Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More on Literacy and Imagination

So, in my last post I told you I was going to be part of a roundtable discussion on Literacy and Imagination sponsored by the The Philoctetes Center this past Sunday, and would I lie to you? No, of course I wouldn't, I did the roundtable, and as promised, I'll tell you a little about the event.

First, it was a pleasure to see my friend and fellow media ecologist Bob Logan from the University of Toronto, who got me involved in this event in the first place. We met before the session for lunch and to catch up on things, and it was quite interesting to hear about Bob's latest projects and endeavors. We then headed over to the
New York Psychoanalytic Institute, where the event took place.

It was a pleasure to meet Jonathan Rosen, another participant on the session. Jonathan is a New York City-based author who has written a couple of novels, as well as a delightful little book entitled The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds. Rosen is also the editorial director of the "Jewish Encounters" series of books, a series I have found intriguing--I just got one of those books, Resurrecting Hebrew by Ilan Stavans, for Chanukah.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that another participant had been added to the session at the last minute, Bambi Schieffelin, an anthropology professor at New York University. Here's the write-up about Bambi that was added to the program:

Bambi Schieffelin is Collegiate Professor and Professor of Anthropology at New York University. Her edited books include Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory and Consequences of Contact: Language Ideologies and Sociocultural Transformations. She has published on the introduction of literacy in Papua New Guinea, on orthography debates on Haitian Creole, and on instant messaging. Her current book project, New Words, New Worlds (University of California Press), focuses on the impact of fundamentalist Christianity on the language and social lives of Bosavi people in Papua New Guinea.

Bambi is very much a scholar of orality and literacy, as well as linguistic anthropology, and her research has taken her to Papua New Guinea, much like Edmund Carpenter in the 1960s, and Mike Wesch more recently. And she also has studied how we use language in text messaging and instant messaging. In talking to her about it after the roundtable, Bambi mentioned those wonderful Cingular/AT&T commercials about text message lingo, which really do provide some insight on how new new media have changed our language (a point Neil Postman made about technology in general). Here's the first one in the series:

I love the actress who play's the mother in these commercials, her facial expressions are priceless. Here's another in the series:

So, anyway, the point is that Bambi is a media ecologist, although she may not realize it. And after the event, I went to dinner with Bambi and Bob, and we had a delightful conversation that went on long after the dishes were cleared.

As for the roundtable itself, the set up was unusual, in that we particpants were arranged in a circle around a table, and the audience was all around us, so that some folks were seated behind each one of us, which felt a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure what the rationale for this kind of proxemics might be, but hey, we went with it and it worked out okay. The co-directors of The Philoctetes Center, Francis Levy and Edward Nersessian, also sat with us and took part in the discussion. I don't think they were very happy with the program, to be honest, because they didn't say anything to us after the event was over, but I do think the discussion was lively and interesting, and there was considerable interest from the audience during and after the session.

So at this point you are probably figuring I'll finally get around to reporting on what actually went on during the roundtable. Well, that's not going to happen. You see, it turns out the session was videoed, it even was streamed live--if I had known, I would have told you so in my last post--and you can view the video, even download it, from their website. So, here is the page with the write-up of our roundtable, now with a button you can press to access the video: Literacy and Imagination. And here is the page listing all of their past programs, all of which were recorded (except for screenings), and there is much of interest here--this is truly a great resource: Past Programs.

So, you can watch and/or listen to the discussion, if you care to, and see what you think of it for yourself. Or, you can just read this post, and use your imagination.

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