Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TWO CULTURES....Our little DNS meltdown spared Harold Bloom from feeling my wrath yesterday, but since I'm still annoyed at him today I guess he doesn't get off the hook after all.

The cause of my annoyance is a garden variety op-ed in the LA Times moaning about the decline of reading in the United States. Our country, Bloom says without any particular evidence, "has been split into two cultures for many years...we've always been divisible into readers and nonreaders." And thanks to television and video games, our kids are reading less than ever. The ranks of the nonreaders are growing like a cancer.

Now, this is a bit tedious since we've been hearing much the same doomsday scenario about today's youth for the past few millennia or so usually because today's youth declines to read the exact same things their elders used to read. But this isn't what annoyed me. I'm a lot less concerned than Bloom about exactly what people read, but I too wish people read more than they do.

No, I was annoyed by Bloom's all too typical display of a different kind of blinkered ignorance in his final paragraph:

It's going to be very difficult to change this; perhaps it will never be changed. But I do wish we could keep computers out of their secondary and primary education, and out of their libraries. It would be so much better for them and for all of us.

Look, pal, if you're going to divide the country into two neat halves, at least do yourself the favor of not using the phrase "two cultures" followed almost immediately by a contemptuous reference to computers in libraries. The irony is just a little too rich.

Extolling the value of literature is surely God's work. But if the only way to do it is via a cranky and crabbed dismissal of science and technology as mere obstacles to learning, count me out. I can't think of anything since the printing press that has more potential to spread learning and literacy than computers and the internet, and any literature professor who doesn't get that is demonstrating the same kind of philistinism he abhors in those who don't appreciate his field of study.

So get thee to an internet cafe, Harold Bloom! It is a rich and exciting world that awaits you.

Kevin Drum 6:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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