Zoning in

Christmas is a great time for reading. Thanks to Fabian for passing on John Coetzee’s “Diary of a Bad Year” to me. He found the book hard to read because it’s written as a journal kept by three different people in parallel, so each page is divided into separate sections and voices that continue through the book and make the reader jump from one perspective to another.

The top section is a highbrow, dogmatic essay project pursued by an aging writer, a mirror of the author himself, while the sections below contain the story line, with the encounters and some emotional and even funny commentary relating to a love triangle that develops between him and an attractive 30 year old whom he hires as a secretary, and her jealous mate. As the story develops, the essays change slightly to include a perspective suggested by the woman.

zoning in

Jumping between these sections, I wound up concentrating on the “hypertext” at the bottom of the page relating to the relationship between the three characters. I didn’t go back to the “main text” at the top until I knew how that would develop, and then became interested mostly in whether the personal story line would reflect in the essays. In the end, I rather sloppily pulled the novel together from the bits and pieces I read, and while it does feel as if I’ve read the whole novel, it’s been a messy, haphazard process. Someone else – maybe a reader more interested in getting to the bottom of the political debate – might finish the “top” section front to back, and only skim over the subtext at the bottom. Will that reader wind up reading a different book?

It strikes me that diffused, fragmented attention is very typical for the non-linear way we process information of any kind today. It has its advantages – I get the story line very quickly, which is gratifying. But isn’t that a disadvantage, too? What am I missing when I take a short cut? Will I pay for it later on in lack of perspective and depth? The quiet time at Christmas is ideal to zone in on the “here and now” and to let the fragments merge into one big picture.

Learning the ropes – so vertiefen Sie Ihren Wortschatz!

to pass on – weitergeben
to keep a journal – Tagebuch führen
in parallel – parallel/ nebeneinander
highbrow – hochintellektuell
to pursue a project – einem Projekt nachgehen
aging – alternde/r/s
to follow the story line – der Geschichte folgenen
encounter (n) – Begegnung
love triangle – Dreiecksbeziehung
to hire – einstellen (Personal)
jealous – eifersüchtig
mate (n) – Partner
sloppily (adv) – schlampig
to pull sth. together – in einen Zusammenhang bringen
novel – Roman
bits and pieces – Einzelteile
messy – durcheinander, chaotisch
haphazard – planlos, zufällig
to get to the bottom of something – der Sache auf den Grund gehen
front to back – von vorne bis hinten
to skim over – überfliegen
subtext – das eigentlich Gemeinte
at the bottom – unten
to wind up doing sth. – letztlich/letztenendes etwas tun
diffused – indirekt
non-linear – nichtlinear
advantage/ disadvantage – Vor/Nachteil
gratifying – befriedigend
take a short cut – eine Abkürzung wählen
lack of perspective – Mangel an Perpektive
depth – Tiefe
to zone in on – sich konzentrieren auf
to merge – sich zusammenfügen
the big picture – ein einheitliches Bild

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

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