Friday, October 19, 2018

“The fray is the thing”

Wrote that in my notebook this morning — go ahead and use it (attribution is always nice, but I already presume).

Caught up a bit with my father yesterday, and he asked me why podcasts were so popular. My reflexive answer — convenience. I listen to 'em while cleaning the house, or the church. We agreed that neither of us could be bothered with them while sitting down in front of the computer — reading is just that much more efficient.

Reading is just that much more efficient. Is it really? That may once have been the case, but I'm beginning to wonder if the act of reading still merits such elevated status.

My browser history indicates I've read five long-form pieces this morning. In all cases I read the first paragraph. Once I gleaned the gist of the argument, I switched to speed-reading — centre-scanning paragraphs, searching for the element of surprise. Where surprise occurred, I stopped, returned to the beginning of the piece and reread it at a slower pace.

Here are the five links: an interview with novelist Tana French; an interview with playwright Elizabeth Chomko and actor Robert Forster; n+1's editorial on the ruinous ascent of the editorial; a glowing review of Hiking With Nietzsche; and Rich Cohen's meditation on Saul Bellow's Herzog.

I returned and slowed down for the latter two pieces. In the case of Hiking, this was the second time I'd read it. The first time I'd breezed through and moved on. Days later it showed up in several aggregates I follow, prompting me to give it more careful consideration — by the piece's conclusion the second reading struck me as unmerited, but not egregiously so. Cohen's piece, on the other hand, with its character and nuance was worth savouring.

Cohen's piece has my thoughts scattering in different directions. Monitoring Jewish responses to German philosophers is a Mennonite pastime with a very long (by Mennonite standards) history. Also: “character and nuance” — how could those qualities be so evident in this writing and so maddeningly absent in Cohen's short-lived HBO series, Vinyl? Also: I am personally overdue for a re-reading of Herzog. Etc.

Four of these links are arguably devoted to the subject of reading. After I'd read the n+1 piece (missing: the element of surprise) I scanned ArtsJournal for other links of interest (missing: the element of surprise). I closed the browser and meditated some more on Cohen's writing.

It struck me then that argument has become so binary — this is not just the state of our public discourse but our private discourse as well — that there is no longer any sense of intellectual quandary being worked out in real time, or being worked out at all.
"Wait: 'Frasier is the last good sitcom'? AYFKM??"
Intellectual quandary, being worked out in real time — the better podcasts retain this sense, I think, which is one significant reason why they are so popular — at least with me.

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