Friday, June 19, 2009

Kanye West: proud non-reader

Kanye West's status as a "proud non-reader" sets him a good distance from the average person in America: he's comfortable with what everyone else feels really guilty about.

The print media's reaction to his statement is pretty pathetic. We're supposed to laugh it off, and think he's really stupid. I mean he said "I would never want a book's autograph". What an idiot, books can't sign autographs (if you look at the statement in context, it was a dumb pun, but certainly not the betrayal of ignorance we want to see from a proud non-reader). As we all know, books are necessary to be a successful language user. Now stop right there, and don't think any further. Completely forget about the fact that West's success is arguably primarily due to his proficiency with language.

Now, I'm a reader. Wouldn't necessarily say I'm a "proud" reader, but whatever. So, I'm not jumping behind his statement here, but let's all keep one thing in mind when thinking about this: this is a petty power struggle. This is about oratory skills (specifically rapping) vs. print writing. As writers, we're supposed to laugh at rappers "inability" to speak like we write. Their mastery of language is a threat to our mastery of language. Now, if you've ever scoffed (however internally) at a rapper for not speaking the way you write, for not following the rules of print-grammar when talking, then you're just as close-minded as West.

And yes, this is just about print reading. He was talking about books. West reads plenty of blogs, and is always very up to date with what people on the Internet are doing and saying.

Our culture is (for now) primarily centered around print for the way we pass down (force down) knowledge. Print media wants kinetic, aural, and visual ways of reading information to be seen as secondary to prose. The others are 3-dimensional, chaotic, and unpredictable. Prose is 1-dimensional, linear, ordered, and most importantly (and because of the previous reasons) it's the most controllable.

West's statement is nothing more than an artist asserting his own medium over the others. If a sculptor says he doesn't watch films, we might think of him as close-minded, but would there really be the same level of scoffing as at a rapper who "can't talk right"? Do you scoff at a musician that can't read music, but can play back anything he hears at one go? Why is this different?

We want "success" in language to mean writing only. We want rapping to be seen as a "low" art, and that's more what all this is really about. It's just a petty squabble between two mediums.


Matt said...


Name: Matthew Guenette said...

Except it's NOT a petty squabble. Go look at Kanye's rap-sheet. His lyrics are maudlin, predictable...

There's nothing there.

So essentially, a man who's rap is mundane is proud to say he's not into books...

And this is news?d

Iain said...


Your first problem is that you're reading his lyrics. You're looking at his lyrics like a reader. How can you expect to judge his lyrics by the values that you use to judge words on a page?

There's plenty to be said about what Kanye is doing (particularly over time) with personal narrative, and persona, but I'm not sure why you think it's important that I'm suggesting that he's actually any good. It's really not important to what I was saying.

Anonymous said...

Disagree, yes he mentioned books, but books can be electronic too, and he didn't say NON BOOK reader, he said NON READER , so that resumes it all