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robertogreco : larochefoucauld   1

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

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