Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Reading As A Nonlinear Activity

I had a night out with M.T. Anderson recently. It was more like an hour late in the afternoon, actually. And maybe 80 or 90 other people were also having an hour with him.

Anderson's appearance at Eastern Connecticut University last Tuesday evening was the "public" part of a three-day visit he was doing there. It took the form of a conversation between him and Professor Susannah Richards, who was very well versed in her suspect--M.T. Anderson.

There was all kinds of good information about M.T., but for thought-provoking blog-material, I liked a comment of Susannah's in which she said something about how reading and writing are not necessarily linear activities, though we often teach them that way.

I wanted to think and know more about that whole idea, so I googled "writing" and "linear activity." I came up with a lot of stuff about linear equations. Googling "reading" and "linear activity" got me a little more, a blog post called On Reading and Linearity; or, the virtues of disorganization.

First off, I want to tell you that the Gina Barreca to whom the blogger refers is a professor at UConn, and I've heard her speak. Secondly, I want to say that I wonder if reading in a nonlinear way necessarily means reading in a disorganized way.

For instance, the fact that I know who Gina Barreca is and bring that knowledge to my reading of this blog post--doesn't that add a bit of nonlinear experience to my reading of it? Toward the end of the post, the blogger says, "we don’t read from beginning to end, we skip the dull parts, we read ahead to see if what we’re ploughing through at the moment is really worth it, we attend to the dialogue rather than the description, or vice-versa. We forget what we read a week ago and start over, or we forget and skip forward to something that looks interesting." That does seem to describe a nonlinear process, but is it necessarily disorganized? "Disorganized" suggests that there's something wrong with that reading process. But is there something wrong with circling back and forth, maybe looping through a reading experience? Or is that just reading, period?

When I reread something like Walden, using the same text I used the first time and rereading my notes, and have a far different and better experience, isn't that reading Walden in a nonlinear way? To get anything out of the book, after all, I had to read the thing twice, with intervening years of living and, probably, reading to bring to that second read. Another person who had lived those intervening years differently and read different things during that time might not have responded the same way I did. Is that disorganization because there isn't a set plan to get from unread to read? Or is there a set plan, and I don't know about?

I hope to do some thinking and writing about writing as a nonlinear activity sometime in the future. If anyone has any thoughts on that subject, I'd be glad to hear them.

1 comment:

Jeannine Atkins said...

Gail, I found this interview from the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, focusing on structuring nonfiction (in a non linear way) very interesting: http://www.theopennotebook.com/2011/11/22/rebecca-skloot-henrietta-lacks/