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Interacting with Print

December 28th, 2009 by Liesl received 2 Comments »
Young Lady Interacting with Print

Young Lady Interacting with Print

While at McGill recently, I walked by a poster still advertising a seminar long since passed entitled Reading and Writing: How Young French Women Interacted with Print in the Eighteenth Century. Now, the research and subject matter interest me greatly: as a media/communications junkie I can’t get enough of debates about the evolution in the way we work, think and live through paradigm shifts (orality < print culture < digital < ???)

But that seminar title really rubs me the wrong way and exemplifies some of the common criticisms of academic study that I hear all too often in the ordinary and business worlds.

Literal, much?

Yes, I can see by the write-up that the seminar itself delves deeper, but the title suggests a depressingly literal approach to the medium. Isn’t it one of the small marvels of the universe that what we’re doing (sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers staring at a screen) and what we’re experiencing (James Cameron’s feeble attempt to steal District 9‘s crown as most kick-ass allegorical film of 2009) can be so very different? So why the “Reading and Writing” prefix if your thesis is going to explore how the ideas these women exchanged in space were vastly more interesting than the rote physical activities society assumed were all they had on their agendas?

Passion, please!

Call me old-fashioned, by I like my academia with the kind of near-inhuman levels of obsession and personal investment that pose a serious threat to personal hygiene. Reading about Indonesian fire toads may be dull as dishwater, but all that can change when you hear someone talk about that topic as if it were their raison d’être. If there’s one thing I learned from an academic environment, it’s that being passionate about what you do is often as important as what you’re doing. Just as “Eating and Drinking: Consumption in Nineteenth Century France” does little to convey the wonder of fine French cuisine, so does that seminar title. You can go for dry without completely desiccating your subject…

St. John Interacting with Print

St. John Interacting with Print

I’m actually really looking forward to following the Interacting with Print Research Group, even if they cut off their coverage at 1900 just when things start getting fun with the rise of newspapers and early film… But I do hope their future seminar topics, titles, descriptions and content are as media savvy as they should be, without such obvious bids for relevance.

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Posted under: Academia, Philosophy, The Arts


2 Responses to “Interacting with Print”

  1. Sophelia says:

    Holy crap is ‘interacting with print’ funny. That’s right up there with ‘engaging with customers’ and being ‘committed to providing quality service’ on my list of phrases that do less where good language would do more. Very saddening, however, to see it in academia when I was hoping it was limited to the corporate world.

  2. Liesl says:

    Hey Sophelia,

    Thanks! I was chuckling about the poster for days…

    Academics taking a current paradigm (e.g. digital) and borrowing its break-out language for the old (e.g. print) in a bid for relevance is a time-honoured Ivory Tower comedy tradition.

    It is just as sacred as the corporate gobbledegook clichés you clearly know and love, although the anachronistic bid for funding makes them just a tad more earnest.