Monday, June 11, 2012

Do you love your book?

To my mind the main contribution of the multimodal movement has been to turn our attention to the broader terrain of meaning-making and to caution us against becoming obsessed with print and what print literacy can do. Some people have interpreted this as a turn away from print (or alphabetic) literacy, but the more intelligent commentaries accentuate how semiotic systems co-exist and interweave. Although this phenomenon is well-illustrated in digital texts, it has a much longer history. In fact you could argue that multimodal communication must by definition predate the advent of literacy. An interesting thought. But you need a socio-historical perspective to chart the rise of the influence of print literacy and particularly the ways in which this has translated into phrases like 'the power of reading', 'a love of books' and the whole notion of reading for pleasure. That particular configuration of power-love-pleasure is particularly influential in the discourses of literacy learning. Is alphabetic literacy powerful? I think you have to concede that it is, and that is likely to continue being so. Do you have to love books? Well not really. I've been brought up in that way, but I love lots of other things, too. I can think of things that might be a lot more useful and enjoyable on a desert island. And what about reading for pleasure? This is an idea which I find rather irritating. Not because reading isn't pleasurable, but because when I hear people say it, and particularly when I hear people talking about 'getting' children to read for pleasure, it seems to have an evangelical ring to it. It almost sounds as if pleasure in reading is a salvation - a turning away from the grosser pleasures of watching TV, playing videogames, supporting a football team and so on. Watch people reading - trains are good places to do this - they don't look as if they're being transported by pleasure (particularly noticeable on East Midlands trains!). No, I think when people talk about reading for pleasure,what they mean is what I call immersive reading. Immersive reading, like being in the zone in a video game, or 'lost' in a role play game is a rather special phenomenon - a sort of absorption in which one is in-between the narrative and the real world. It is socially and culturally significant (and it may also be psychologically important). It is what hooks us into virtual worlds, into good movies, into WoW, live drama and much more. It is our connection with the narrative universe and it just might be an essential part of being human, a way of imagining how things might be different - at different times, for different people, in different places. So I may just have transplanted narrative pleasure in the place of reading for pleasure....well at least that's a start. Let's acknowledge that the book is just one of many ways to get this absorption in narrative. But let's also keep open the question that narrative immersion may not be universal, too.

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