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10.1.03

Did You Catch That?

So shouldn't I celebrate the news that TV shows have more dialogue? Yes, if the talk is there to communicate ideas. Yes, if it means that packing more talk into limited air time means that talk is receiving more emphasis, more pride-of-place, as I have always thought it should have in our understanding of relationships. But not if the dialogue flies by so fast that it cannot be fully processed or even, in many cases, literally comprehended. The general ideas may get through: I'm sure fans of "Gilmore Girls" and "West Wing" can recount each show's plot and theme. But I suspect that their understanding is gleaned from the general march of scenes and the gist of dialogue -- rather than from the subtle nuances of phrasing and the precise wording or sequence of ideas.


I've noticed this speeding-up phenomenon in my own treatment of written materials. The volume of stuff I have to process for academic reasons (not to mention all the additional reading I do for fun on the Brunching board and blogs and the news) has led me to read faster. This isn't speed-reading, where through practice I learn to process things faster and more efficiently. Rather, I sacrifice close and careful comprehension for speed. I let the author do the work of making her ideas jump out to me, and if something is opaque my eyes slide right over it, preferring to keep going and hope I'll come across something more comprehensible than stop and dig into what I've already seen. When I read something that draws me in and makes me slow down, pondering sentences and basking in their meaningfulness, I feel off-balance. I feel like I'm being delayed, wasting time. This really hit me in August, when I re-read The Silmarillion. The last time I had read it was in high school, back when I could spend a month going through a book rather than counting on finishing it in two days. Back then I had been upset at having to reread the Thomas Covenant books at skimming pace because I had a paper on them due in a couple weeks. On my most recent reading of The Silmarillion, it seemed hollow. Maybe some of it can be chalked up to rosy nostalgia about the book, or sociological dissatisfaction with Tolkien, but I think much of it was my reading style. I'm too used to having to sift a mound of crap, that I can't slow down and appreciate it when I've got a known masterpiece in front of me.

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