Using Our CARS Skills for a Passage About the Printed Word

Session 06

Link to the full article: https://harpers.org/archive/2018/10/the-printed-word-in-peril/

In February, at an event at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York, while sharing the stage with my fellow British writer Martin Amis and discussing the impact of screen-based reading and bidirectional digital media on the Republic of Letters, I threw this query out to an audience that I estimate was about three hundred strong: “Have any of you been reading anything by Norman Mailer in the past year?” After a while, one hand went up, then another tentatively semi-elevated. Frankly I was surprised it was that many. Of course, there are good reasons why Mailer in particular should suffer posthumous obscurity with such alacrity: his brand of male essentialist braggadocio is arguably extraneous in the age of Trump, Weinstein, and fourth-wave feminism. Moreover, Mailer’s brilliance, such as it was, seemed, even at the time he wrote, to be sparks struck by a steely intellect against the tortuous rocks of a particular age, even though he labored tirelessly to the very end, principally as the booster of his own reputation.

It’s also true that, as J. G. Ballard sagely remarked, for a writer, death is always a career move, and for most of us the move is a demotion, as we’re simultaneously lowered into the grave and our works into the dustbin. But having noted all of the above, it remains the case that Mailer’s death coincided with another far greater extinction: that of the literary milieu in which he’d come to prominence and been sustained for decades. It’s a milieu that I hesitate to identify entirely with what’s understood by the ringing phrase “the Republic of Letters,” even though the overlap between the two was once great indeed; and I cannot be alone in wondering what will remain of the latter once the former, which not long ago seemed so very solid, has melted into air.

What I do feel isolated in—if not entirely alone in—is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying of literature’s light, although it’s surprising how little of this there is, but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable. I first began consciously responding, as a literary practitioner, to the manifold impacts of ­BDDM in the early 2000s—although, being the age I am, I have been feeling its effects throughout my working life—and I first started to write and speak publicly about it around a decade ago. Initially I had the impression I was being heard out, if reluctantly, but as the years have passed, my attempts to limn the shape of this epochal transformation have been met increasingly with outrage, and even abuse, in particular from my fellow writers.

As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers. It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

I think there are several explanations for the anger directed against anyone who harps on the message of the new media, but in En­gland it feels like a strange inversion of what sociologists term “professional closure.” Instead of making the entry to literary production and consumption more difficult, embattled writers and readers, threatened by the new means of literary production, are committing strange acts of professional foreclosure: holding fire sales of whatever remains of their unique and nontransferable skills—as vessels of taste (and, therefore, the canon) and, most notably, as transmitters and receivers of truths that in many instances had endured for centuries. As I survey the great Götterdämmerung of the Gutenberg half-millennium, what comes to mind is the hopeful finale to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. When Guy Montag, the onetime “fireman” or burner of books by appointment to a dystopian totalitarian state, falls in among the dissident hobo underclass, he finds them to be the saviors of those books, each person having memorized some or all of a lost and incalculably precious volume—one person Gulliver’s Travels; another the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Our article this week, from Harpers, is an interesting look at the impact of digital screens on books and our life as a whole!

Jack Westin joins us once again as he breaks down each sentence for you to help you do better on the this section of the exam and rest of the MCAT in general.

Also, check out MedEd Media Network for more podcasts and resources you can use along your medical school application journey!

[02:00] A Quick Note

Read these passages without reading into things too much. And we’re digging into the passages to make you more comfortable and be more aware of the language. As we dissect them, you may get a little lost in it. But never lose track of the bigger picture!

For today’s article, Jack would rate this 13 on a scale from 1-10. You will never get something this dense on your exam. However, the more you read denser stuff, you can read anything. It’s a good way to challenge yourself to make sure you understand the little ins and outs of every sentence presented.

[04:31] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

In February, at an event at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York, while sharing the stage with my fellow British writer Martin Amis and discussing the impact of screen-based reading and bidirectional digital media on the Republic of Letters, I threw this query out to an audience that I estimate was about three hundred strong: “Have any of you been reading anything by Norman Mailer in the past year?”

Jack says:

So a couple names mentioned here. The other stuff there is just fluff. Digital may remind us of computer or technology maybe.

[05:55] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2-3

After a while, one hand went up, then another tentatively semi-elevated. Frankly I was surprised it was that many.

Jack says:

Seems like not a lot of people are raising their hand. We don’t know why, but what we know is there aren’t many who raised their hands. And the author assumes not a lot of people are reading.

[07:44] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

Of course, there are good reasons why Mailer in particular should suffer posthumous obscurity with such alacrity: his brand of male essentialist braggadocio is arguably extraneous in the age of Trump, Weinstein, and fourth-wave feminism.

Jack says:

Basically, he’s not relevant at this time. Lots of difficult words here but that doesn’t matter. As long as you realize the author is comparing Mailer to Trump, Weinstein, and it’s like a male-centered bragging kind of thing, then you’re fine.

[09:40] Paragraph 1, Sentence 5

Moreover, Mailer’s brilliance, such as it was, seemed, even at the time he wrote, to be sparks struck by a steely intellect against the tortuous rocks of a particular age, even though he labored tirelessly to the very end, principally as the booster of his own reputation.

Jack says:

The author is talking about Mailer’s brilliance. As long as you catch into this, the rest of the sentence is not important in the grand scheme of things. The key here is to just focus on what you understand. Re-reading is not a good idea unless you want to go back to the passage. Doing so won’t help you. Sure, you may understand a bit better, but not enough to make a big difference on your score.

Back to the sentence, it suggests Mailer was a brilliant writer and it’s based upon the fact that he was writing in a bad time. Then this boosted his reputation.

[13:20] What Paragraph 1 Means:

The big picture of this paragraph is that nobody reads Normal Mailer anymore because, with the big audience, nobody had read him.

[13:53] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

It’s also true that, as J. G. Ballard sagely remarked, for a writer, death is always a career move, and for most of us the move is a demotion, as we’re simultaneously lowered into the grave and our works into the dustbin.

Jack says:

We have a new name here. And he’s talking about the death of writers, that when you usually die for a writer, it’s not a good thing since the works go into the dustbin so people forget you.

[14:45] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

But having noted all of the above, it remains the case that Mailer’s death coincided with another far greater extinction: that of the literary milieu in which he’d come to prominence and been sustained for decades.

Jack says:

There’s the death of the author that leads to the death of their work. But it seems there’s a great extinction. Maybe the type of literature he was writing in is also dying.

[16:23] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

It’s a milieu that I hesitate to identify entirely with what’s understood by the ringing phrase “the Republic of Letters,” even though the overlap between the two was once great indeed; and I cannot be alone in wondering what will remain of the latter once the former, which not long ago seemed so very solid, has melted into air.

Jack says:

This seems to follow with the previous paragraph where things are dying and people are not reading it, and that’s the big element you have to keep track of here.

[18:13] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

What I do feel isolated in—if not entirely alone in—is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying of literature’s light, although it’s surprising how little of this there is, but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable.

Jack says:

When things seem to be harder, try to read slower. Give yourself room to just absorb what you’re reading.

So here, it seems that the author wants to prevent this from dying. The author doesn’t want to really attack this change that literature is dying. But the fact he’s saying he doesn’t want to rage means he does want to rage. But he’s just holding back his rage. He’s angry.

Then there’s that change in technology occurring and technology is introducing these changes. This is showing the way we look at technology. The last sentence implies that we’re going towards more technology-based. As literature is going to a more technological world, the author is getting angry but just trying to hold back the anger.

[21:35] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

I first began consciously responding, as a literary practitioner, to the manifold impacts of ­BDDM in the early 2000s—although, being the age I am, I have been feeling its effects throughout my working life—and I first started to write and speak publicly about it around a decade ago.

Jack says:

BDDM is bidirectional digital media mentioned in the first paragraph where it’s relating to technology. And we know so because the previous sentence talks about technological stuff. It seems the author is talking about this technological impact for a while.

[23:45] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

Initially I had the impression I was being heard out, if reluctantly, but as the years have passed, my attempts to limn the shape of this epochal transformation have been met increasingly with outrage, and even abuse, in particular from my fellow writers.

Jack says:

The things he wants to talk about are not well-received. The author is also trying to convey the idea that technology is impacting literature.

[24:45] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers.

Jack says:

Better to let this part go and continue reading until you feel like you understand some part of it than guessing. Otherwise, you could be making assumptions you’ll need to hold onto for the next sentence. And that might start confusing you. Better to make no assumptions, than to make the wrong assumptions.

But what this sentence means is that the author wants to express the impact of the screen on the page. This means how computers are affecting literature. But the author realizes that is irrelevant because everyone just wants something faster, easier, slicker. So his attempts were not important.

[26:40] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

Jack says:

The author is talking about how technology is changing our reality. The entire paragraph is then telling us that technology is changing reality itself.

[27:38] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1

I think there are several explanations for the anger directed against anyone who harps on the message of the new media, but in En­gland it feels like a strange inversion of what sociologists term “professional closure.”

(To be explained further down.)

[28:14] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2

Instead of making the entry to literary production and consumption more difficult, embattled writers and readers, threatened by the new means of literary production, are committing strange acts of professional foreclosure: holding fire sales of whatever remains of their unique and nontransferable skills—as vessels of taste (and, therefore, the canon) and, most notably, as transmitters and receivers of truths that in many instances had endured for centuries.

Jack says:

It seems that these transmitters and receivers of truth endured for centuries are going away because we’re just trying to get out as much truth as possible.

[29:14] Paragraph 5, Sentence 3

As I survey the great Götterdämmerung of the Gutenberg half-millennium, what comes to mind is the hopeful finale to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Jack says:

The author is just saying here that something comes to mind. Italicized words would mean it’s a piece of work.

[30:12] Paragraph 5, Sentence 4

When Guy Montag, the onetime “fireman” or burner of books by appointment to a dystopian totalitarian state, falls in among the dissident hobo underclass, he finds them to be the saviors of those books, each person having memorized some or all of a lost and incalculably precious volume—one person Gulliver’s Travels; another the Book of Ecclesiastes.

[32:10] What the Passage Means

What the author is trying to say is that technology is leading to this death of literature. And technology is changing it in a bad way. Mailer’s work at that time period is being taken for granted, or diminished because of this technological change. That’s the big idea here!

[33:10] Possible Questions

From a passage like this, they could ask questions like the author’s take on technology. So you have to know it’s negative. Or they can ask a specific question about what this person thought about literature. Usually, for these types of passages, they ask for the big picture questions since no one particular paragraph was necessarily easy to understand.

[34:09] Going Back to Paragraph 5, Sentence 1

I think there are several explanations for the anger directed against anyone who harps on the message of the new media, but in En­gland it feels like a strange inversion of what sociologists term “professional closure.”

Jack says:

New media could mean the BDDM stuff, technology in general. The author is saying there are reasons why people challenge new media. But maybe in England, they’re not necessarily attacking new media. And they call this professional closure, just a term they use to people who don’t attack new media.

[35:35] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2

Jack says:

Here, they talk about writers and readers that instead of being threatened by this new media, they’re actually helping and embracing the new media. “Fire sales” reminds us of selling things quickly because you’re in a fire. So it’s like they’re dumping your unique and nontransferable skills. And they consider that a vessel of taste. Therefore, the canon is a representation of strong literature. Then it seems that they’re getting rid of the unique and nontransferable skills that have been around for hundreds of years.

[37:57] Paragraph 5, Sentence 3-4

Jack says:

People are embracing this new media and the death of their skills. We don’t know why the author is thinking about this book – until you read the next sentence. And the “fireman” here talks about the burner of the books. Here, they’re kind of giving you the plot of the book. It’s about some guy who’s burning books based on the appointment of this government. And then maybe he finds the underclass people as the saviors of the books. They’re saving those books and then mentions two examples.

[40:25] The Bigger Picture of Paragraph 5

The bigger picture here is we shouldn’t be getting rid of this old literature. We should may be challenging this new media that is diminishing old literature. The example at the end is showing us how it might have been done. There might be people who are saving it.

[41:33] Don’t Give Up!

A good technique to use here is that you might not understand a lot of things, but what is that one thing you did understand? That one thing could be enough. You don’t need to understand why the author brings up the book or what’s happening in that book. You don’t have to get 100% to get these right.

Again, how much of a passage do you really need to know in order to get all the questions right? The answer is as low as 15%-20% is all you really need.

Finally, don’t give up on this. Focus on what you understand. Don’t make a lot of assumptions if you don’t understand stuff. Don’t guess. Better to keep going until you get it rather than trying to really break everything down. And try to break down after you read the passage. This helps you better understand how they’re using the English language.

[43:33] Need More Practice?

Check out Jack Westin’s daily CARS MCAT questions which are free that comes in daily into your inbox. Also, visit medicalschoolhq.net/jackwestin to activate a $100 discount off his course. Text MCATCARS to 44222.

Links:

Link to article: https://harpers.org/archive/2018/10/the-printed-word-in-peril/

Jack Westin

medicalschoolhq.net/jackwestin

MedEd Media Network

Listen to Other Episodes

paperbackfront_245x245

DOWNLOAD FREE - Crush the MCAT with our MCAT Secrets eBook