Consider the instruction manual.
How do we read it?
Even though it boldly declares, “Please Read ALL the Instruction Before You Begin Assembly,” do we ever follow that particular exhortation? Doesn’t that, rather, refer us to some idealized and ultimately nonextant and masterful reader who, finally, reflects none of us—whose only purpose is to intimidate all of us?
Does any one of us ever read a manual straight through?
What do we do when we read one?
We start. We stop. We look away. We look back. We backtrack. We skip ahead. We backtrack and skip ahead and stop and start again. We skim. We think about other things. We decide we’d better concentrate more on the text. We read with attention for a few moments. We read with less attention a moment on. We ignore this. We reread that—sometimes we reread that one section five, six, seven times. And what did it say up there? So we glance back. And read on. And almost always, as we read our manual, we tell ourselves we are reading with a purpose.
Frank Lentricchia characterizes a radical as one who wants society to grow out of our education, while a conservative is someone who wants education to model itself on the society that exists—so that reading is (and what is education without it?) profoundly implicated in the very polarities of our politics.
K. Leslie Steiner was born in Cuba in 1949. Her mother was a black American from Alabama; her father was an Austrian Jew. From 1951 on, Steiner grew up in Ann Arbor, where both her parents taught at the University of Michigan, and where Steiner now holds joint tenure in the German, Comparative Literature, and Mathematics departments.
David Horvitz is an artist from Los Angeles. Sometimes he goes to the beach. Sometimes he looks at the sky. Sometimes he disappears from people. Sometimes he hides seahorses in people’s pockets. Sometimes he makes the sound of ocean waves. Sometimes he throws away his photographs. Sometimes he loses watercolors in airports. Sometimes he rings bells. Sometimes he turns off lights. Sometimes he follows foxes. Sometimes he steals spoons. Sometimes he sends mail to the moon. Sometimes he changes the time. These are some of the things he does.