Friday, August 31, 2007

Is literacy contagious?

"Literacy's contageous -- but only, it seems, up to a certain level. Above that level the infective power seems sharply to fall off in strength. In most literate cultures most members are minimally literate, though many may seem more literate than they are. In a nonliterate culture, as long as it stays nonliterate, none is less literate than another. But contact with even a minimally literate person makes a change take place toward literacy. Each begins to become more or less literate than each other...

The cat is out of the bag. Nonliteracy's gone forever. Some may become illiterate by not acquiring literacy at all when literacy strikes, many minimally literate, and comparatively few 'truly' literate (whatever THAT means!). The writer's nonliterate watcher is well on the way to illiteracy. Nothing can be done. In a moment the culture's nature's changed forever. Goodbye, nonliterate bliss! (if that's what it was) -- hello, all the hassles bred of letters..."

Jackson Mac Low, "Pieces O'Six - XIV."
from A Thing of Beauty, ed. Anne Tardos

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