Sunday, October 02, 2005
Reading the introduction in my edition of Gulliver’s Travels, I came upon this sentence:
Very possibly I’m just feeling a bit fragile this weekend, but is not this an unusually pointed, detailed, and insulting swipe at the poor stupid old thoughtlessly consuming reader?
More and scarier instances of unprovoked editorial attacks on the reader’s self-esteem are sought.
(* Is the term “sledging” known outside the cricket-playing nations? It should be.)
See Walter Kaufmann’s editorial notes to his Nietzsche translations, passim.
Laura, Ben Marcus’ article in this month’s Harper’s, alluded to by myself last night and ready to be fully worked up (by me) sometime this afternoon addresses this exact distinction (disdain for the “common” reader vs. the joys of the “textualist” or what-not). Anyhow, I can’t link to it (not online), but I’ll sum up its arguments and such for you a little later.
It should be available through EBSCO and perhaps findarticles.com.com
Not yet, I don’t think. Most print magazines strike deals with electronic archivers to withhold entry until at least two weeks after the magazines hit the shelves. (At least, so said The New Yorker editor David Remnick when he lectured here last year. He may have been talking about his magazine alone, but I didn’t get that impression.)
What an odd potshot at common readers, who are, one assumes, the main audience for the book.
Did Penguin really think that this condescension toward common readers would help with sales?
That editorial comment offends me more than the direct insults of such favorite hostile writers as Baudelaire, Riding, and Bangs. Maybe it’s just the difference between stupid and smart offensiveness? The editor insults us without realizing it; he’s become so captivated by the charms of his own brilliance that he’s forgotten we’re in the room. The curse of the lecturer, I suppose. I prefer my malice deliberate and focused, thank you.
What a nasty touch! It’s not exactly sledging though, is it; because that suggests a game, a tension between balanced forces, and a modicum of wit. It’s just plain snobbery, or indeed bullying: ‘I’m a clever professor, I chose to use my platform to piss upon you proles’. Alas it seems to me to be mroe and more a feature of academia—I mean, on my (staff) side of the fence, here in the UK, there’s an increasingly ubiquitous assumption that all students are disinclined to read, dumbed-down intellectually, sheep-like, prone to plagiary etc. In part this is because of our govt’s on-going policy to bump up undergraduate numbers so that a notional 50% of the population are going to or have gone to university—this has diluted the quality of critical work by students a little. But it’s more just a very ungracious dismissal of younger generations. It’s not good.
Thsi is also a nonsensical charge to lay. One cannot thoughtlessly read; reading requires thought. He means ‘those who read with a less sophisticated and wide-ranging level of thought than I’, which is self-regarding as well as egotistical.
And the students themselves internalize these sorts of attitudes: they characterize the reading they do for pleasure as unimportant, not “real” reading, “escapism,” etc. etc. So they believe that they can either enjoy, or think about, a book, but not both.
It’s all the more unaccountable a thing to say in an intro to Gulliver’s Travels, that’s a book which obviously needs a nonthreatening explicatory apparatus.
I show my students the Ted Danson version. I have the impression that they figure if Sam Malone can understand it, they can.