It seems only natural that the more information we read and learn about, the more knowledge and intelligence we should obtain. The various new inventions by people with entrepreneurial spirits display the amazing abilities possible through the faculties of our minds. Fresh scientific discoveries open up a wide range of advancements in the medical fields and astronomy. We can look at historical records and documents over the centuries and see human progress. Through literature, the bountiful volumes of different styles, literary theories, and genres shine a light through the window of our past societies. Unending news articles that blanket our newsfeeds in social media and on our televisions increasingly expose all the global events that provide us with understanding certain regions of the world and their cultures.
Indeed, there is the thread of progress woven throughout our historical existence, but there is also a regression. A regression in the way we write, speak, and how we interpret historical texts once we have ascertained the knowledge of whatever era we are studying, as well as what classic literature we are reading. I admit that I am a bit of a grammar and literary snob. When reading online news articles, the typos and incorrect grammar usages irritate me because it distracts me from what the article is trying to address. The errors in news articles online nowadays are astounding. I don’t recall encountering this many twenty or thirty years ago.
Perhaps I’m a privileged fussbudget, but I think it has to do with my upbringing and the several English classes I took while attending business college in my early twenties. It transformed me into what I am today. I’m no expert or perfect, but I try very hard to proofread and edit my writings thoroughly before submitting them for school papers, or here on my blog. It’s possible grammar and English skills aren’t as important anymore. Unfortunately, I have read some articles that say just that. But having read over comments on websites on this subject matter, I am both relieved and saddened. In the quora.com website, a photographer and comic book writer explained how the editing process has changed over time. In the earlier years of newspaper publications, the reporter’s story would be reviewed by the reporter himself/herself and edited by three other people: the desk editor, copy desk, and head editor. Because of financial issues, this method has been scaled down, and it leaves the reporter to do his or her own editing, which obviously has led to errors. I was encouraged to see that he and another writer echo my sentiments. On the same website, a journalist of thirty years said, “It isn’t just online. Print newspapers are getting worse too. Just this afternoon I cringed yet again at the use of ‘principle’ where ‘principal’ was correct. That’s one I see constantly – nobody seems to know the difference any more. And this was in The Globe and Mail, the best newspaper in Canada” (quora.com).
Author, Merrill Perlman, from cnn.com supports these men’s comments, saying, “People reading newspapers and news sites can empathize. They’re seeing lots of typos, as well as errors of grammar, fact, and logic — many more than they would have seen before news organizations decided that they did not need so many copy editors. No other job classification has suffered so many losses as the news business downsizes (except, perhaps, for classified ad takers, who have been craigsdelisted).”
Could this problem in any way be resolved in the future? Honestly, it looks rather bleak, but I hope my pessimism is proven wrong.
You’ve probably noticed the assortment of rich vocabulary and detail in the classic novels of past centuries, as well as personal letters from known authors and historical figures, dwarf most modern works today. Why is that? Have we become too simplistic? Is it the fault of the computer and cell phone age? Has texting shortened our attention span for complete, fuller text and longer sentences? Incidentally, I learned in my linguistic language class that the current vernacular and texting is just the newest way of speaking and communicating. I’m sure we all can see that and know language changes slowly over time, but is it truly for the better? I wonder.
With respect to historical documents, sources, etc., I’ve discovered there is a tendency for many people, especially younger people of college age, to analyze historical people and events through their twenty-first century perspectives, which is called presentism. I mentioned this in a previous blog post. Instead of viewing the persons in their era, in the culture of their time, and their overall writings, sayings, and actions, some people perceive them from a modern viewpoint, and in doing so, judge these historical figures unfairly, and at times, inaccurately. I feel this application has become more intense and common in the past several years. As of late, our Founding Fathers and now Civil War figures have been placed under the analytical lens of the modern mindset. A black and white view rarely works in understanding people before our era.
Because I am a university student, I see this fairly often and can understand it to a certain degree. We know history is written and dominated by the victors and can gloss over past atrocities or negative portions of history to shed the best light possible on the winners. But, of course, the people that came to America in the first century or two (and the centuries since then!) were human beings — which means, in my Orthodox Christian beliefs, imperfect, broken human beings, due to the Fall. Therefore, in judging people’s actions from eras before ours, I believe we should look at the whole of the person. What did he/she say, what did he/she do in history, how did he/she treat others – family, friends, enemies? If they showed mercy, respect, and integrity overall in their lives, then perhaps it would be decent of us to consider them to have been good people who did the best with what they knew and had in the culture in which they lived. Aside from true dictators and murderers that have speckled the map of human existence since the beginning of time that obviously should be judged more harshly, I don’t believe my method is something bizarre or outrageous.
Interpreting literature naturally has a plethora of viewpoints. I wouldn’t expect otherwise. Multiple perspectives on a piece of literature are amazing! But there is a problem if the reader dismisses or ignores the cultural and historical period in which an author lives and writes his/her story. In addition, if the reader ignores or overlooks the intentions or reasons why the author wrote the story at that particular time, a problem can arise. An example of this is what I witnessed in my Shakespeare class. In Shakespeare’s time, only men were allowed to perform on stage, and the relationships between an artist/writer/poet and his patron was special. William Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night for the festival of Epiphany – the twelfth and last night of the Christmas holiday celebrations. In this festival in England at the time, a person is chosen to be the Lord of Misrule for this period of the festival, in which the traditional roles of the people are relaxed, and the world is turned upside down, as it is often described. For example, the royalty dress as peasants while the peasants dress as royalty, and the men dress as women while women dress as men.
In the play, Twelfth Night, the main character, Viola, with her twin brother and the captain of the ship are shipwrecked. Viola believes her brother, Sebastian, has drowned. Without a father or brother to care for her, which was the custom in England at the time – the females were cared for by their fathers, brothers, or husbands – Viola dresses up in her brother’s clothes, calls herself Cesario, and obtains a job as a page boy for the Duke Orsino. The duke is in love with Olivia, a noblewoman. Viola falls in love with the duke, and Olivia falls in love with Viola/Cesario. Amidst this is Malvolio, Olivia’s servant, who is in love with her and believes he is socially higher than his current station in life. A nasty forged letter written by the maid in cahoots with Sir Toby, Olivia’s drunken, rowdy uncle, encourages Malvolio’s delusions. The maid writes the letter pretending it to be from Olivia, surreptitiously saying she is in love with Malvolio. Eventually, he becomes more bold by acting as if he is of higher class than a simple servant, and in confronting Olivia with the letter, finds out from her that she did not write it. Malvolio is made a fool and at the end of the play, leaves in despair.
A few students in class saw the relationships of Olivia and Cesario/Viola and Duke Orsino as transgender or homosexual. If one is following the history of the era, the play written for the Epiphany festival, and the outcome of the play, it seems that all of that would have to be ignored and one would have to put on the lens of our modern era – twenty-first century – to come to that conclusion. Viola knew how to entice Olivia into considering the Duke because Viola, being a woman herself, knew what flowery sayings work in attracting a woman’s interest. The duke fell in love with Viola because of her soft, kind, feminine side. The duke was confused, yes, but the natural attraction of male to female was felt, I believe, between the duke and Viola. Sebastian, Viola’s brother, comes back from the dead, and because they look so much alike, Olivia thinks Sebastian is Cesario. In the end, Viola reveals who she is, and Sebastian explains who he is, which opens the door for the love to flourish between the two couples: Viola and Duke Orsino and Sebastian and Olivia. Hence, at the end of the play, just like at midnight on the twelfth night (Epiphany) of the twelve days of Christmas, people remove their costumes and go back to their regular lives. Shakespeare’s play teaches us that relationships are strengthened through clarity and honesty and not through disguise or delusion.
I think it’s paramount to consider the historical period and culture of the people we study before passing judgments on their actions and written words. In addition, writing novels, plays, short stories, poems, et. al. are considered part of the arts — it is art! Let us strive to make our art as grammatically correct, profound, and beautiful as possible!
“Why are so many online articles laced with typos and poor grammar?” Quora.com. https://www.quora.com/Why-are-so-many-online-articles-laced-with-typos-and-poor-grammar
Perlman, Merrill. “Why ‘Amercia’ needs copy editors.” cnn.com, 1 June 2012. http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/01/opinion/perlman-romney-needs-editor/index.html.
“Twelfth Night.” Religiousfacts.com. http://www.religionfacts.com/twelfth-night