Re: to read or not to read...

Cynthia Haynes (
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 08:39:09 -0600

On Mon, 24 Mar 1997, Marcy Bauman wrote:

> Okay, well, let's start by considering the technology used to
> deliver conference presentations, be they read papers or other kinds of
> sessions. (I'm talking about "reading" as what the audience does, not as
> what the presenter does: If the presenter reads, she's speaking.) The
> advantages of reading over hearing are that when you read, you can go
> back over material, you can mark specific parts of a paper essay,
> you can search for specific parts and skip others, you can write
> elaborations and commentaries in the margin, and so forth. The
> disadvantage of reading (one potential disadvantage, anyway) is that the
> writer and reader are usually at some remove from each other, so that
> immediate (oral) conversation between them is not possible. The
> disadvantages of hearing are that hearing (unless it's mediated by some
> sort of recording technology) is necessarily linear, it usually takes
> longer than reading, and it is ephemeral: once the words are spoken,
> they're gone. We only have what we remember being said, which may -- and
> probably will -- differ from what was *actually* said, because we
> automatically "translate" what was said into our own idiosyncratic idiom,
> so that we can retrieve it and use it later. (If this were not the case,
> memorization wouldn't require such effort.)

I agree, Marcy. That's why I talked about the ways I was trained in
graduate school to listen...I was suggesting that this may be (along with
'delivery') a canon of rhetoric (memory?) that needs to be re-introduced
into our curriculum.

> I'd have been tempted to assume that, given the differences in the
> teachnology of reading and the technology of hearing, we'd all agree that
> texts which are meant to be heard must necessarily be different from texts
> which are meant to be read. But Cynthia's example, which uses a reviewer's
> comments on a written text to problematize our notions of appropriate
> expectations of an audience for spoken texts, leads me to think
> otherwise. What I heard people on this list saying was *not* that they
> wanted conference presentations to be "easy" (in the sense of
> intellectually unchallenging), I heard them saying that they wanted the
> texts to be appropriate for the technology by which they were delivered.
> And I don't think people have been uniformly weighing in against
> texts which are read aloud; one of the texts which was offered as an
> example of a presentation that was thought-provoking was Eric Crump's --
> which was a written text read aloud.

My example was speaking to the issue of the terms, to their having been
put forth as words that had no substance, that made no points, that did
not entertain, that were not beautiful. I used the example to explain the
stakes at risk when people challenge someone's terms as the reviewer did,
"deliberately confusing." I don't see that anyone on the list has done
that, what I wanted to show was how this debate on terms can lead to that
kind of accusation.

> > I
> > think conference attendees might profit from a semester of critical theory
> > which includes problematizing the hegemony of didactic email discussions.
> I'm sorry; I feel I've been admonished when I read this. One of
> the difficulties I have with the assumptions underlying words like
> "problematize" and "hegemony" is that it seems to me that mostly it's
> the "hegemonic" that's "problematized" -- and the hegemonic so often
> seems to be defined as whatever the theorist is arguing against. (Who,
> for example, has ever said -- using those terms -- that hegemony is just
> fine; it's a natural part of life and not something to be
> "problematized"? I'm not sure I'd say that, myself, but my point is that
> *those* words are never used to express *that* viewpoint.) I don't see
> compelling evidence to suggest that didactic email discussions are
> hegemonic. The first question I want to ask is, hegemonic compared to
> what?

Marcy...I'm sorry that my statement made you feel admonished. That was
certainly not my intention for anyone to receive it as such. I was using
the same tactic as Stephen had in the end of his reply to my earlier post.
He had suggested we take a course in public speaking that would force us
to attend to audience analysis. I took his comment to mean that my
notions about the terms issue and the 'reading' issue would be resolved
if everyone took such a course. I was just offering another type of
course that we could benefit from.

> And suppose for a second that didactic e-mail *is* hegemonic?
> What's to be gained by problematizing it? Will we thereby come to
> appreciate the value of dense theoretical texts which are delivered as
> speeches? Will we thereby become better listeners of such texts? Do we
> have to decide that something else is "hegemonic" for that to happen?
> Isn't the underlying assumption here that there's something superior
> about long, theoretically dense texts, and if it weren't for that darned
> didactic e-mail, we'd all agree?

Actually, I was making a joke..I guess it didn't quite come across that
way :) I was simply using the two terms 'problematize' and 'hegemonic' to
bring them into a sentence that wrapped up the post. The didactic part
was also to throw in another high-falutin' word (both of which I had
to look up :)

> OK, that's extreme. But at the least, Cynthia, I hear you saying
> very strongly that audiences need to educate themselves so that they *will*
> understand such texts, and that if they don't understand, perhaps the
> fault lies with them and not with the speaker. Fair enough. But I think
> speakers need to realize that if they're going to read papers that depend
> on familiarity with specific ideas that are expressed in specialized
> terms at a conference where their audiences are going to be composed of
> hearers who may not have the specialized knowledge to follow their
> arguments, they're going to frustrate a lot of people. Perhaps large
> major conferences where the audiences are so mixed are *not* the best
> place to test-drive highly specialized ideas, no matter what discipline
> those ideas derive from.


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