The Association of Literary Scholars and Critics understands that it has an obligation to direct some of its force, time, and imagination to the bad examples that are set, as against the good example that the Association itself tries to set, for instance in its journal, Literary Imagination, and at its annual conferences. It was in this spirit that the Forum series has come about. Forum No. 3, The Latest Illiteracy, now brings together many instances of, as well as some reflections on, how different—largely, how much worse—things are these days, both in print and in speech. The underlying questions are the enduring ones. Really worse, not just different? What is the evidence? Is it merely that all of us are getting older, and that the invocation of a golden age is becoming more of a lure? Is it not the case that in the Paston Letters, as long ago as the 15th century, the complaint was being voiced that servants be not so diligent as they were wont to be? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
The Latest Illiteracy resists excuses and acquiescences. It is the work of two highly articulate writers—Jim McCue and Bryan Garner—who wish to help others to be no less articulate—and, since individuality is to be respected and fostered, help them to be variously and personally articulate. This, as being able to do right by oneself as well by others because doing right by the great inheritance that is language, that is a language.
Neither of the present contributors, the one English, and the other American, is a university teacher, which was one reason why the Association, which is committed to allying the world of the university with the worlds of the arts, of the professions, and of the common reader, recently invited these two to put their experienced minds to illiteracy, new and old, and then to give the rest of us the pleasure of witnessing these two minds, their findings and their provocative speculations.
Forum No. 3 is set for publication in spring 2009.