Books – them selfish creatures #rhizo14

Indian Headdress

Indian Headdress by John Dalkin (C) all rights reserved

Beauty is in the mind and soul of the bereader
Although reading a book might be a different experience every time you read it, it is still an alone experience. The different perceptions and insights we might have when reading the same book at different points in time are conjured up by the reader’s subjectivity, the fact that we are ever-changing creatures – inside and out. It is, nonetheless, an alone process. We could compare the experience to that of listening to a song being played in a very small room, and the sensory experiences that will ensue, and then playing that same song in a very large room, with entirely different acoustics. The sensory experience will certainly be a different one. The same music resonates differently in each scenario. Therefore, it could be said that it is the reader – the human element engaging with the print – that is dynamic, and not the print itself. In that sense, books are indeed limited/ing.
The old becomes the new again
There is a significant connection between ancient oral traditions and internet technology. Both systems operate via networks. There is something about the power of the eloquently spoken word. And its power exponentially increases when individuals experience the spoken word collectively. When a tribe elder gathers the young ones around a fire to tell them stories of their ancestors, I can’t help but wonder whether giving each of them a book containing the same stories would be as rich an experience. You see, it’s not just about the story itself, it’s also about the making of the fire, the way the young ones distribute themselves around the circle, with maybe the older ones sitting right and left of the tribe elder, it’s what they eat or drink during the gathering, it’s what they wear, and maybe, most importantly, it’s the coarse voice of their elder, telling them their own story almost musically, the tempo of the words, one after the other, and the curious questions that the young ones might ask, generating an increased understanding of their tribal identity, of their unity as a group – a network of people.
“As he looks back at archived tribal pictures and sees his young face in the crowd of elders, Pinkham, now 30, understands. ‘I realized it wasn’t something I waited for, it was the development of the mindset that goes along with our people,’ says Pinkham, tribal ethnographer for the Nez Perce Tribe.”    Wyatt Buchanan
Books – them selfish creatures
It may be that the internet – the inter(action) via the net(work) – purports just that connectivity among people, and that can be as powerful as the tribe gathering around the ritualized fire. It might be that once people truly realize how extremely powerful and transformational a tool the internet is in its core, the more digital literacy will become a reality in people’s lives. And that’s where ‘books’ is making us ‘stupid’. If we consider the ability to network, to successfully connect with other individuals and have one’s brain expanded by the learning that results from the engagement, as a critical element of digital literacy, then books might really be doing just that – making us ‘stupid’ in our isolation, alienating us from networking and (re)acquiring all of the necessary skills to thrive in today’s global tribe.
print books = linear  / person <alone>
networks = rhizomatic / people >together<
“…let us put our minds together and see what future we can make for our children…”.
Nez Perce Chief Joseph
Reference nodes:
With much gratitude to photographer John Dalkin, who kindly granted permission for me to use his astonishingly beautiful fractal/photo. Thank you, John!


    1. agree – your writing is so beautiful and you make up such beautiful phrases like “Beauty is in the mind and soul of the bereader”

  1. Goodness this is lovely. It’s close to home for me as I’m just skirmishing in a different context on the misuse of idea(l)s of tribalism in arguments about global education. I was completely bogged trying to think about indigenous storying without just adding to the problem of borrowing culture to make a point.

    For me, this post raises beautiful questions. Thank you so much.

  2. Part of what you say, rings absolutely true to my experience. So many quiet moments with the printed page and now on the printed screen. But part of it does not. I think that the beginnings of reading are social. Or at least it was for my kids. On my lap, in home-made audio recordings, mediated over and over as we read the same Calvin and Hobbes comic strip or back of a baseball card or Wind in the Willows the tenth time. And I feel the social part of reading that this represents is way more alive to me than any amount of being alone with another legible mind on a page. Why is that? It is because books were an instrument of our intelligence, social and otherwise. These books are on tap not top. For me it is that simple. Who’s the boss? You? The book?

    I think that the jury is out yet on whether the internet can be a legitimate surrogate. It is a young pup yet. I will give it some more time. I hear that there is trend in social reading out there. I think I will explore that and see if I can find a similar comradery there that I found with my children. I will play in those fields and see if I can find a tribe that suits.

    Thank you so much for a post that so happily skips among images and cultural history. Love it.

    1. Tellio, first of all, thank you for reading. I love that you brought up your experiences with books and your children… You see, that is not at all the alone experience that books conventionally foster; it is, in fact, just its opposite. Your home-made audio recordings, the batterered Calvin and Hobbes strip, those were your and your children’s scared bonfire. That’s how you, their tribe elder, passed on the tribe mindset to your young ones. You’re absolutely right – books come to life in our engagement with them.
      You’re also so right when you say the net is a young pup. That is, in my view, the very reason why becoming digitally literate is increasingly more critical.
      I too am in a quest for finding my tribe out there…
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, for they truly raised more of the beautiful questions in me.

  3. I am inspired to give you a poem by Wendell Berry who crosses back and forth of the boundaries of the world and text effortlessly. In the end, this is the ‘reading’ I crave, a reading of the world.

    The Peace of Wild Things
    By Wendell Berry
    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

  4. This post and the comments form a lovely conversation and the picture of the tribal storytelling is vivid and inspiring so thanks Clarissa. In the bigger conversation, I wonder how far either/or frames takes us. Reading Terry’s recollection of reading with his children brought back a host of memories of social reading – with my own children , on holidays with friends and family where we each brought books we and others would like then shared them and talked about them.
    I haven’t made my ‘thing’ for this week yet but I am thinking it might answer the question “Is books making us stupid?” with – only if we let them.

  5. Hi Clarissa,
    really like the imagery you’ve created around the tribal traditions of the campfire, the physicality of real life gatherings and the immediacy of oral storytelling comes through strong and true. Compared with books yes, I can see what you’re saying about the social web being much closer to the campfire than the reading of a book (> although, as tellio / terry points out, the reading aloud to children is even more akin to the campfire).

    However, I also think we’re not there yet with the social web, and I wonder if anything on the internet will ever replace the visceral physicality, immediacy, the intimacy of meeting or gathering in-person. And also, I was thinking that different platforms perhaps come closer than others to simulating different types of gatherings. I’ve often thought for example,live synchronous twitter chats (the organised type, not the spontaneous ones) are rather like flash mobs; the ones that you have serendipitously are like the chats you have when you bump into a good friend on the street; Facebook is like going to a family or friend’s party; and Google + is like going to an intellectual book reading where everyone seems engaged in smart and meaningful conversations – and perhaps, just a little bit smarter than you. Blogs, I think might actually be a bit closer to reading a book – or perhaps a letter – yes, there is the potential for engagement in dialogue but it starts with the individual reader reading, thinking, processing in alone, to something that the author has written, most likely, alone. The reader may choose to comment (and usually only if they are familiar with interacting on the social web) – but more often than not, they don’t. And if they happen to comment, the ensuing dialogue (assuming the author replies) is asynchronous, not in real time, not immediate – more akin to writing letters to each other (and waiting for the mail to arrive) – than telling stories around the campfire.

    Blogs do have an intimacy about them that’s different from say, reading an industry article, but I think this intimacy comes from the personal narrative that’s often woven into a blog post, the sharing of an experience – which often invites the further sharing of a related experience from commenters / readers. This is an element that I think blogging has in common with the campfire…but it’s still a world away from the real time physicality, immediacy and synchronous, fluid telling and sharing of stories that makes up that campfire experience.

    I had fun thinking about all this as I wrote this comment – thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Tanya, thank you for reading! You have a strong point when you say we’re not there yet. As a matter of fact, I don’t think we ever will get there, at least not in terms of the intimacy and physicality you pointed out. Nothing will, or at least shouldn’t, replace the visceral experience of gathering with your kin. I love the way you describe your views of the gatherings online, and the analogies with our real-life relations/situations. I, too, love the dialogical aspect of the blogging experience. Indeed, the very reading of a blog entails some alone experience, as in the reading of print books. But let me be a bit provocative, if you will – how alone are we really in our thoughts/reflections on the written input we are receiveing? What I mean is, as subjective senscient beings (humans), we all have experiences that have shaped who we are and our views of things, and which were lived with others, every-day-life people or authors of books, bloggers, etc… The room in which you are listening to the music may have been furnished in such a way that it enables you, and only you, to have a very particular sensation, one that noone else will have, at least not exactly the same as yours. So, even though it is an alone experience, you are who you are as a result of the people you have interacted with, and the experiences you have lived, and the books you have read (hah!). I sometimes think my room is crowded with people!
      I’ll stop now, I think. Sorry for the rambling. 🙂
      Thanks for taking the time to write such an interesting thought-provoking comment. I also had a lot of fun replying to you!

    2. Hey Tanya, i really enjoyed your reply and analogies

      I think, though, that asynchronous communication is diff from letters in the sense that they are broadcast many-to-many,such that ur response to Clarissa here is seen by me and i am responding to it even though i am not the original letter sender. Same for twitter when you stumble upon (overhear?) a conversation and butt in and have a great journey sometimes.
      Twitter chats are great but crazy, aren’t they? I am physically and mentally exhausted after one of those!

  6. Maha – yes! you’re absolutely right about the public nature of blog posts, tweets and other publicly posted content on the web as being fundamentally different to (private) letters, conversations etc. This is something that changes the nature of these interactions – it can open up the conversation to include more people which is awesome, definitely. It can sometimes be a double edged sword thought – people may be more cautious in what they say knowing that it is broadcast publicly. (This might be promote greater reflection before posting or greater inhibition – perhaps depending on the context…)
    This reminds me of all of the issues you brought up in your posts about vulnerability and participation in open, online social platforms…

    Clarissa – interesting perspective to consider the context in which you are reading – it is interesting to consider how this might impact our interpretation or reading. (For me atm, it’s being surrounded by chaos and mess and a 3 yr old watching spiderman cartoons on repeat – a constant reminder I need to get off this computer!…).
    You prompted me to go a bit more ‘meta’ and consider how I got to your post: via a link in FB, which – although I’d not known of you previously – I decided to visit, mainly because of the positive comments from some people I did recognise. So…on that level – why and how we make decisions about WHAT to read, IS participatory and social. this may be more true on the internet than anywhere else, as we use our PLNs as filters to the massive amounts of content we’re presented with.

  7. Reblogged this on Vanessa's Blogueria and commented:
    I was working with Sam Armistead (this post would have enchanted him) on oral traditions (Spanish) right around the same time that I was also becoming involved (connected?) with the internet. Both worlds, so far apart in time and technology, never felt incompatible. I often find myself understanding/explaining networks in terms of oral traditions. This fits so well…another point of Sam’s was that print and oral went back and forth, fed each other.

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