Why have we none [no grace] for books, those spiritual repasts; a grace before Milton, a grace before Shakespeare, a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen?
—Charles Lamb, “Grace Before Meat” (1823)
(Lamb cedes this extension of “the solitary ceremony of manducation” to “the use of a certain snug congregation of Utopian Rabelæsian Christians,” which is a double shame, first that we don’t specific devotional exercises for specific authors & acts of reading, and second that there isn’t an actual congregation of Utopian Rabelæsian Christians.)
But the movie can’t escape that curse endemic to big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movies: The worlds they create on screen are almost always exponentially more interesting than the stories they tell.
—Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, “The ambitious War For The Planet Of The Apes ends up surrendering to formula,” avclub.com (7 July 2017)
(A follow up to Ss-35/10,000: even in the realm of screened media, the tension between watching & reading is becoming one of antithesis. Some further qualification—
Screen mediums oriented toward the presentation of worlds, like SF films or slow TV, and so made for watching or viewing, can be distinguished, à la Cavell, from those that, like live TV or streaming, present “event[s] standing out from the world,” open to a certain kind of reading: monitoring. One monitors both in hopes of a readable event occuring—e.g., the cataclysmic & apocalyptic social collapse so often represented in SF films—and in hopes of no readable events occuring—e.g., the cataclysmic & apocalyptic social collapse so often represented in SF films. Either way, one monitors at the expense of actually reading.
With respect to viewing & film, the screen is to SF films what the horizon is to environment-poems: it’s “a meeting ground between imaginative and perceptual vision.” On film, SF requires a very careful visual blend of imagination & realism, failures of which are now blamed on an imbalance of CGI & practical effects. But Ignatiy’s sentence is very precise. “Sci-fi” is already a name for hack-work in the realms of narrative & characterization, for the popularization of rudimentary SF conventions, and for their formulaic production. Sci-fi films transform SF worlds into series of events—plot points, character arcs, three-act structures, all of that Blake Snyder stuff—that stand out in such a way as to obscure the viewing process. That’s their curse. The narratives of the purest SF films, 2001, Blade Runner, Under the Skin, approximate a pure viewing experience: wandering through their environments, seeing things that you almost never see on film, in a sequence that mimics spontaneity, breaking the curse.)
People cannot be reading Charles Dickens or Henry James or Toni Morrison and at the same time watching television or a film on VCR, though some people may claim they can do that.
—J. Hillis Miller, On Literature (2002)
(A basic truth, but a hard one that bears repeating, especially if you teach any form of reading: reading, watching, and listening—or even the media consumption habits of protestantism, paganism, and fundamentalism—compete with each other.
ADDED: In case you need to see the above point, as opposed to reading it, here you go.)
Knecht saw a bookcase full of old books which aroused his curiosity. Idle reading was another pleasure which he had unlearned and almost forgotten in years of abstinence. This moment now reminded him intensely of his student years: to stand before a shelf of unknown books, reach out at random, and choose one or another volume whose gilt or author’s name, format or the color of the binding, appealed to him.
—Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, trans. Richard & Clara Winston (1943/1969)
The solution [to difficulty] is to shut up, find a good, hard book and, as the voice of a child of God kept telling St. Augustine, “Take up and read; take up and read!”
—Alex[ander] Zubatov, “Oppressed By Difficulty: Students Are Embracing Identity Politics To Avoid Hard Work,” Independent Journal Review (26 January 2017)
(Cf. Žižek on “the only way to survive.”)
The only way to survive such shitty times, if you ask me, is to write and read big, fat books, you know?
—Slavoj Žižek; qtd. in Taylor Wofford, “Philosopher Slavoj Žižek settles the ‘Is it OK to punch a Nazi?’ question once and for all,” Quartz (27 January 2017)
The book as both object of contemplation and contemplative provocation seeks to restore silence for a distinct purpose: the reader reading becomes adept at deflecting all exhortation posing as information hurled against the slender bulwark of the private act, while attending to the business at hand, silent congress with an imagined world, one distinctly, but never wholly, of the writer’s invention.
—James McCourt, “Afterword” (2006) to What’s For Dinner?, by James Schuyler (1978)