Why Write Books?

Among the many ways to tell a story, what makes books/novels still one of the most effective and useful mediums for delivering a story?

For whatever reason, this question came to me and lingered in my head as I recently read the novel Barometer Rising. The historical nature of the story had me comparing the events of the novel to a news report, documentary, and even to more modern movies that I’ve seen. I can’t imagine any of these, or even other forms of digital story telling would be as effective as communicating this particular story as the technology of a book.

Book stories are slow, they simmer, even the fast paced ones release an aroma that permeates the minds of characters and objects in the novel. BR is filled with the city of Halifax’s presence, until the final explosion. This is significant to the story itself. Messages have rich weight in novels. Many modern digital story telling platforms are fragmented.

Despite this permeation, books are a medium that requires readers to complete the connection between information sender and receiver. Unlike more visual media, the black and white pages force the reader to be active in creating the story in their minds. This activity, this closure, engages readers with the same lure of a black and white photo, enticing a reader into it signal, to fill in the color.

Language alone is a limited technology. However, words strung together can form metaphors that reveal what descriptions cannot. More words combined in paragraphs and scenes, act like cells that form organs and organisms, creating bodies and worlds. In BR each chapter uniquely covers one day in the span of the story – readers are drawn into a world filled with time and duration.

Understanding the people and the place in BR was key to confronting complex messages about the war and the impact it had on North American soil. The character Geoffery Wain made me see that the bored generation of wealthy new world aristocrats, born at the top with nowhere to go, backed and extended the war because it provided them with a hierarchy to climb. Their impact on North American society was as devastating as a bomb on Canadian soil, not only for fanning the flames of war but also for neglecting the promise of a new world, and for neglecting the new type of man and woman born of this continent.

The experience of the Halifax explosion, the significance of the events would be lost on me, were it not sent via book, sliced out of time.

brquicksilver

Secret Consent

The Ghomeshi sexual harassment case of this past year was one where a high profile public figure in Canada was able to walk the line of legality and get away with sexual harassment.

The hinging factor of the legal case, as I gathered from just finishing reading Secret Life, is that of consent. This became clear to me towards the end of the book when the author describes his research into BDSM. In these communities, people are upfront about what they want to do and who they want to do it with, something Ghomeshi usually wasn’t. He used false pretense, surprise, and the threat of guilt to engage with women he desired, in the aggressive manner that suited him. Without consent, he utilized his power and ambiguity of action to get what he wanted.

What stands out to me was that after he jumped and attacked a woman, he would often text them something to the effect of “Oh, if you’re going to be cold now, you are going to make this awkward.” This is manipulation, shifting the responsibility of action onto the victim. He forced people to confront his sexual tastes, rather than the other way around. Manipulative people do this, they find ways to put the ball in your court and then, with clear conscience, claim that you could have acted as you please.

I can’t help notice the role of technology here (texting), that enabled Ghomeshi to maintain a presence and a dialog that ultimately signified consent (in a legal and public opinion sense), without actually getting consent. Technology provides an easy way to maintain presence, yet also provides a way to remain ambiguous – this isn’t good nor bad in itself, except that courts and legal matters need to take such new forms of communication and relationship status into account. As does public opinion.

As a side note, Secret Life is as much an exploration into journalism in Canada in 2016, as it is an account of the JG scandals. I also recently read No News is Bad News, also about journalism in Canada and published in 2016. Both books were well worth the short time it took to read them – I am on the lookout for similar reads.

Modify Temperament

“You view the world through your temperament, but if you’re intelligent you can modify that.”

 

 

This whole interview is very interesting. Someone sent to me last year, and worth a watch, for understanding some of what’s going on in the world today.

In my opinion, Peterson plays around with the idea of ‘conformity’ a bit too freely, but still useful ideas here.

The idea of anti-political correctness is a strange one. For me it seems to stem from the same conformity as blanket PC-ness, which is too often thrown around to disregard someone’s well-thought out decisions and opinions. An opinion is an opinion whether it happens to be PC or anti-PC or not. People believe in stuff.

Negotiating Word Meanings – What is Racist?

I watched this video last week of a discussion between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter about various topics surrounding Donald trump and racism. The topic of “Is Trump a racist?” is interesting in itself, but what I enjoyed most is how the two speakers discuss the meaning of the word “racist” and “racism”.

How has the concept changed over the years? To what degree can a concept be attributed to both a culture and a personality? Does language need to differentiate between the two? How does language communicate ideas that exist on a spectrum (ie: color)?

Debating definitions of words is time consuming, but worthwhile. This discussion is a great example of two people negotiating the finer line of language representation:

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/42339

Language Natives – It’s Complicated

I recently read “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens” by Danah Boyd, a book I sought out because I have two children of my own who will become teenagers a lot earlier than I want and will be prepared to deal with. The book is excellent, Boyd succeeds in providing exploration and explanation of the subject from the teenager perspective. This perspective creates understanding more than critique. I recommend it, even if you don’t have kids.

In one of the final chapters, she tackles the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants. These two terms were popular a decade ago, but haven’t really stuck around since the initial meaning for these concepts haven’t really held up. From the book:

It has become popular in public discourse to promote the idea that natives have singular technical powers and skills. The suggestion that many take from Barlow’s proclamation is that adults should fear children’s supposedly natural born knowledge.

Boyd spends time dispelling but also exploring this idea, and almost shifts the discussion from natives and immigrants to a discussion of literacy. Which I wish she would have. Another quote brings up language and language learning, only to focus back on the native vs immigrant divide:

He [Rushkoff] metaphorically describes the differences in linguistic development between older immigrants and children who grow up in a society who’s dominant language is different than their parents native tongue. He uses the concepts of immigrants and natives to celebrate children’s’ development in the digital age.

The word ‘literacy’ has probably evolved in meaning during my lifetime, and this is where the real distinction lies when we think of how children develop in the digital age – there’s a certain degree or culture of digital literacy that many youth are born into. However, similar to how children learn language incidentally, ‘literacy’ is something that must be learned intentionally. Even still, ‘being literate’ says nothing about the degree to which that literate person can use language.

People learn mother tongues in daily life, starting from before birth. But does this mean for these ‘language natives’ that literacy development will take care of itself? No, because not everyone can write like a novelist or a journalist, and not everyone can give speeches like a sports team coach. People need to learn these skills. The same could be said for digital literacy.

It’s probably true that the concept of digital natives doesn’t offer very much. Digital literates and degrees/specializations of digital literacy might be a better concept to explore.

Casual, Informal Written English

The final lecture is a recap, with some long-term predictions for English from McWhorter. The predictions are cool, and I won’t relate them here, but leave them for him to explain on the recording – which I highly recommend. This is the second time I’ve listened to them, and they are well worth the time. Anyway, I’ll combine my thoughts on the second last lecture with the last one here, as I don’t have all that much to say.

Texting, and all other forms of digital communication, is the development of a casual, informal style of written English. It’s not the disintegration of language any more than casual conversations and friendly chat were. I think most people recognize this, apart from the message board complainers and Andy Rooney who seem to think language reflects some sort of unchanging standard.

So, explains McWhorter, there are the four types of language: written and spoken versions of formal and casual. I like this explanation, as it appears more as a set of language style tools that a culture has, rather than any sort of progression from good to bad or something. Not unlike what I’ve written about for communication technology.

Will casual written language affect formal and how we speak? Surely, some…but people tend to keep formal and informal speaking language separate – so likely casual written language likely won’t create any major shift in the other formal or spoken uses of English. Perhaps, just a centring of balance will occur.

The final lecture is a recap, as I mentioned. It talks about the future of English, and as I think I wrote a few posts ago, I wonder about English as a new Lingua franca, a new Indo-European. There are reasons to predict that it won’t be Chinese, but then again predicting the future hundreds of years off is nothing to go to Vegas about.

This is the final post in this series of notes on John McWhorter’s audio lecture series in Myths, Lies and Half-Truths of the English Language – Link to the first post in this series is here.

Poetry is a Celebration

Poetry is a celebration of language – just more so back in the day than it is now. As evidence of this, and poetry’s higher importance a century ago, McWhorter explains a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1941 (apparently it’s called Rabbit Hunt, if you find it please link in the comments)  where the talking rabbit opens the skit by reciting a few lines of famous poetry, that viewers were surely to recognize. Perry the platypus probably wouldn’t do anything the like, even if he did talk.

Poetry used to be highly structured, even for a highly structured writing style. Over the years the structure of rules and shape lessened, but it also used to be that people could make a living at poetry. Nowadays, not as much. In pact, McWhorter points to a 1991 article that explains how the poetry industry is contrived by produces of poetry. Interesting stuff, but I wonder if it is the highly structure poetry at stake, rather than the a more free flowing style.

Because, despite the seemingly diminishing role of formal, highly prepared poetry, more varieties of this celebration of language seem to have a resurgence of late. Rap music is one example – and even within hip-hop culture, rappers will even measure their prowess on the control over language with a catalog of styles, an unconforming way to break the bounds of structure with a variety of structures.

My best guess is that what could be considered as poetry is heading for a golden age, at least online. That is, if you would consider things like words clouds and infographics as poetry. Maybe a better word is needed, but it’s certainly falls within the phrase a Celebration of Language.

We can only hope Perry’s first words are some dope lyrics.

Link to the first post in this series is here.