Today in my English class, we were talking about Bakhtin and how he saw writing. There's one level of a story which was for the "common people". Then there was another level, a level of the story that was full of symbolism all the real meaning of the story.
My instructor was telling us about this because she wanted to discuss what literacy is. Sylvia Scribner wrote an essay and said that literacy is three things; literacy is adaptation, literacy is power, and literacy is a state of grace.
My instructor was really hung up on this whole literacy as power thing. Now, of course, I can agree with that to a point. When you are literate (and I don't just mean reading here, I mean communicating with your society as a whole) you do get power. But I don't think that's all literacy is.
We discussed how, in the past, literacy was held away from certain people. Women, African Americans, Irish, the poor, anyone who wasn't deemed fit somehow. It goes back to that Descarte line "I think, therefore I am." From what my instructor said, illiterate people did not think like the literate, and therefore they were not human.
I've never really linked literacy to humanity. You don't have to be literate in the strictest sense of the word to be human. Of course not! That's obtuse. But apparently people thought this way. Probably because of the time period I'm from, I can't really imagine anyone REALLY being illiterate.
In this day in age, it seems to me that most people have some base of education. Naturally, there are a shit ton of people who don't go to college, but that doesn't make them uneducated, I don't think. Likewise, I know people who go to college and they still aren't educated.
By stripping people of their humanity, we are denying them the world. I can agree with that. However, my instructor talked about oral tradition. They seem to hold the statement that "I am because WE are." There is no denial of humanity there.
Perhaps because I am from an individualistic society/culture, I don't understand holding my whole existence on other people acknowledging that I am here. Perhaps because I'm so used to finding my voice and screaming out loud to get noticed, I don't think I could hang my existence on that acknowledgement. I don't know if I could find that fulfilling.
Also, my instructor was talking about how everyone has the right to literacy. Naturally, of they do. Books are not written for a special elite, to educate a group that is already educated.
I write. (Hurr durr.) When I write, I have an audience in mind, I suppose. I don't try and make sure everyone who picks up my "novel" (read: heap of word soup) will understand it. I don't know why I do that. Maybe I always felt like it was patronizing when authors did that?
Is it my responsibility as a writer, to write books that any and all can understand? Or is it the responsibility of the reader to research and figure out what they can't understand?
Toni Morrison wrote Beloved, a prize winning novel. It's very, very post modern and hard to follow if you don't really understand post modernism. And yet, she won all those awards.
I don't know.