Reading Is (and Is Not) Power

Historically, reading is power.  Rather, reading was an activity limited to those in power.

The Catholic Church refused to allow the Bible to be translated from the Latin (a Power language of the church) to vernacular English.  Even once translated the Church forbade women and servants from reading.

A quick backwards glance will easily illustrate the fact that the Word as written and transmitted is a Kingly operation–it is primarily an accounting tool for many thousands of years (tribute and tax and property).  This is true of religion as well as it is not a distinct organization from state power.  And you can see that this is easily tracked through the centuries as a power class restricts reading from those vast numbers of their serfs–minority populations, slaves, women (no real distinction there) and so on.

Reading and writing is a kind of training for power positions.

Literacy, is another story.

Literacy is capability.  Once there is widespread literacy then there is finally the “What?” of reading.

If reading (writing even more so) is power (control), literacy, the advance of general dissemination of written texts requires management.

Here I will say that the immense amount of writing done now, including this blog, is “dispersal,” of power.

This is both good and bad.

The confusion of tongues allows for easier population control; the glut of writing works in the same way.  It’s easy to hide realities amidst the mass of fictions.

That brings us to the “What?” of reading.  Should we simply read texts that are literally written to be words of Power?

If we read any old thing we “lay waste our powers.”  This is another form of getting and spending.

The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, publishes books they hold to be conservative texts–they encourage this reading in order to “make” one the right kind of conservative; this reading makes your thinking like theirs.  So, they are concentrating reading into a library of Power.

Reading what is “of the moment” tends to be a dispersal of power…our capacity to concentrate a focused attention is further eroded.

Also, there is the “field” of reading to be aware of: advertising in our magazines and our online journals and even in our e-books (whose “reading machines” are simply another conveyance of advertising) place text and imagery within our field of vision so that our minds are able to canvas multiple texts at the same time.  In this way messages are further diluted and conflated with other perhaps competing or contradictory messages.

Proust, by way of contrast, spent 6 years reading and studying Ruskin.

Here is a podcast from the BBC show “In Our Time” about reading that might offer a way to start thinking further about this.

What are you spending your time/mind on?

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