A literary web journal dedicated to the literary essay sounds pretentious enough to too many who imagine that they are reading when they are only superficially skimming the pages of the texts they throw their eyes at like dice at a craps table. I am not optimistic enough about the fate of our pedagogy, or how it is we teach reading and writing, in fact, what it is we call reading and writing, to imagine that anything remotely similar to what I call reading takes place when most Americans–college educated Americans–point their eyes at a page of words having been written or printed. Teaching as become a craft without apprenticeship, whereas the state can then mandate perpetual apprenticeship through one or another inane curriculum development, principally designed to make teachers more bureaucratically correct than better teachers. Teaching is no longer a profession. People who want to go on to teach literature in High School are better prepared, or so the thinking goes today, if they study not literature, obtaining an M.A. in English Lit, but if they study the pedagogy of teaching lit and get an M.A. in Education with a minor in literature. The absurdity is clear to me, but then the bourgeois Paris audience at the premier of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot rioted in the theater, perhaps unable to unconsciously adjust to having themselves satirized(?) as they were–I would not actually call Beckett’s theater satire, but that is another argument, another essay.
My lack of optimism in the manner and matter of our reading does not mean I am a skeptic in other things, other areas of life, living, reading and writing–my own reading and writing for that matter. I know with confidence that I do read better than many of the educated people I find myself working with, working for, suffering the impossible fears and neurotic responses and reactions that some people have that they might not even be aware of when they interact with someone who is more literate–literacy is feared; actual literacy when it means something other than alphabetics or superficially skimming pages, has always been somewhat feared by those outside the loop of reading deeply and broadly and with an acumen increasingly remote and diminished in numbers toady. I do not know exactly what it is that I should say in defense of a Review written in the manner I write this Review–and that is the assertion of assertions here: I do not write for this Review; I write this Review. But what I should say–what I could say to those whose responses are rooted in fear of the unknown–what they cannot know, reading as poorly as they do, as they permit themselves either out of laziness or another fear, that of discovering who they are, what might be lurking i the shadows that persist inside of them, as dimly lit as they keep that inside, their minds are caverns with tiny candles being blown out in the drafts.
A literary review dedicated to the proposition that all of humanity is created equal would mean what for whom where or when, how? There are still too many who presume being educated when at best they have been indoctrinated . . .
How is this proposition managed in this world where mediocrity has masqueraded as special talent for so long we have really loosened our grip of comprehension on what literacy is, what literacy can do, what literacy has done and should do in a civilization–yes, a civilization? Literacy has been one of the propelling forces of civilization, that is until the management of civilization was left to bureaucrats and money changers. Beware all money changers everywhere–Jefferson’s proscription against banks being more dangerous to a people than standing armies has its origins, in his residual Christianity, in the parable of Christ whipping the money lenders out of the temple. But so much for a society controlled by banks and bureaucrats.
Are we all of us equal–again, how, in whose eyes, before what when where? Certainly we are not all equal as readers, are we? Are they crazy, the editorial staff? I could ask–but again, I am the staff, I am the writing, I am the review. How can I ask, with a straight face, what this review is, can be, will be? The review; this thing meant to capture the conscience of a nation–now that is grandiose, is it not? Nevertheless, this review, it is me, yes, c’est moi. I could say say the same for this review as Flaubert had said for Madame Bovary, the character, not the novel (so sans italics).
Created equal? Puzzling today, is it not? Another mantra of the humanists in their outdated humanism, no? But if equal, how equal, when equal, where equal, under what scrutiny, equal? How are we all of us created equal when what we see day in day out through the entire world is inequality inequality inequality. I am not going to ask how we rationalize our having been created equally? I am not saying it is impossible; I am genuinely asking. There will always remain skills some can perform better than others. Our ethics here at The Falling Leaf Review do not pander to arithmetic or the ledger book or statistics compiled in studies better suited for straw cats, but there is a hierarchy of achievement, of ability, no? Of course there is. I am committed to this idea and ideal.
But what could anyone be thinking who is attempting to publish and promote something like a literary review on line? I have no clue–I expect you suspect where I am going with this. A literary journal, a critical journal, as I have said before in other posts, as part of other essays is something that has a large responsibility; there are obligations in publishing one. There are even more questions to ask and answer than there are obligations and responsibilities; these questions might be straight forward or they may be in the manner of others suited to different angles of perception, perspectives–what are the differences herein assumed for what a journal of this type could be? The posture I take here whe asking these questions is part of the rhetorical and stylistic postures I take when writing for the review. I wear many vests at work.
Is there a market for the kind of reading demanded by the level of writing sustained by any review that assumes the role of a literary review? I hope so, but I am not very optimistic. I am, though, optimistic about my attempts in this review, how I can maintain the level I have assumed is necessary for this review. Can anyone only be a little optimistic. Is optimism really scaling? I know that this contemporaneity has a different idea of what constitutes a literary review than I have. This fostered by what the culture maintains in its standards of literacy or even what it calls literacy, what i other cultures would not ever be referred to as literacy.
How we define literary today must be different, only in as much as how writing and particularly more traditional ideas about literature have come under critical attack. I recall an interesting essay written by Toni Morrison on the absence of reading in our culture, how we are becoming a society, perhaps she meant, of pseudo-educated men and women who have never been taught to read, or how to read, or how one could engage a text, how one could stand alone in face of what literature could mean to any simple separate person coming to grips, terms, an understanding or a truce with his or her mortality, identity, consciousness, citizenship, and so on.
Yes, Michel and Toni, to philosophize is to learn how to die, and the profoundest way we as simple separate persons can philosophize is to read, to sit alone in a room for hours just reading a text and engaging the text and being transformed by the text, not just playing at deforming the text, as so many readers do who really resent what a text could be, or what they fail at even trying, because they have been trained, in an intellectual wrestling for hegemony, that the kind of reading once demanded by the traditions of writing and reading in the humanist west, not the corporatist west, has lost its relevance and valence. The great intellectual lie supported by a generation or more of disingenuous academics has lead to another generation of anti-readers.
Now, the internet often does not lend itself to the kind of writing and reading the literary essay form demands, and that is whether we defer to our contemporaneity on what is literary or we defer to my notions on what constitutes the literary. I am not really as sure that mine differ so greatly from those that are current. I would be deluded, though, if I said yes to the question above about the internet being or not being a medium of higher intellectual exchange or election. When my family made it to my maternal grandfather’s farm in Pittsfield (where Melville had written one-third of Moby Dick; that is, in Pittsfield, and not on my grandfather’s farm), after his funeral, I saw just four books on his shelf. Two were the bible, one in French and the other in English; one was a copy of complete Shakespeare, a large serious looking volume I think I recall having once remembered of it; and the fourth was a rather large volume of Montaigne, but I do not recollect if it were in French or in English or whether it was bi-lingual, as had become more available in the second half of the twentieth century.
Yes, the Bible, Shakespeare and Montaigne; they were it for my grandfather. Anyone literate–that is, anyone with pretensions to being literate or considered literate–only needed to have read the Bible, Shakespeare and Montaigne. That was my mother’s father’s Canon. Mine of course had become broader, but I understand the thinking involved in what my grandfather had left in wordless sign.
We have, in this America of ours, been so systematically undereducated–and we really have been under educated–that we have been left at the mercy of our passions, fires and motions from within that have been malnourished by how we read or dis-read. As semi-literate as most of us are who have been what we call educated, we have little idea what it means to be literate, truly literate, which does point to the possibility that someone can be falsely literate, that is, a man who masquerades as someone literate. We have lost our focus. We have lost sight of the target. We are completely of target.
I do still hope against hope that this could change, that at some time in the future there would rise a generation who decides to throw off the shackles of complacency, and not-enough-as-good-enough, to raise the levels of literacy unilaterally and universally. Then we might see something spectacular in the democratic process and manifest a true democracy instead of the one the monied and power elite hold before us with the help of the media who are fully aligned with money and power elites. Carrots and mules, no?
Is there a market in America for the literary essay? I doubt it; that is, I suspect that reading is not performed very often at the level necessary to engage what we call the literary essay, what I call the literary essay. I am we. The doubt that pervades our thinking in general–and our thinking about what reading and writing are, especially in the ways we separate them as if they were not mutual and reciprocal endeavors–has left us intellectually and cognitively weakened. These mental weaknesses are as debilitating as one or another form of muscular atrophy are to the body.
Ours is a crisis in epistemology, where we are left to believe that knowledge is impossible. Where knowledge is impossible, the man or woman who knows something is held in suspicion; he quickly becomes excommunicate in whatever group, institution, level of society he operates. Let you who is without knowledge cast the first stone. And we stone, don’t we?
This critical journal, this literary review, with its pages of Essays and its blog, where some of the essays are initially worked out, expresses the views of its author, Jay Ruvolo, who is also the Publishing Editor, sometimes referred to as the Editor-in-Chief. The essays are all of them literary in form, and this means what to the reader? There is an epistemological lens that accompanies the kind if reading literary writing demands. Literary writing demands literary reading, no? There are also many essays that focus attention through social and political commentary, although the essays are not primarily or ultimately commentary.
There are also critiques of culture, of language, of art, of music, of history, of historiography, of philosophy, of religion, of media, of film, of people, of behavior, of psychology, of pedagogy, of bureaucracy, of ethnicity, of love, desire, reason, knowledge,literacy. . . what else should I include? Everything? Critique is everything herein. I have collected the essays herein on my desktop in one file titled Critical Condition. I liked the play on words for a collection of literary essays that included social and political critique and exposed social and political problems in a society on the brink, as I would say, at least in one of my more virulent Jeremiads.
Everything is always troublesome; there is no thing closer to nothing than everything. Whenever government administrators say they are going to do something for everyone, they have no one in mind, no one in their sights, no one in their rhetoric, no one is no one is no one. I will not include everything. One could not include everything herein, but in attempting toward everything–and the toward here is important to note–the journal achieves its perpetuation, realizes its purpose. In perpetuity is the desire of its editorial staff, whether that be many or one.
All criticism levied against this review must of course fall in my lap–on me–and so, here at present, this review is one, myself.
Yes, The Falling Leaf Review, c’est moi.