimming pool, and suburban expansion, and the concept of everybody living in this place that didn’t have the danger of nature, but had all the benefits of the natural landscape. A place that was away from the city, but at the same time felt domesticated. I started thinking about the pool as the central icon of that both real and imaginary place. And it grew from there."
daniellcornell  cindysherman  highculture  popularculture  backyards  suburbia  suburbs  hollywood  nature  design  architecture  art  palmspringsartmuseum  barbarakruger  davidhockney  pacificstandardtime  photography  2012  southerncalifornia  socal  california  swimmingpools 
february 2012 by robertogreco
n+1: How to Behave in an Art Museum
"This is very American. Our purported populism has always made us wary of those claiming, by virtue of their position or education, to know better than everyone else. One thing that’s changed, though, is that this populism, often disguised as the heady skepticism of continental theory, has managed to sneak into the very bastion of elitism, into the places where the aspiring intellectual first learns how to be a pompous snob: academic humanities departments…

The closer we get to the top, it seems, the more likely we are to believe, or pretend to believe, that the ladder we’ve been climbing leads nowhere—is meaningful only to those who stare at its innumerable rungs from below. Self-improvement, we discover, is a sham. We were better off when we were just kids, when we knew what we liked effortlessly, when our passions were not learned. And so we end up in MoMA’s romper room, doing somersaults on the carpet, hoping to return to a state of innocence."
art  culture  hierarchy  timothyaubry  posturing  humanities  skepticism  populism  continentaltheory  cleverness  museums  nyc  highculture 
march 2011 by robertogreco

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