For the Love of Literacy

By February 29, 2016 BlogPost No Comments

I’m currently reading David Foster Wallace’s book of essays, Consider the Lobster. I realize that some will believe that this makes me an unbearable and pretentious snob, and I won’t defend myself from the accusation.

In the essay that I am currently reading, “Authority and the American Usage,” Wallace is reviewing a new book, A Dictionary of American Usage. A guide for the proper usage of language in writing, and I’ve decided that I need to get one of these books. Anyway, Wallace is also taking the opportunity to rant about the bastardization of English. The title page contains full blocks of text in 6 pt font detailing the most egregious uses of the English language that Wallace says he was able to collect over the course of a week. It is clear that for Wallace, literacy is bound up in state of grace and power, though I’m not totally sure where he would stand on adaptation. However, he doesn’t just complain, he discusses (in one of his ubiquitous footnotes) how when he would teach his literature class in which he would “abandon the regular Lit syllabus and have a three-week Emergency Remedial Usage and Grammar Unit, during which [his] demeanor is basically that of somebody teaching HIV prevention to intravenous-drug users.” I really could have used one of those remedial sessions when I first came to college.

I argue that reading Wallace’s books has prepared me for the rigorous nature of academic reading. As someone with a GED and nearly 10 years out of the education system I was ready but not totally prepared for college. Not in the sense of a formal understanding of the rules and usage of writing, and I struggle with the lexical analysis required of college students.

Like, what really is a subordinate clause?

Sure, it makes sense in my head, it’s just that I’m not used to using the language to explain it. But I feel like Wallace, with all of his pretentious grammarness wouldn’t mind my picking apart his work, looking words up in the dictionary and Googling things that I don’t understand. Because I agree that in some cases literacy is a state of grace, especially when it provides an understanding that is unique and revelational. Which I feel like I have received through my education – not matter how I struggle.

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