Note — Dec 04, 2022

Reading as Counter-Practice

Something I’ve said and read often, is that creativity is recombination. An adjacent idea is to “Steal Like An Artist,” as Austin Kleon would say. Here L. M. Sacasas does just that, taking Maryanne Wolf’s conversation with Ezra Klein, a tweet by Molly White citing Vitalek Buterin and Sam Bankman-Fried, some Walter Ong, some Ivan Illich, and mixes the whole thing into a new one.

Instead of ‘just’ trying to re-master the skill of reading long form, something many of us have written about and struggled to do, he goes one step further and proposes reading as counter-practice, “a deliberately chosen discipline that can form us in ways that run counter to the default settings of our techno-social milieu.” In other words, the influence of feeds and speed is not just something to recognise and keep under control, but something that can be constructively counterbalanced by deep reading. I’d go further and make a parallel with meditation, which one can use as a foil to an anxiogenic world, here we’d have deep reading as a foil to predatory attention grabbers.

🤖 Summary Examines the practice of reading, discussing its various forms and the differences between them. It looks at the history of reading and the physical form of the text, exploring how the affordances of the book might be uniquely suited to sustaining deep reading. It also looks at reading as a counter-practice and how reading for pleasure or wisdom can have its own rewards and consolations.

The problem is the further inference that how a text is materially instantiated is a matter of indifference. It is not. The form a text takes is not neutral, rather it changes our experience of the text. Or, to put it another way, the material form of the text mediates our relationship to the text. […]

At the very least, we should be mindful about pairing the kind of reading we set out to do with the most appropriate material form. […]

In these cases, reading is merely instrumental. It is good insofar as it is useful for the sake of some goal that is unrelated to the practice of reading itself. There are many reasons to read and many ways to read. Each may have its place. Sometimes we will read merely to absorb some bit of information. But we should occasionally resist the imperative to optimize all experiences for efficiency, which as a goal has a way of distorting every practice and vanishing all that cannot be quantified. […]

I find it useful in this context to occasionally remind myself that I cannot read everything and that it would not be good for me to try. Better, perhaps, to read fewer things well. As is often the case, acknowledging and embracing our limitations can be freeing.