Where Every Stream Begins

He dedicated the following “to [his] . . . father, Dylan Thomas and Montaigne.” That was it. That was all he said at the head after the title, herein the same as the entitlement to this presentation: “Centers and Circles; Post and Lintel.”

I do insist that the kind of critique or commentary or exposition found here in The Literary Review can only be handled (mentalized?) effectively when literacy is raised above the levels we have come to accept as good enough; the emphatic mood is used by necessity, and yes, there is an emphatic mood: Mary says to John, You don’t love me, and John replies, No, Mary, I do love you–the emphatic mood. The ‘do’ in the negative is not a mood indicator; when I say I don’t kiss camels, I have not shifted mood. However. I love you, I should love you, and I do love you are all mood shifts. The first is the Indicative Mood, the second is the Subjunctive Mood and the last is the Emphatic Mood. I could go on, but the task at hand–in hand because I do sometimes write with a pen in hand on paper, sometimes even nib pens dipped in ink wells to scratch across the cotton rag paper I have bought for such writing because the cotton rag is more absorbent . . .

Now let me say, getting back to the original stream . . . I could not begin this essay any other way than how I have here, insisting on literacy having to be raised above what we have considered good enough to be able to manage the critique, handle the rhetoric as well as the allusions and often times the twists the exposition might take–does take.  The emphasis placed at the start supports my claim about how much literacy has been undervalued in our culture; and it has been undervalued. Americans have a talent as well as a penchant for toppling hierarchies, making them vertical when it suits them, which has been used by power to reinforce power, using the toppled hierarchy idea as a way of masquerading as more democratic when in fact the opposite has taken place.

But this penchant for turning hierarchies on their sides has left us prone to toppling them, at least in our minds where hierarchies should be maintained because without the markers of hierarchic achievement in something like literacy, we can only live in a degraded democracy. This leveling off of hierarchic achievement in reading and writing has been especially noticeable in our Public Schools, and most nefariously in the pedagogy that gets developed as an answer to social problems we have traced to a crisis in education, or what we call being educated, not necessarily identical things.

Let us say that we know how we read and write is not good enough–I know that I cannot say otherwise. Not nearly high enough or deep enough has been the mark for too long. Reading and writing should be mutual with one other and reciprocal in a proportionate way. The fact that no one is ever going to read at a level much higher than he can write, or write at level much higher than he can read is a truth I hold to be self-evident. Another fact that I hold to be self-evident is the fact that reading without writing is only half the task of literacy advancement, and yes, without writing, setting one’s self the task of developing higher stages of achievement in writing, one is only half as literate as he could be, and weighs down the the ascent in reading. I have not yet gotten to what happens to the mind, to one’s psychology and a societies mentality through higher and higher advancement in literacy; and what the French call alphabetics is not literacy. Superficially skimming the pages, recognizing words spelled on the page, being able to spell your name correctly and negotiate the tabloid press and/or the network television news is not what I am calling literacy.

This failure of ours in literacy is unilaterally effective, how we separate reading and writing as if they were as categorically distinct as art history is from organic chemistry. Let us not pretend we do not understand what I am saying, and we have become quite expert at maintaining doubt beyond all epistemological usefulness. We often pretend more than we remain deluded. One pretense we maintain is that we need to soften this critique, need to lessen the pressure of the bite. I do not agree. I do think otherwise–I know otherwise. Nothing coming from nothing is a truth we cannot deny or avoid the consequences of . . . and trying to lessen the force of this critique would be a nothing begetting no reform. What then must we do? We have to first imagine that we can know more and that knowledge is possible.

As a result of the kind of attention we pay to literacy and the literary–a learned inattention, as we also learn to use hearing instead of listening whenever we are in forums where speaking to one another is intended to produce some additive effect in our processes of learning, or of educating, or of making some headway in the manner in which we address social problems. Yes, hearing is what we do more often than listening. Superficially skimming the pages of our reading matter is what we do more than penetrating the text, deepening our reading, raising our levels of literacy by following what used to be taught and is believed now to be unteachable–how to read deeply. Moreover, this inattention of ours is a kind of looking away instead of seeing what we need to see, a kind of dropping the baby instead of standing under the child we need to hold, to love, to nourish . . . let us get back to the center of things herein. To understand is to stand under; there is something literal in the framing here, metaphysically, as the metaphysical has correspondence with the physical.

What then do we do when faced with our strife, our disorder, our social fragmentation? With how we read, not very much except emote, misfire, howl, scream, cry, topple, break, burn . . . We opt for the ultimate choice of, we do not know, we cannot know, or everything is a mystery. These are resignations that amount to abdications. Our literacy needs care and an understanding, standing under it as much post to lintel as any architecture can tell you is by necessity imposed.

We need to examine and reexamine our pedagogy–and in a culture of doubt, where doubt has become the highest wisdom, re-examining our pedagogy has amounted to spinning our wheels. The teaching of reading and writing  has been mismanaged by our schools, elementary, middle, and high, as well as by our universities, or more particularly, our community colleges; and more nefariously, by state bureaucracies. First and fore mostly, separating reading and writing into separate sub-disciplines is absurd. State sponsored education is always going to be a mediocre education. The standards are only going to be set at the middle–something I have never been able to get the Soviet pseudo-educated Russian speaker to understand. States are not interested in advacning the people as much as they are concerned for controlling them, or herding them, channeling them, managing them, keeping what they imagine is order–and of course, theirs is the only sense of order they think is necessary to uphold.

The state is never going to sponsor teaching in a way that ensures a greater dissemination of literacy and thereby democracy. I know that this has ben true here, more overtly and perversely over the last thirty-five to fifty years than ever before; so how could it have been different in a place like the Soviet Union? It is a truth I hold to be self-evident, that when overall literacy wanes, or when we allow the State to redefine for us what literacy is, democracy lessens or disappears. Of course, you do understand that one of the cornerstones of democracy is literacy, as literacy is also one of the cornerstones of civilization. By restricting the former, literacy, the latter, democracy, cannot help but shrink in its radius. The circle is closing in; its center will be crushed before it cannot hold. Please, rage against the dying of the light


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