Continuous Thinking

Interesting article in the March 31 Globe& Mail by Ian Brown about the importance of marginalia in historical books. Interesting anyway if you happen to love old books, or love history. The article quotes a noteworthy comment from Dr Scott Schofield, a librarian at the University of Toronto, that has relevance for what we do at ArtSpring.

Dr Schofield describes the shortcomings of electronic tablets over traditional books as follows:

“The materiality of the book is what’s missing. An ornamental letter on a page, or side notes and symbols, for instance – what do they do for the reading process? It turns out they may help with memory retention, and with continuous thinking.”

What catches my attention here is the phrase “continuous thinking.” This expression touches on the essence of what reading is about – not just the retrieval of useful information, but the unfolding and pursuit of continuous trains of thought. Google, god bless it, gives us easy answers to questions, but only reading teaches us to think.

And so it is similarly with live performance. Substitute the word “attention” for “thinking” and we have a close analogy. What a live performance, whether of music or dance or theatre, offers that electronic media do not is opportunities for “continuous attention” not only to the substance of the performance, but also to ourselves and to our relationship to what we see on the stage.

When a pianist plays Liszt in our theatre, or dancers move their bodies in the presence of our own bodies, or when actors speak in the same physical space we inhabit with them, we become not just consumers of information but active participants in the unfolding of specific narratives of what it means to be human.

This is why it is so crucial to present live performance in the arts: to offer opportunities for thought, attention and feeling in real, human time, and thus to hold out alternative ways of understanding the world to the ubiquitousness of mere information.

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