[lit-ideas] Re: Can U Read Kant?

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 20:36:44 +0900

On Tue, May 13, 2008 at 7:24 PM, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> So, I keep returning to the title of the review, wondering what the
> reviewer thought he was doing asking this question.  If Bauerlein and
> his desire for canonical texts and big ideas is passe, who cares if
> kids today can read Kant?  If it matters whether kids can read Kant,
> then will a new book reader from Amazon make a difference and perhaps
> Bauerlein has a legitimate argument.  I suspect the reviewer was
> simply being pretentious, but it is still a curious title for this
> review.
The reviewer was competing for audience and, given your response, he appears
to have succeeded, at least in Phil's case. That "U" caught your eye,
disturbed you, drew you into the story—as a title/ad it worked. A review
titled "Can You Read Kant?" would, my adman's instincts tell me, attract far
fewer readers.
Working only from the review, not having read nor likely to read the book, I
have a few questions.  The most important one is the extent to which the
evidence presented demonstrates that fewer young people are reading and
writing in the old-fashioned way as opposed to demonstrating that many more
young people are browsing and chatting and looking for entertainment as
young people with time on their hands have done throughout recorded history
and doing so via the Internet, which broadens the scope of interactions not
all that different in substance from those of crews that hung out together
in pre-Net, or even pre-TV, pre-radio, or pre-print days. A gap between a
relatively small literate elite and a vast, at best semi-literate mass has,
after all, been the norm in societies with writing for all of recorded

Thus, given the philosopher in question, one has to ask how many people ever
read Kant? I would hazard the guess that it has always been less than 1% of
even the serious readers whom Robertson Davies calls "the clerisy." Given
the general increase in the world's population (recently passing
6,666,666,666 sometime) and the spread of literacy in places like China and
India, the absolute number of the clerisy, or even of readers of Kant, may
in absolute numbers be larger than it ever was, while, thanks to the
Internet and the explosive spread of what I would call the semi-literacy it
promotes, the sheer volume of trash has exploded.

In information-theoretic terms, the signal may in fact be stronger; but the
noise level has risen dramatically, so those trying to hear it feel more
than ever drowned out.

Not saying, mind you, that this is the whole of the story. But it shouldn't
be ignored.


John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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