Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Blog Topic”

Valuable reading time

acf8512e10630f1720959e21e0c964f3

I love this bit from Family Guy. This isn’t the first time I’ve posted this pic. Last time I used it in a post musing why I hadn’t read more Dean Koontz novels.

Koontz acted as my archetypal author whom I haven’t read. We all have more books to read than we’ll ever have time to. So there will be some authors who we’ll gloss over or miss. I also made a point about not wasting time on bad books and mediocre authors. Being a nerd I used some math:

  • Let’s use two averages 50 books per year and 100 books per year.
  • Assume average reading lifespan is between age 10 and 80 = 70 years.
  • Assume you only read any one novel once.
  • Assume that you aren’t tragically hit by a car and can’t read.
  • Thus, in a reading lifetime you can read between 3,500 and 7,000 books.
  • There were over 300,000 books published in the USA last year. Over 8,000 in my home country of Australia.

If we do waste time on bad books then the list of authors we’ll gloss over will be longer. We may miss out on something we really love just so we can trudge through something we don’t.

But the best part of posting the pic last time was an author friend sending the post to Dean Koontz. And I still haven’t read Odd Thomas…

Book vs Movie: Logan vs Old Man Logan – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault

Nothing like a comic book movie to analyse for differences. Much less reading. This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix looks at Logan and Wolverine: Old Man Logan.

Logan was a rare treat for me this year. I’m not saying it was a fantastic film that blew me away, more that I actually got to see the movie in the cinema for once. The film itself was okay. Probably one of the better X-Men films, if not the best. The strengths of the film are in it taking on the aesthetics of the Western genre. It’s weaknesses are the not unobtrusive plot holes.

The comic that inspired the movie is vastly different. While also enjoyable, the source material was never going to be adapted to the big screen. Just the number of superhero name rights they’d have to license would have made it an expensive two-hour name dropping session. But it would have been cool to see Wolverine get eaten by The Hulk and then suffer a few digestive problems.

So rather than this being an adaptation, it is more akin to thematic borrowing. Or to put it another way, they looked at the cover and thought that grey and scarred look would be a good idea for Hugh’s final outing as Wolverine. The film has more in common with Shane and Unforgiven than it does with the comic, in a good way. And I suppose if that is the sort of adaptation the movie goes for, it is a better idea than some of the others covered in this series.

And now for a philosophical take on Logan:

News: Short Story Shortlisted

coffeeshoplaptop

I don’t often post news here. Nothing worse than being seen as someone blowing their own trumpet – and is that now officially called a Steve Bannon?

This morning I received an email congratulating me on being shortlisted for a short story award.

Dear Tyson

The KSP Foundation is delighted to advise that your story ‘Flicker’ has been short listed in the Open category of this year’s Ghost Story competition. 

The winners will be announced on Saturday 26th August 2017 at the KSP Writers’ Centre. We would also like to invite you to read your story on the night, to share with our audience. 

With our best wishes and warmest congratulations,

Kind regards,

NB: I’ve edited the email. Unless you wanted the details and directions to the event.

A little background, at the writers’ group I’ve joined we have a monthly challenge. We take a random excerpt from an award-winning novel in the KSP (Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre) library and use it as inspiration for a short story. Knowing that the Ghost Story Competition was coming up, several of us used the monthly challenge as the basis for entries.

I haven’t heard from my writers’ group friends as to whether they were shortlisted as well. But I do know that the judges had huge piles of entries to read, so it will be interesting to see how many there were in total. I’m betting the judges appreciated the word limit.

That isn’t literature too

Paradox - another word for idiocy

I recently reblogged an article from The Conversation about how awesome the Harry Potter books are, but how snobby (some?) literary people are about them. The vitriol and chastisement of the Harry Potter books reminds me of a time when I too was not on the Potter bandwagon. Oh how wrong I was.

Stupid kid’s books. It’s just The Worst Witch with a Chosen One narrative. That’s not literature!

And once again we come to my favourite book chest thumping topic. How worthy is Harry Potter and how wrong have the snobby people been about it?

I think it is worth addressing a few of the arguments that are levelled at JK Rowling and genre fiction in general. Let’s use Rowling as a stand in for all genre authors. Because all genre authors are just as successful and beloved…

Mostly the arguments revolve around Rowling not having the correct goals in her writing. Of course, these supposed goals are rather arbitrary and change depending upon who is deciding what Rowling’s goals should be. Because apparently writing an entertaining book series that sells hundreds of millions of copies, has devoted fans, promotes laudable social principles, and got some kids reading books who wouldn’t have otherwise isn’t enough for some people. They also tend to expect the world from the Harry Potter books, something that I’ll delve into further below.

Take for example this piece by Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian:

Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you’re one of the many adults who don’t have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn’t make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost. Source.

Ugh. I’ve got two words for you, Nicholas Lezard, and they are what your mum should have said to your dad on that fateful day.

There is so much to unpack in that small quote. Lezard starts by insulting fans of the books, then says he isn’t insulting them, then insults them again. Someone who could write a paragraph such as this is self-evidently someone upon whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost. He’s insulting the use of speech identifier verbs whilst failing to understand the audience and style being utilised. If you expect YA to be using the same style as the Man-Booker winners you’re gonna have a bad time.

if-you-didnt-read-the-title-first_fb_526920

But why insult fans, young and old, of the series? Why insult Rowling? Although she is probably insulated from such lowly criticism in her gold-lined money castle. He didn’t like something, he can critique it, but he is forgetting that a literary critique stands on argument, not insulting people for disagreeing with him.

This speaks poorly of Lezard and other such critics. In a previous post I discussed literary people defending Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. But this is Lezard leading a charge against the peaceful village inhabited by the Lesser Works. He has marked himself the despotic bigoted scourge of Fiction Land, seeking to crush all those who would dare be different from him.

Other critics of Harry Potter have argued that the series didn’t do enough to change the world. This piece comes from the unsupported opinions at The New York Times:

But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, U.S. statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along. Source.

Of course, the problem with this argument is that it requires one series by one author to change the lives of all kids worldwide… The article itself cites the series as having sold 325 million copies worldwide in the decade since the first book’s release (a third of that in the USA alone). Out of the 1.9 billion kids and 7 billion people in the world that means only 17% of kids, or 4.6% of people have bought a Harry Potter book (because nobody ever bought the whole series, or two copies of one of the books, or saw a copy in a library). To put that 325 million copies for the entire series in perspective, roughly 175 million people paid to see A film in the cinema that was tenuously about cars. A similar number paid to see the final Harry Potter film. Let’s face it: reading isn’t that popular.

Let’s break this amazing phenomenon down a bit further. There have been several studies that have looked at readers, particularly kids, and how many of them have read the books.

Percentage of kids reading each Harry Potter book

Source

This is a small survey of children (N = 233) looking at Harry Potter fans, but is consistent with other studies and with a Waterstones reader survey the researchers used to validate the small study. You can see that most kids had read the first book, but that quickly dropped off as the series continued. The studies showed that only 25-35% of kids had read all 7 books in the series, with the average fan reading 3.98 books in the series.

Another thing to note is that studies have also found that 46% and 49% had read a Harry Potter book. Or to put it another way, over 50% of kids hadn’t read any Harry Potter books, and many had only tried one (usually the first one). The most popular book series of all time still isn’t read by a majority of people.

But what about JK Rowling’s influence on reading?

This study was of only 650 kids, but it does illustrate that particularly amongst secondary school kids that they were inspired to read. More books, more difficult books, and more fiction – and if someone can point out the difference between non-fiction and fiction I’d much appreciate it.

Another study of a similar size found supporting results:

Many, though not all, of our enthusiasts consider the Potter books a major contributor to both their self-identification as readers and their wider literacy development. Perhaps the most striking change they reported was the confidence and motivation to try more challenging books or more books in general. Thus, the Potter books—particularly the thicker ones—acted as a “Portkey” or “gateway,” transporting readers into the world of more mature fiction. Source.

The increasing complexity and length of the books was cited in both studies as giving people confidence to grow as readers. But it was also noted that one of the reasons given for not reading all of the books in the series was also the increasing complexity and length. In other words you can’t please everyone, especially not kids. Unless you have ice-cream. And the kids aren’t lactose intolerant.

So the problem isn’t that the books are second-rate, nor that they aren’t encouraging people (kids are people too) to read. The problem is that even the most popular book series ever is going to have a limited impact. Rowling has managed to connect with a huge audience – for a book – which has had positive impacts on readers, such that they are more likely to go out and read more books, even the more complex books that keep the literary snobs in a job.

It is a big ask to expect one book series to have improved literacy rates. At the risk of labouring the point – any further – most people don’t read, and most people who do read won’t have read Harry Potter. The problem isn’t Rowling failing to inspire people enough. It isn’t that she wasn’t a good enough writer. The problem is that people love to make lazy attacks on genre fiction. They don’t want to admit that reading is not that popular and that what we have been doing is probably not encouraging new readers. At least Rowling was on the right track.

Why The Hobbit Sucks

maxresdefault

Before anyone starts, I’ve always thought The Hobbit sucked. I was never a fan of the book, so even a semi-faithful movie adaptation was going to underwhelm me. But there are lessons to be learned by writers (and readers) from The Hobbit movies.

Recently I had a series of posts (1, 2, 3) about The Lord of the Rings movie adaptations, in which I discussed how much I enjoyed them. The movies managed to be awesome and cut out the long waffly bits. The movies were better than the book. But what about the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story? Well, here’s a 6 video discussion of the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story!

Just Write/Sage Rants dissects the flaws in The Hobbit movies. The videos highlight some of the more important aspects of storytelling and payoffs for the reader, and how they weren’t well handled.

The Characters – The Dwarves

Tensionless Action

Unresolved Plot Lines

Bad Romance

Philo$ophy of Adaptation

Comments and the Extended Editions

Reading format

ralph-and-chuck-cartoon

One pointlessly heated discussion that seems to occur with painful regularity in reading circles is which book format is superior. Do you prefer audio, or digital, or paper, or papyrus, or clay tablets? Personally I can’t see anyone topping the long-term data retention of carving stuff into stone cave walls. Bit time-consuming for authors though.

When this discussion starts everyone rolls out their usual banal reasoning for their preferred format. Without fail someone will talk about the smell of dead tree books (DTB), or the feel of eviscerated tree flesh in their fingers, or refer to some dodgy research that denigrates e-books. For some reason the reading world is filled with technophobic troglodytes intent on proving that their old-fashioned way of doing things is better.

Currently I read books in three different formats: DTB, e-book, audiobook. I like reading all three formats and they have various advantages and disadvantages. I have many fond memories of dead trees. The time I used one to level a table with an uneven leg. The time I threw one at the TV on election night. The time I used a bag full of them to prop open a door with a hydraulic hinge. Good times. I’m sure I have some fond memories of e-books and audiobooks…

Let’s run through a few pros and cons of the three formats.

DTB Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • They make you look smart/nerdy when you have lots of them on shelves.
  • Can turn to the end of the book to see if that character actually died.

DTB Cons:

  • Being a physical entity they have to be physically moved to your house.
  • Generally more expensive than an e-book.
  • Are heavy and awkward to hold.
  • Hate having tea spilt on them.
  • Can’t stop a .45 slug, despite claims to the contrary.

E-book Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • When you want another you just download it instantly.
  • Everyone thinks you are reading the latest political biography when you are really engrossed in the love triangle between a teenage girl, a 100-year-old pedophile, and a smelly dog (yes I got dragged to the Twilight films by my wife).
  • Text can be resized.

E-book Cons:

  • E-books can’t be used to start a fire in a life threatening situation.
  • E-book files won’t be forever, but the database will be, which means updating your collection.
  • E-readers cost money too.
    • Dedicated e-readers are the domain of avid readers, everyone else can just read on their phone or tablet.
  • Hate having tea spilt on them.
  • E-readers are even less likely to stop a .45 slug.

Audiobook Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.*
  • Can be read when you’re doing something else.
    • Exercising and reading is a personal favourite.
    • Certainly a better way to read when driving.

Audiobook Cons:

  • Can be expensive.
    • Are becoming cheaper in digital versions.
  • Some voice actors don’t have great voices, nor acting.
  • Takes longer to read… unless you read by sounding out the vowels still.
  • Are probably the least likely to stop a .45 slug.

What is my key point out of all of this? If you like reading you will like reading regardless of the format. The medium isn’t the message.

The reality is that we have to stop with the snobbery of the format wars. Every format has benefits to enjoy. Every person I have met who has bravely tried e-books and audiobooks has commented that they were unsure until they made the leap. Then they fell in love with all the formats.

I love books in all their forms, you should too.

*Yeah, go ahead and try and argue that point. I dare you.

How to Write an FAQ

faq-2

Most companies and organisations have an FAQ page these days. What should be a chance to address Frequently Asked Questions often turns into a telling display of the values the company or organisation holds. A lot can be gleaned from the FAQ, and not just opening times and how many health code violations they have accumulated.

Recently I was looking for local martial arts facilities and came across an FAQ page that painted the organisation in a bad light. This isn’t the only poorly written FAQ I’ve come across, but I’ll use some quotes from it as an example.

What you don’t include says as much as what you do include.

FAQs are meant to be about sharing information. Hey, we’re a friendly organisation, just letting you know a bit more about us. So when you avoid sharing information you come across as deceptive as a used car salesman, or as useless as a Scottish underwear store.

How much does training cost?
We do not have contracts or direct debit arrangements; you simply pay the fees to your Branch Instructor at the beginning of each calendar month. You do not pay any fees for months in which you do not train. Our monthly training fees are probably the lowest on average for any mainstream martial art school in Australia.

So, those fees would be how much again?

By not actually including the pricing people can only assume that the fees are ridiculously high, or that they want you to sign over your soul as payment. At least they don’t straight up ask for your firstborn.

Obviously the answer was intended to convey that the fees were competitive to similar services, and that they have easy payment options. They probably didn’t include the pricing because it probably varies by dojo and class sizes. But by not putting these competitive prices in the FAQ it gives the impression that a guy with a curled up moustache will con you into signing up to a ski resort timeshare, while also pressuring you to join up and pay exorbitant fees.

Lesson: be transparent.

What you do say says a lot about you.

If you are a relaxed organisation or business you might include some joke Q&As. If you are friendly you might include some oversharing information to appear personable – or possibly unhinged if you go too far. If you are a jerk then you won’t be able to help yourself.

Can I compete in tournaments?
No. [Our martial art] is a traditional martial art, not a martial sport. We train to perfect technique for real self-defence applications, not for point-scoring or competitions. We believe that, as opposed to the sports approach, the traditional art approach builds physically stronger and more mentally confident practitioners.

So, other martial arts suck?

Nothing makes you sound like a prat more than belittling others…

I’m doing this to help. Not to be a prat. Honest.

Obviously you want to promote your organisation or business, and obviously you think your organisation or business is better than others. But there are ways to do that without walking over to the competitor’s place and taking a dump in the middle of the floor.

This answer could have been phrased in many ways. They could have suggested that their martial art is a good base for moving onto sports applications, perhaps name drop some members who have done that. They could have just left the answer at stating the two are quite different styles of the same martial art, and they focus on the self-defence style. Instead they couldn’t help but stick the boot in and suggest the other styles are crap.

Lesson: don’t be a dick.

How you say something says a lot about you.

There are several ways to say the same thing. There are several ways to skin a cat. If you decide to skin that cat by starting from the tail down, it says one thing, whilst starting once the cat is dead says something else. What the hell did that cat ever do to you anyway?

Can I cross-train in other martial arts?
No. [Our martial art] is a traditional martial art, so all members are expected to show the traditional loyalty to a single master instructor… Bear in mind that our general philosophy is that it is better to learn one art, and learn it extremely well, than to learn several arts to a lower level.

So, I should phone you before I make any decisions? Do I pledge my fealty in writing or by polishing your shoes with my tongue?

What was obviously meant to be a diplomatic answer about the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) and people learning multiple skills, comes off as a decree about slavishly devoting your soul to this martial art and the master. How dare you be unfaithful!

The mindset of telling someone what they can and can’t do in the hours they don’t spend at this dojo is that of a manipulative bully. You will obey. You will conform. And we’re doing it for your benefit, so you will take our abuse and love us for it. You kinda expect them to have a lesson listed on how to be abusive to your spouse or partner somewhere else on the website.

They could have stated that most students don’t cross train. They could have paraphrased some Liam Neeson, ‘You will learn a particular set of skills. Skills you will acquire over years of dedicated training. Skills that will make you awesome at breaking boards.’ Instead they showed themselves to be exactly the sort of people you don’t want to learn martial arts from.

Lesson: don’t be a dick.

Hope that helps.

As Harry Potter turns 20, let’s focus on reading pleasure rather than literary merit

File 20170619 22075 zx0ld5
Platform 9 and ¾, the portal to Harry Potter’s magical world, at Kings Cross in London.
Harry Potter image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Di Dickenson, Western Sydney University

It’s 20 years on June 26 since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the seven-book series. The Philosopher’s Stone has sold more than 450 million copies and been translated into 79 languages; the series has inspired a movie franchise, a dedicated fan website, and spinoff stories.

Goodreads

I recall the long periods of frustration and excited anticipation as my son and I waited for each new instalment of the series. This experience of waiting is one we share with other fans who read it progressively across the ten years between the publication of the first and last Potter novel. It is not an experience contemporary readers can recreate.

The Harry Potter series has been celebrated for encouraging children to read, condemned as a commercial rather than a literary success and had its status as literature challenged. Rowling’s writing was described as “basic”, “awkward”, “clumsy” and “flat”. A Guardian article in 2007, just prior to the release of the final book in the series, was particularly scathing, calling her style “toxic”.

My own focus is on the pleasure of reading. I’m more interested in the enjoyment children experience reading Harry Potter, including the appeal of the stories. What was it about the story that engaged so many?

Before the books were a commercial success and highly marketed, children learnt about them from their peers. A community of Harry Potter readers and fans developed and grew as it became a commercial success. Like other fans, children gained cultural capital from the depth of their knowledge of the series.

My own son, on the autism spectrum, adored Harry Potter. He had me read each book in the series in order again (and again) while we waited for the next book to be released. And once we finished the new book, we would start the series again from the beginning. I knew those early books really well.

‘Toxic’ writing?

Assessing the series’ literary merit is not straightforward. In the context of concern about falling literacy rates, the Harry Potter series was initially widely celebrated for encouraging children – especially boys – to read. The books, particularly the early ones, won numerous awards and honours, including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize three years in a row, and were shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1998.

The seven books of the Harry Potter series, released from 1997 to 2007.
Alan Edwardes/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Criticism of the literary merit of the books, both scholarly and popular, appeared to coincide with the growing commercial and popular success of the series. Rowling was criticised for overuse of capital letters and exclamation marks, her use of speech or dialogue tags (which identify who is speaking) and her use of adverbs to provide specific information (for example, “said the boy miserably”).

The criticism was particularly prolific around the UK’s first conference on Harry Potter held at the prestigious University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2012. The focus of commentary seemed to be on the conference’s positioning of Harry Potter as a work of “literature” worthy of scholarly attention. As one article said of J.K. Rowling, she “may be a great storyteller, but she’s no Shakespeare”.

Even the most scathing of reviews of Rowling’s writing generally compliment her storytelling ability. This is often used to account for the popularity of the series, particularly with children. However, this has then been presented as further proof of Rowling’s failings as an author. It is as though the capacity to tell a compelling story can be completely divorced from the way a story is told.

Daniel Radcliffe in his first outing as Harry Potter in the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001.
Warner Brothers

Writing for kids

The assessment of the literary merits of a text is highly subjective. Children’s literature in particular may fare badly when assessed using adult measures of quality and according to adult tastes. Many children’s books, including picture books, pop-up books, flap books and multimedia texts are not amenable to conventional forms of literary analysis.

Books for younger children may seem simple and conventional when judged against adult standards. The use of speech tags in younger children’s books, for example, is frequently used to clarify who is talking for less experienced readers. The literary value of a children’s book is often closely tied to adults’ perception of a book’s educational value rather than the pleasure children may gain from reading or engaging with the book. For example, Rowling’s writing was criticised for not “stretching children” or teaching children “anything new about words”.

Many of the criticisms of Rowling’s writing are similar to those levelled at another popular children’s author, Enid Blyton. Like Rowling, Blyton’s writing has described by one commentator as “poison” for its “limited vocabulary”, “colourless” and “undemanding language”. Although children are overwhelmingly encouraged to read, it would appear that many adults view with suspicion books that are too popular with children.

There have been many defences of the literary merits of Harry Potter which extend beyond mere analysis of Rowling’s prose. The sheer volume of scholarly work that has been produced on the series and continues to be produced, even ten years after publication of the final book, attests to the richness and depth of the series.

The ConversationA focus on children’s reading pleasure rather than on literary merit shifts the focus of research to a different set of questions. I will not pretend to know why Harry Potter appealed so strongly to my son but I suspect its familiarity, predictability and repetition were factors. These qualities are unlikely to score high by adult standards of literary merit but are a feature of children’s series fiction.

Di Dickenson, Director of Academic Program BA, School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Writer’s Block Solved

EPSON MFP image

More from Grant at his site: http://www.incidentalcomics.com/

More on Writer’s Block.

That isn’t literature

When I think of literature I think of an older guy sporting a greying moustache, sipping a sherry, wearing a smoking jacket, seated in a library of leather-bound books in front of a simmering log fire. The guy speaks with an aristocratic English accent and expounds on the greatness of some book that other older men dressed like him, sitting in similar log-fire warmed libraries, also like to read when not shagging the maid.

man-smoking-jacket

Aspiring literary snob reader

Now clearly not everyone who reads literature fits this image. Some probably can’t even afford a maid to shag. But it does appear to be an image that people aspire toward, an image that informs what they deem literature, and thus what they deem worthy of reading. Rather than judging any written work based upon its lasting artistic merit – although that definition is so subjective as to be useless and ideal for starting pointless arguments…. (cough) – people seem intent on creating boundaries before a work is allowed to be judged. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works.

Normally I’d launch into a whinge about how speculative fiction is unfairly maligned, or how I’ve read crime fiction that has more artistic merit than most literary works. But instead I’m going to talk about graphic novels. In an article on The Conversation, Catherine Beavis explained how the graphic novel Maus came to be part of the literature curriculum.

Despite this explanation there was always going to be someone in the comments telling us how a graphic novel can’t be literature. I assume they wrote their comments whilst wearing a smoking jacket and taking a break from shagging the maid.

Well well……..so it’s art as literature.

Why not a more well-known comic (sorry graphic novel).

Not saying this isn’t a worthy addition to any curriculum, but more as social comment rather than literature.

Surely the novels of great Australian writers should be preferable – Winton, Malouf, Carey etc.

Let’s break these points apart one by one. As will be seen from further comments, the argument primarily revolves around the feelpinion that because graphic novels contain pictures they are art and thus not literature. A similar argument could be made for movies being TV shows and thus we could abolish the Oscars… actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Anyway, I guess we’d better break the news to the literature professors that Shakespeare’s plays need to be taken off of the curriculum.

The argument then moves to the “I haven’t heard of it, so it can’t be good” assertion. Maybe because they realise this isn’t a great argument, they immediately distance themselves from it. But we start to see the worthy argument being formed. I’ve argued many times that worthy is a great subjective argument put forward by people who think they are worthy.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a literary argument if someone didn’t cite some authors they deem worthy. For those unfamiliar with Winton, Malouf, and Carey, they are award-winning Aussie authors who write “interior histories” and about “people rebuilding their lives after catastrophe” and “people who experience death and will never be the same again”. None of those statements could be applied to a graphic novel about someone who survived the holocaust…. No sir.

Their list of worthy authors is as subjective as their comments about graphic novels and Maus. I could similarly ask why the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy isn’t on the curriculum. It has a lot to say about society and has entered the lexicon, which is more than can be said for any of the other authors mentioned nor the graphic novels being shunned. I could say the same again about Superman or Spiderman, which have implanted ideals and phrases of morality into society, regardless of whether people have read those graphic novels or not.

*Steps on soapbox*
I personally welcome any work into the class that will encourage kids to read, think and learn. And to anyone who derides graphic novels, they are clearly saying they don’t or haven’t read any.
*Steps down from soapbox*

The commenter responded to criticism of their subjective opinion:

That may be so, but my bigger point was that literature = words.

This is art with captions.

Not disputing that it may be hugely popular or good (even great)…
but literature it ain’t.

I think the appropriate response to this is a head shake. The problem is the black and white definition of what literature is, whilst ignoring the fact that the graphic novels fit the definition of literature. Pointing out the flaws in these opinions is as easy as saying that graphic novels, with very few exceptions, are composed of words. They also use graphics, but that is often a collaboration between the writer and the artists they work with. Thus, by the definition of “literature = words”, graphic novels are eligible to be classified as literature.

But anything to keep only the “worthy” books in contention as literature. Can’t have that kids stuff being called literary!

So I named three contemporary Australian writers – call me subjective.

I am not knocking the (art) form…just that it (to ME) is not literature.

Your opinion is obviously as valid as mine……don’t get huffy.

The last point here is one that irks me more than irksome irkers on an international irking junket. Opinions are not equally valid. That sort of subjectivism nonsense eats away at reality and suggests we “just don’t know, man”.

The commenter made a subjective list, so I put together some examples that were superior in quantifiable ways (impact on society, entering the lexicon, referenced by society) to show that the subjective claims were more worthless than a $9 note because clearly not much knowledge or thought was put into the claims.

There is also the idea of literary critique and argument, rather than stating feelpinions. I’ve stated an opinion and argued it, offering reasoning. The examples I countered with aren’t necessarily the best choices, but I have justified and quantified my argument, something you learn in high school literature class. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer, so clearly someone in the literati agrees. And surely a Pulitzer prize winner is worthy of being on the curriculum. But of course all opinions are equally valid and “I’m entitled to my opinion”, dammit!

Surely the whole point of literature is that the reader has to imagine the scene described, the way words are spoken, the implications of what is said and much more. It’s all in the mind, which develops through reading.

A graphic novel presents the words and pictures with almost no imagining required. The number of words is hugely reduced to give way to often wasted space. In the example above there are 21 words, which if in normal lowercase type could be written in 10% of the space.

Sorry I’m not convinced graphic novels have any merit for senior students.

Shakespeare’s plays give stage directions and poetry is often deliberately obscure. So how do those examples fit this exclusionary definition of literature? I’m sure some artists would object to the idea that they aren’t conjuring a scene that develops in people’s minds. And is the idea to only allow readers to imagine a scene? Isn’t it about conveying ideas and emotions too? Isn’t this some great mental gymnastics to try to maintain Fort Literature from invasion by the Lesser Works?

The second paragraph is also exemplary of someone who hasn’t read many, if any, graphic novels. So of course this commenter wouldn’t be convinced that graphic novels are of any merit. First they’d have to know something. But that doesn’t hold them back from commenting.

While I’m in the mood for alienating folks, let me also say that this is a good example of dumbing down literature.

Give the kids a picture with limited words and maybe they’ll get the idea.

Don’t kids these days have the attention span to read a novel?

The last graphic novel I read was 480 pages long and took many hours to read. It covered sexual identity, morality, the greater good argument, do evil deeds make us evil, etc, as issues. The last “literature” novel I read was about a woman who manipulated people to get what she wanted. It was ~300 pages long and took many hours to read.*

This argument is typical of people who have a snobbish attitude to something based upon pure ignorance of the topic. Similar statements have been made throughout time, decrying the dumbing down or declining standards of today’s youth. Oddly enough it has been proven false again and again only to be spouted once more.

XKCD on declining writing standards

See the full original here: https://xkcd.com/1227/

There is a similar article on The Spectator – a home for uninformed opinion – which argues that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. Maybe I’ll address that one at some stage when I’m feeling masochistic, but I’m going to leave it there. The maid has arrived.

*This comparison was true at the time of my original comments on The Conversation. I’ve read many graphic novels since, but no further literature novels.

Credibility or Clicks: Bret Stephens and The New York Times

screen-shot-2017-04-13-at-4-22-51-pm-1

When The New York Times hired Bret Stephens many supporters of sound science were concerned. Bret has a history as a climate science denier and disinformer, using his clout as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist to undermine climate science. With the publication of his inaugural column at The New York Times the concerns were confirmed.

Bret’s piece attacks climate science by attempting to argue that nothing can be 100 percent certain, so it is only rational to doubt claims of that sort. Except that is nonsense.

Climate science has never claimed 100 percent certainty. The evidence for human influences on climate is overwhelming, but scientists don’t claim to know anything with 100 percent certainty. That isn’t how science works. Climate science is routinely reported with error margins and uncertainties.

This isn’t the only problem with Bret’s article. He makes many other factual errors, as covered by Dana Nuccitelli and others. So Bret’s article is either deliberately deceptive, or naively uninformed.

It is hardly the first time Bret has been a climate disinformer. In his previous role at the Wall Street Journal he wrote similar articles that sought to undermine climate science and disinform his readers. During a January 23rd 2015 appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, Bret utilized a splurge of cherry picked historical events and reports to discredit climate science. He included the much-debunked 1970s cooling argument, and an irrelevant reference to a fisheries management conference, in his argument that the experts are probably wrong. Just ignore all the evidence. And don’t check Bret’s claims too closely. So being deceptive or uninformed is nothing new for Bret.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Charts of misinformation in opinion pieces during Bret’s time at the Wall Street Journal (source: MediaMatters.org)

Writing an opinion column at The New York Times that is either deceptive or uninformed does not speak well of the credibility of Stephens nor his new employer. Why would a respected news outlet like The New York Times publish a column that is deceptive or uninformed?

James Bennett, an editor at The New York Times defended their original hiring decision in the face of criticism. Bennett said,“The crux of the question is whether his work belongs inside our boundaries for intelligent debate, and I have no doubt that it does. I have no doubt he crosses our bar for intellectual honesty and fairness.”

Yet with his very first column, Bret has shown a lack of intellectual honesty and fairness. So exactly how low is the bar being set?

No credible news outlet could allow one of their opinion columnists to continue to write nonsense for them. Has The New York Times sold their credibility on climate science for conservative clicks? Are they doing this to create sensationalism? In either case, it speaks to the standing of The New York Times that they would use such an important issue in climate change to hurt public understanding of the issue for attention.

Certainly many scientists have decided that The New York Times no longer deserves their subscription (e.g. 1, 2). The response from The New York Times is hardly complimentary to their new slogan “Truth is more important now than ever”. When you respond to scientists who have cancelled their subscriptions over Bret Stephens’ climate disinformation by arguing there are two sides to the debate, or that the scientists can’t stand differing opinions, you wonder if The New York Times understands what Truth actually means.

If The New York Times values truth then they shouldn’t have hired Bret Stephens to write about climate change. If they care about their credibility now they will sack him. But it seems clear that they have sold their credibility for clicks.

Now, about Michael Pollan and how he’s wrong on GMOs and farming.

NB: This post has previously appeared elsewhere.

Readicide

6012327

I have long-held a disdain for the way reading and books are presented in schools. At a time when kids are trying to be cool by gaming, watching the right TV shows, seeing cool movies, Snap-chatting themselves half-naked, and sleeping until noon, schools try to suck all the fun out of reading.

Up until high school kids are more likely to read regularly for pleasure. At high school this rate declines markedly, and doesn’t really recover until retirement (if at all, as I’d argue that the older people making up those Pew survey numbers grew up in an age before internet, decent TV, and gaming). Not only are teens exposed to more other potential entertainment sources, they also find less enjoyment in reading. Something happens in high school. Something terrible. We assign them standardised texts to read!

In his book, ReadicideKelly Gallagher explains why the American system has been failing kids and how to fix it. I think many of the points apply to any nation that utilises an emphasis on standardised testing for schools. Below is a summary presentation that you can navigate to by clicking on the image. Worth a look for any fellow book nerds and/or parents.

download

I don’t actually agree with everything in the overview, namely the idea that classics are classics for a reason. You have to remember that the reason a book becomes a classic is often chance, or because some person reckons it should be, not because it is always good. Plenty of good books have undoubtably been lost in obscurity and thus to history. An example of a book now regarded as a classic that was almost lost to history is Moby Dick. It faded into obscurity after its release and was pretty much forgotten until one literary critic – Carl Van Doren – revived the novel 70 years after its publication. So one guy reckoned it was good, others nodded and agreed with him, and so that means it’s a classic.*

The idea that kids should be reading classics or literary “masterpieces” is part of the problem, in my opinion. This is very much a top down decree of what is important by people who have made a career out of lecturing others on what is important…. to them. Just because they like it doesn’t mean that it will inspire kids to be lifelong readers.

Now, that isn’t to say that those “important” books aren’t worth reading. But it is to say that there is a stark difference between what a literary critic or scholar deems good, and what a kid who just read Harry Potter for the first time deems good. School curriculums would be better off without trying to bash kids over the heads with books they are unlikely to enjoy.

book-graphic

*Yes, I’m being overly simplistic.

Top Posts of 2016

human-era-calendar-feature-image-12082016

Since everyone else is blogging about their most popular posts of the year, I thought I’d jump on that bandwagon. I love bandwagons. Especially if they have drinks.

I’ve been blogging for 6 years now and the views, readers, and regulars has been gradually increasing. So a big thank you to everyone for joining me here.

1) The Actual 10 Most Deadly Animals in Australia

Who’d have thought a listicle would be the most popular thing I’ve written? Originally written for one of those comedy list sites, I’m glad so many have enjoyed this one.

2) Why Being Smart Sucks

I didn’t write this one, just added some colour commentary. Wish I could claim more credit on this piece.

3) Beware The Meme

Before people were aware of what a dangerous kook David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe was, I wrote this piece dissecting his memes. I did try to get this published in a science magazine, but apparently Wolfe doesn’t like people reproducing his content… a lot of which is stolen from other creators. I like that I was ahead of the curve on calling this guy out for his dangerous nonsense.

4) Kids These Days

This article needs to be rewritten and published somewhere with a huge platform. It could then be used as a regular rebuttal to every whiny piece complaining about the younger generation.

5) Cool Book Art

This one clearly ranks high on Google Image searches.

6) Do People In Australia Ride Kangaroos?

One of my trademark snarky Quora answers. Its popularity here shows that I need to write more articles about Australian animals.

7) Pen vs. Keyboard: Fight!

One of a few posts I wrote in response to anti-technology pieces that were being circulated through writing groups. It annoys me when bad studies or preliminary studies are cited as the final answer on a subject. It annoys me more when those same studies are misrepresented because someone is pushing an agenda. I’m glad people actually read this response.

8) How to Spot Anti-Science Nonsense

This article is a response to a question from a reader. It is another article addressing an anti-technology piece that was being circulated, this time on GMOs. A version of it appeared in Skeptic Magazine without the yeti cocaine addict joke.

9) Is Sport King In Australia

When I pitched this article the response was deafening silence. It was also my most down-voted item on Reddit. Apparently we don’t talk about sports negatively. Especially not if you back it up with facts. I’m glad people here have enjoyed it.

10) Mythtaken: Shark Attack Deaths

Another animals article, another poke at how we overstate the dangers of loveable creatures who just want a hug.

Here’s to 12,017: I hope everyone has a good year!

12017

Merry Season’s Holidays!

north_pole_cartoon

From me to you, have an enjoyable festive season.

See you in 2017!

I said what? Kangaroo edition

Recently a video of a man punching a kangaroo that was trying to…. Actually, have you seen the video? Do you reckon it was? I mean, you know. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Anyway, the kangaroo is all over the man’s dog and the man valiantly defends the dog’s honour with a nice right cross.

roo-punch-gif

As a result of this internet sensation, my article on dangerous Aussie animals has become quite popular. In that article I discuss the National Coroner’s data report from 2000 to 2010 and give flippant explanations for the death tolls. Some people liked my article so much that I’m being quoted:

KANGAROO ARE SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS
Kangaroos can seriously injure or even kill a man with their powerful hind legs. As per Tyson Adams*, Kangaroos are one of the ten most deadly animals in Australia. The site ranked buck on fifth place claiming that the species has 18 deaths to its name. It further mentioned that though Kangaroos look loveable and cuddly, underneath that skin lays a nasty, vicious bully.

There are a few things to unpack here:

  1. They don’t mention how ruggedly handsome I am.
  2. Kangaroos do rank in the top ten deadly animals…. but;
  3. Worth noting my explanations of how kangaroos managed to kill people, which was from traffic accidents;
  4. Worth noting that 18 deaths in a decade is officially classed as SFA by the Coroner;
  5. Worth noting that I also referred to kangaroos as modern-day, sleepy, vegetarian, T-Rexes.

While I’m flattered that people are reading and referencing my article it would be nice if they had understood the point I was making. Yes, that would have required the TechPlz people to read the entire piece rather than just the bit about kangaroos, and it would also have meant comprehending how cows could make Rambo look like a cub scout. I feel that they should have been referencing that the 18 deaths were over a decade. Or referencing that they ranked 5th based upon a coroner’s report (with a little artistic license in the rankings from me). Or that citing a coroner’s report doesn’t make the deaths something I’m claiming so much as the official statistics on the matter. Or that Aussie animals aren’t anywhere near as dangerous as we Aussies like to make out. Or that linking to my article would have been nice….. Yeah, it’s mainly the last point: I want the traffic.

I suppose the main thing is they spelled my name correctly.

* That’s me!! Is I famus nowz?

Book reviews: you’re doing it wrong… apparently.

curious-male-fifty-shades-meme-good-writing

It is no secret that I like to write book reviews. Except when I’m sleepy. Or if I’m busy. Or if I get distracted by… Where am I?

Anyway, to my mind, book reviews are about helping people find good stuff to read and promoting authors whose work you’ve enjoyed. Of course some reviewers use it as a an opportunity to break away from the internet commenter stereotype and be jerks to others. This can be frustrating for authors and readers, but about par for the course as far as internet comments goes.

Fortunately an author has written a blog post advising people how to properly review books. Because you’re doing it wrong…

As a reader, reviewer, and occasionally sober writer, I don’t think authors should be telling readers what to do or how to do it, so the post doesn’t sit right with me. Actually, a lot of things don’t sit right with me, especially if they aren’t single malt and well aged.

Who are book reviews for?

You might be forgiven for thinking that writing a book review is primarily to flatter the author, or thank the author for writing an enjoyable book.

Book reviews are for prospective readers; to inform those buyers who are browsing the Amazon bookstore, chatting on Goodreads or following on-line bloggers, to decide if they might enjoy the book as much as the reviewer did. 

The first major point is one I agree with: book reviews are for readers. But maybe not the readers the author thinks. Reviews are primarily about that reader and their thoughts. Sure, they may be trying to communicate with other readers and make recommendations, but let’s face facts, it is mostly just about sharing an opinion. Or is that shouting into the void? I can never remember the difference.

My philosophy on book reviewing – helping and promoting good stuff – is probably shared by many, or not, I haven’t checked. But I see it as an important aspect of being a reader and writer. Thanks to the wonders of technology we have access to more books than we’ll ever be able to read, and some of them are worth reading. Sharing your opinion of a book can help others find stories that will entertain them. Personally I’m not a fan of sharing reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed, just the ones I think others will enjoy reading, but negative and positive reviews are both helpful.

The next points:

What to include:

The best single rule to remember is this: Only write about the actual book!

You can include a very brief outline of the story, but remember the book description is already right there, so consider these points:

Was the story believable, did it keep you engaged right to the last page?

Did the structure of the plot work for you?

If it’s a mystery, was there one?

The characters. Did they seem real, multi-dimensional people?

The author’s writing style. How was it for you?

The first point on this list is, frankly, rubbish. A book does not exist in a vacuum. Well, unless it was taken into space, but why would anyone do that? Unless they are an astronaut, but they’d want the book in the ship with them. Anyway, all art/media is a product of the space it was created in, it has cultural and philosophical underpinnings that are part and parcel. And following on from that, the cultural landscape changes over time and individuals consuming the art/media are going to evolve as a result. So you can’t just write only about the book in a review, you will always bring baggage with you. Want an example? Try watching the original Ghostbusters movie without thinking Bill Murray’s character isn’t just a tad rape-y by today’s standards.

The next points about the story and how it is written are fair enough advice on things you could include. But you could include all or none of those things and still write a good review. The next part is where this blog post gets juicy:

What not to include:

Your possible relationship to the author, however vague.

If you need to reference the author, then use the surname only or call them the author or include their full name. Never use Christian names as it may compromise the validity of the review and some sites will remove them permanently.

Imagine if you saw this review on the latest Dan Brown: Hello Dan love, fabulous book, Five stars!  I expect the vast majority of us would laugh, Dan Brown would most certainly cringe – but most importantly, would this sort of review help you form a decision to buy the book if you’d not read it?

I don’t know about this, I’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno; I’m not sure he knows how to cringe.

There are two points to unpack here: the first is the idea that your relationship with the author doesn’t have any bearing on a review; the second is the idea that you’re trying to help the author sell books. To suggest that there is a way to refer to an author or that you shouldn’t mention conflicts of interest is wrong. If I like someone I will naturally be inclined to think their book is better than someone whom I don’t know or like. Similarly, if I already like someone’s writing, their lesser works are likely to viewed more favourably than a new author’s work.

It also irks me that the blog is implying that the author is off limits for criticism. That is rubbish. If I know that the book or author is controversial, then that will also colour my review and is worth raising. An example was James Frey’s Lorian Legacies series published under a pseudonym. During my reading of I Am Number Four I noticed several very lazy factual inaccuracies and wanted to know who the author actually was. It was then that I found out that Frey had scammed a bunch of writing students to produce the series. Not only did that colour my (lack of) appreciation of the novel, but it was information I felt other readers should know. Because screw that guy.

This links nicely into the next point about reviews helping to sell books. It is true that book reviews help sell books: who’d have thunk? It is also true that if you want to see more great material from an author one of the things you can do is make sure people know you enjoyed the book. But since when is it the reader/reviewer’s obligation to help sell books for an author? Shouldn’t an author be happy that you bought and enjoyed their book? Well, unless you borrowed the book from a library, friend, or got a freebie. I understand the desire of authors to encourage people to review their book/s, and what it can help do in terms of recognition and thus sales, but a review isn’t about selling a book. The review is about the reader sharing their thoughts on a book they have read. Book store clerks get paid, readers don’t. Worth remembering.

The weather! I’m being tongue-in-cheek here but really, no honestly, there’s no need to mention the weather…

How long the book took to arrive in the post, or that it was damaged. This isn’t the fault of the author – stick to reviewing the book.

Likewise, problems with your Amazon account: It won’t download. This is not the author’s fault and should never form part of a book review.

These next few comments are mainly about Amazon reviews and how people talk about the buying of the book in their review. While it is completely understandable for an author to be frustrated with comments in a review that are unrelated to the story they wrote, this recommendation is not only self-serving drivel, it forgets who the review is for. If someone orders a book from Amazon and the shipment is not filled quickly, or won’t download, or the pricing is ridiculous, or the bonus “massager” didn’t arrive with the romance novel order, then that is a legitimate gripe. Other readers on the Amazon store will want to know this stuff. But even if this wasn’t on the Amazon store, there is legitimate griping to be done. For example, in Australia several major publishers price their ebooks based upon the currently available paper version’s price. So if the hardcover is out, you pay hardcover prices for an ebook. Where else but a book review are you going to express your consumer discontent on this? Well, aside from in a blog post like this one. Or if you are talking to one of the publishers at a writers’ festival. Or if you know someone, who knows someone, who is related to a publisher. If the author was raising the point that there needs to be a distinction made been the store’s service, the publisher’s pricing, and the novels, then that would be something I’d support. Along with free hats. Everyone loves a free hat.

Spoilers: giving away crucial parts of the plot and therefore spoiling it for other readers, e.g. I’m glad Susan was dead by chapter three.

Copying and pasting the entire book description – please dont.

And the worst of all: I haven’t read it yet… so one star. Why on earth do sites allow these ‘reviews’ to remain?

Some people really hate spoilers, others love them, others still are ambivalent, others still still will hunt you down and kill you with your own keyboard for posting them. As such there is an etiquette to posting spoilers in a review. If you are an undefeated Muay Thai fighter with a decent ground game, then you can post whatever spoiler you like. If you are anyone else, you can post spoilers as long as you warn people you are going to do it. Then people can read or skip the spoilers to their heart’s content, assuming the Muay Thai fighter hasn’t ripped their heart out of their chest for posting a spoiler.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone post a book review that includes a copy and paste of the book description. If this actually happens then it is either a compliment to the blurb author for capturing the book perfectly so as to act as an appropriate review, or someone needs to learn how to type their own thoughts.

The final point is about the dismissive one star review. Now some people, such as the blog post author, complain about these sorts of reviews are not legitimate. Nonsense. Books have a cover, a blurb, the reader might have read other books by the author, etc, all of which can be more than enough information for the reviewer. For example, let’s say that someone has written a book – fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t really matter – that claims climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, NWO, Zionist Bankers to something something profit-gravy-train. Do I really need to leave a long and extensive review once I’ve read the book? Or can I just point out that it is nonsense? Is that not legitimate comment?

Now these have all been relatively minor gripes to quibble with. Fun fact: Quibbles are the Earth equivalent of Tribbles. Bonus fact: the most famous Quibble currently sits on the next president of the USA’s head.

st_troublewithtribbles

Quibbles and Tribbles aside, let’s talk about complaining about book reviews not being done the way you want when you yourself don’t review books. There is that inspiring – or is that insipid? – quote about being the change you want to see which applies here. The author of the blog post has exactly zero book reviews on their site, not counting the promotion of reviews of their own novels. The author’s Goodreads page has no books listed as having been rated or reviewed. Do as I say, not as I do. I mean, sure, that isn’t demanding at all.

In summary, it’s best to be thankful for readers writing reviews, even the bad reviews.

See also: https://bookstooge.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/i-will-make-them-cry-indie-rant/

 

Are Bob Dylan Lyrics Literature?

43168-1

PBS Ideas Channel had an interesting take on this contentious topic. And as is always the case, it isn’t really that simple.

I’m near the front of the queue to criticise literature for being a dry and dreary form of art that sucks the life out of its audience. But of course, as Mike discusses in the video, literature isn’t as easily defined as my dismissive rhetoric would imply. What defines literature isn’t arbitrary, but it is often about who is defining or classifying a work as such. My criticisms of literature stem from who perform this classifying, as they will often be people like Jonathan Jones – who said Terry Pratchett sucked – who will criticise the literary merits of works they haven’t read. These arbiters of artistic merit (i.e. snobs) like certain things, thus those certain things are worthy. They create lists of these worthy things and tell us we need to read them at school, study them at university, and expound on how much better these works are… until they actually read one of the unworthy ones and have to eat humble pie.

So the literary and artistic merit we often operate under in society is more about what a certain group of people like. But as Mike points out, that isn’t a good definition, and literature, and “good” art in general, are harder to define. Essentially anything can be literature. And even then the status of a work being literary may be revoked, or instated, as tastes change. Thus referring to Dylan’s lyrics as literature is probably about making us all think about lyrics as an art-form, something that has social defamiliarization. Lyrics are, after all, a form of poetry that are no less artful. Maybe this award will help us acknowledge that art/literature is all around us.

Don’t worry Nickelback, your literary award is surely just lost in the mail.

Rise of the Sophists

kierkegaard

Surprisingly this is not a post about a new Terminator movie. It isn’t even a post about the rise of Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson; but let’s mention them for the bonus clicks. This post is actually a short essay I wrote last year as part of a philosophy course I did on Soren Kierkegaard. As you will see there is quite a bit of relevance to the current political and media climate, although looking back as far as Socrates reveals that not much has changed: sophists have undue influence on our society.

What did Kierkegaard learn from his study of Socrates?

Kierkegaard saw parallels between his time and Socrates’ time. Once again there was a rise of Sophists in society, people who knew very little but pretended they did. While it could be argued that the Socratic Method is always relevant in society, Kierkegaard came to see certain aspects of Socrates differently to his peers. He was interested in using the negative as well as drawing people into argument by asking questions from feigned ignorance. These tactics could be used to expose those who were lacking knowledge or understanding.

Kierkegaard expanded upon his interpretation of the Socratic Method and has subsequently influenced many, both in the field of philosophy and thought, as well as wider society. Notably his ideas have influenced things like existentialism and post-modernism, which have influence into such diverse areas as the arts and science. But Kierkegaard was a precursor to modern philosophical movements, as he wasn’t trying to educate or enlighten, but rather stimulate and encourage people to look for the truth.

There is a downside to Kierkegaard’s influence on society. In our modern age we have seen the rise of those who would use Kierkegaard’s negative and questioning as a tool, rather than for helping others find the truth, but for harassment. While the idea behind aporia and maeuetics is to question what we and others know, there is a point at which this stops being about questioning knowledge for understanding and starts being about someone just trying to annoy others.

Obviously this comes down to the intent of the person: are they trying to help others understand, or understand themselves; or are they more interested in having an argument, or annoying someone. But is it subtler? Is it a progression whereby someone has engaged in discussion only to run up against something they disagree with – due to whatever personal bias – and thus use the questioning as an attack or avenue to annoy others? Regardless, those who are trying to annoy are not following the intent of Kierkegaard, nor Socrates, and will miss the essence and benefits of aporia and maeuetics.

Why is this connection between Socrates and Kierkegaard still relevant in the world today?

Much like the parallels Kierkegaard saw between his time and Socrates’ time, there exists a similar parallel today. Once again in the modern age we see the rise of the Sophists. They are our elected officials, they are our media, and through technology they have the ability to reach more people and influence the world.

With more information available more easily than ever, people have come to receive that information in bite sized pieces. Often a headline – which may have been designed more for attracting attention than providing information – will be as much as a person will read about a topic. Our leaders and elected officials are reducing their policy statements to sound bites that can be easily remembered. And while we have this overly simplistic form or information presented to us, we are seeing less critical assessment of the information.

Kierkegaard was correct to look at the rise of Sophists in his time and act to apply Socratic methods to their arguments. By taking the approach of “knowing nothing” and questioning the person presenting information, it can be revealed how little the person actually knows. This is something that our media, and we, are failing to do. By taking the negative position it is possible to force the Sophist to explain themselves.

The most interesting aspect of Kierkegaard’s connection with Socrates is how comedians are applying it today. Irony was something Kierkegaard regarded as an invaluable tool. Today we see comedians such as John Oliver using irony – and other comedic devices – to dissect topics and arguments in the public space. It could be said that the modern Socrates or Kierkegaard comes in the form of the satirist news programs. Their viewers are noted to be better informed about news topics, and this comes from the use of Socratic tools.

A little more on Kierkegaard from The School of Life:

Do we consume media?

encoding_decoding_of_broadcast_structures

It is common for us to refer to books we read, movies and TV shows we watch, and whatever it is we do with news, in terms of consumption. But is that accurate? PBS Ideas Channel has an interesting video on this topic.

I like the idea of decoding as an explanation for how we interact with media. It certainly offers a better explanation for how some people will interpret something completely differently than if they were to merely consume it. Decoding also makes me feel much better about writing violent stories, and that is the important thing here: justifying stuff I already like.

Banned Books Week 2016

infographictopten2015-long

Source: ALA.org

Banned Books Week is an American event, but us Aussies have been known to ban books for silly reasons as well. As such, I think this should be a global event. So read something that some overbearing busybody decided was offensive today.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: