Brevity lacks a soul

Professor of English Valerie Sanders writes in the THE about a question she’s been asking herself. If her students are going to pay three times as much for their university education, will they put up with being badgered into reading Bleak House or other long novels?

Will they, as her very entertaining piece says before making this serious point, only expect to be taught a more lightweight literary canon (Heart of Darkness, The Great Gatsby, A Room with a View, Treasure Island…).

People are too busy these days, she says, ‘[Some] novels… are just too long for busy people who have to earn money, manage partners and children, drink, blog, tweet and text.’

Well we’ve always done the first four, but she’s really talking about the last three. In her lighthearted way she provokes some crucial thoughts.

About the skewering of the relationship between student and lecturer in a more monetarised HE mileu.

About the infantilisation of serious university subjects if you take your lead from what young people want to receive for their cash, not what an academic expert says is good for their cultural advancement.

And the preposterous concept that ‘social networking’ is preventing people from doing things properly – because they’re too busy social networking.

It would be pretty serious if lecturers were to be overly influenced by youngsters and their obsessions with socialising online. No matter that some young people these days seem more clever and savvy than we were, the majority of them still don’t really understand everything about Facebook et al.

I’ve just come back from Berlin. Taking in a new Stasi archive exhibition I was beginning to wonder what it reminded me of.

A huge, all-encompassing, monolithic organisation that, although hiding its aims, was able to monitor and control a population? The difference between the ‘Ost-punks’ being spied on in 1980s GDR and today’s Lady Gaga fans active on Facebook is that the latter group is voluntarily participating in its surveillance, and having their lives turned into a database for the purposes of money-making by targeted advertising. If you don’t agree read Jaron Lanier’s ‘You Are Not a Gadget’.

And if you apply the ‘novel reading-lite’ concept to another of my favourite pastimes, climbing up mountains, are we therefore going to see new lists of lower peaks to achieve because people just don’t have time to climb Munros any more? That’s absurd.

I’ll have to end here, as I’m off for a walk.


About libraryinfonews

Writer on publishing, books, libraries, mountains, Spain
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