Jewish World Review July 22, 2004 / 4 Menachem-Av, 5764
The reading catastrophe
If you don't read good books, your brain will shrink and you will become a
slave of advertising. Two new studies make this point forcefully.
A survey of
American reading habits notes that Americans now read 14% less literature than
they did in 1992. And another study measuring brain activity finds that people
who don't read respond much slower to situations involving thoughtful
decisions, operating at a level close to lizards. Moreover, lizards have an advantage over humans, in that they don't see advertising and they never watch
television. Lizards will stay lizards, but humans will decay.
Some commentators are
blaming schools because they don't teach literature anymore. Others blame
cell-phones because they are making solitude rare and chatter is replacing all
solitary activities, including reading.
Television, of course, sucks down a huge
amount of leisure time. But if a shrinking brain is not sufficient reason to
pick up books again, consider this: The ability to fantasize and dream is
shrinking right along with the brain.
People who do not fantasize or indulge in
reverie are incapable of envisioning the future, whether it be as opportunity or
just a reasonable analysis of options. The same goes for dreams, whether
hypnagogic or nocturnal. Not dreaming means that you are depriving even your
unconscious of the ability to psychically organize your life. The net result of these
rapidly occurring losses is an emptying of the individual self, leaving people
vulnerable to any and all persuasion from the outside.
Look no further than
the current political scene to see that paid commercials have become the chief
persuader in political campaigns. The candidates themselves are too
uncomfortably "live" to be absorbed by most people. This isn't news to anyone who's
watched the triumph of pure rhetoric over self-interest, but the process is accelerating, and predictions are that
by 2010 the only people still resistant to propaganda will be hiding in the
woods reliving Fahrenheit 451 (by Ray Bradbury, not Michael Moore's political
commercial, Fahrenheit 9/11!)
In Bradbury's book people memorize books and
become "books" because books are forbidden. Obviously, there is no need for the
state to ban books now, we are banning them quite willingly. Not reading
literature means turning away from the nourishing spring that's fed human evolution.
As a writer, I'm worried, of course, about my
sales, but I speak altruistically here. Our schools should start training
literate monks at least as hard as techies because the dark ages are upon us.
WAKEFIELD (meaning "wake up in the field"), Codrescu's new novel, is a
good start for getting back in the groove. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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JWR contributor Andrei Codrescu is a poet, commentator and author, most recently, of "Wakefield". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
03/17/03: The talking carp
01/24/03: Old commies and bohemians never say die
01/02/03: Larry's dream
12/10/02: Notes on the mustache
09/11/02: 9/11 for Allen Ginsberg
06/20/02: Giving insurance to a young life
04/18/02: Advertisers and poets exchange places
03/21/02: Sacred ritual
02/22/02: Invasion of the Nanny-seekers
02/11/02: EMMA GOLDMAN, COME HOME!
02/08/02: The body of liberty
© 2004, Andrei Codrescu.