April 24, 2004

In principle, yes

Camille Paglia owes (the anonymous author of) Semantic Compositions a hug, for his spirited defense of her unsupported generalizations about generational changes in attention span and verbal facility. Not a very big hug, though, because his defense reminds me of the Radio Yerevan jokes that a college friend of mine used to collect:

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev won a luxury car at the All-Union Championship in Moscow?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all it was not Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev, but Vassili Vassilievich Vassiliev; second, it was not at the All-Union Championship in Moscow, but at a Collective Farm Sports Festival in Smolensk; third, it was not a car, but a bicycle; and fourth he didn't win it, but rather it was stolen from him. (loosely adapted from this page)

SC's version is something like this:

Question to Semantic Compositions: Is it correct that "interest in and patience with long, complex books and poems have alarmingly diminished not only among college students but college faculty in the U.S.", because "the new generation, raised on TV and the personal computer but deprived of a solid primary education", lacks "the most basic introduction to structure and chronology", has "degraded sensitivity to the individual word and reduced respect for organized argument", as well as "demonstrably reduced attention span", so that "[s]tudents now understand moving but not still images"?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all...

Read the rest here.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 24, 2004 07:27 AM