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Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Reading Revolutions
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Clive Thompson talks to the Stanford Study of Writing’s Andrea Lunsford about the astonishing decline super-tumescence of reading and writing:

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization,” she says. For Lunsford, technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it

August 26, 2009 / Uncategorized

2 comments

I *really* liked the bit about kairos:

Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across.

This flexibility isn’t restricted to the boundaries of formal writing. I marvel at the way some people invent and use whole new grammars for themselves on Tumblr, Twitter, whatever. Everything will be in lowercase, there will be crazy extra punctuation, sentences will be split apart into random-seeming shrapnel… but no, it’s not random. There is a merciless internal logic. Some of these personal grammars are seriously like Tolkien with his Elvish script. Hipster Runoff is the ur-example but there are plenty more, and many of them much less self-conscious.

And it’s always a trip when you can follow someone in more than one context, so you get a chance to see them flex their kairos—a no-caps twitter <3 here, a Formal Business Communication there.

The thing about kairos that doesn’t come across in the plain-sense translation Thompson offers is that it’s all about TIME. Timing, the moment of utterance, the moment of the speech, the sense of THIS moment in all of the times and places in history to give THIS speech. If chronos is cosmic time, the structure, the long duration, kairos is the event, the time when Things Happen. Cicero writing to Marc Antony, “you are Rome’s Helen of Troy,” knowing this will be read, out loud, by a reader who does not know what it says, in the Senate when Cicero himself is high-tailing it out of town, that he will be and has been part of the disaster he’s describing … That is kairos.

Writers coming of age today understand kairos because they write in time. And in-time. Has there ever been a moment where non-professionals have had to write so much in such an accelerated sense of fashion? In a not-quite-real-time, but a nearly-synchronized time, which is still the quasi-timeless time of writing?

In fact, I think this is the proper philosophical response to “While I Was Away.” Kairos Amok! (which is to say, chaos.)

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