I usually skip the Notebook, that essay that begins each issue of Harper’s, particularly when Lapham writes it. I don’t know why this is. I also usually avoid history. I’ve for so long distrusted its usefulness with respect to the present. And so imagine my surprise to read the following conclusion to what seems to be the last Notebook essay and to come out of it wishing I could read more. More Notebooks. More history:
The more interesting questions [than those regarding what’s lost with new reading technologies] are epistemological. How do we know what we think we know? Why is it that the more information we collect the less likely we are to grasp what it means? Possibly because a montage is not a narrative, the ear is not the eye, a pattern recognition is not a figure or a form of speech. The surfeit of new and newer news comes so quickly to hand that within the wind tunnels of the “innovative delivery strategies” the data blow away and shred. The time is always now, and what gets lost is all thought of what happened yesterday, last week, three months or three years ago. Unlike moths and fruit flies, human beings bereft of memory, even as poor a memory as Montaigne’s or my own, tend to be disoriented and confused. I know no other way out of what is both the maze of the eternal present and the prison of the self except with a string of words.
That’s Lapham. Wish I could link to the full essay but it’s not online, suspiciously. One has to love a use of image in the thick of polemic that would make Orwell gleeful.
Here’s to decreased attention paid to news items linked on friends’ Facebook walls!