- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

Multiculti literacy

“Enthusiasts and self-appointed experts assure us that this new digital literacy represents an advance for mankind; the book is evolving, progressing, improving, they argue, and every improvement demands an uneasy period of adjustment. Sophisticated forms of collaborative ‘information foraging’ will replace solitary deep reading; the connected screen will replace the disconnected book. Perhaps, eons from now, our love affair with the printed word will be remembered as but a brief episode in our cultural maturation, and the book as a once-beloved technology we´ve outgrown.

“But if enthusiasm for the new digital literacy runs high, it also runs to feverish extremes. Digital literacy´s boosters are not unlike the people who were swept up in the multiculturalism fad of the 1980s and 1990s. Intent on encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, they initially argued for supplementing the canon so that it acknowledged the intellectual contributions of women and minorities.

“But like multiculturalism, which soon changed its focus from broadening the canon to eviscerating it by purging the contributions of ‘dead white males,’ digital literacy´s advocates increasingly speak of replacing, rather than supplementing, print literacy. What is ‘reading’ anyway, they ask, in a multimedia world like ours? We are increasingly distractible, impatient, and convenience-obsessed - and the paper book just can´t keep up. Shouldn´t we simply acknowledge that we are becoming people of the screen, not people of the book?”

- Christine Rosen, writing on “People of the Screen” in the fall issue of the New Atlantis

Uninspired

“Sometimes - last year, for instance - the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does a pretty good job of recognizing excellence in film. Sometimes, it does a bad job. This year, it did a very, very bad job. If it was a disappointing year for film, it’s an awful one for the Oscars. …

“The biggest disappointment, though, is the best picture (and director) nominees … with the exception of scrappy ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ the Academy lavished its major awards on a range of high-minded, middlebrow entertainments engineered for Oscar consideration with assembly-line efficiency.

“‘Frost/Nixon,’ ‘Milk,’ ‘The Reader,’ ‘Benjamin Button’ and ‘Doubt’ (which missed out on Best Picture but was buried with acting awards) are by no stretch bad films. But none offered much in the way of spark or inspiration or daring: two faithful adaptations of already-award-heavy plays; one gorgeous but overlong Forrest Gump cousin; an interesting but somewhat remote unpacking of postwar German guilt; and a film about Harvey Milk that, for all its self-perceived courage, comes a decade later than it ought to have and more than two decades after the superior, Oscar-winning documentary ‘The Times of Harvey Milk.’ This may not have been a great year for movies. But it was better than that.”

- Christopher Orr, writing on “Oscar Grouching” on Jan. 22 at the New Republic blog the Plank

Alone again

“Recently, I read in a French newspaper the obituary of a novelist of the 1960s and ‘70s who was quoted as saying that sex and the state ought to have nothing whatever to do with one another. In other words, he was arguing not that what was legally permissible should be extended in such and such a way, the boundaries set there rather than here, but that everything should be permissible, and boundaries abolished altogether; and on his principle, it is hard to see how public authority could intervene in sexual activity short of Jeffrey Dahmer´s.

“Under his dispensation, even rape would be just common assault, no worse than, say, a slap on the face. Readers will not be altogether surprised, perhaps, to learn that the novelist in question died alone, and that his body was not discovered until a month after his death.”

- Anthony Daniels, writing on “Guarding the boundaries” in the January issue of the New Criterion

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