Ron Scollon  

The Incredible Shrinking Man: A Review of ‘Print, Palaver, and Prime Time’


(Letterhead removed) 

April 2, 1988

Peter Menard
Bartleby Press
754 Lost Mountain Road
Sequim, Washington 98372

Dear Peter: 

Many thanks for asking me to review the manuscript ‘Print, Palaver, and Prime Time: Public Discourse in Transition'[which you are considering for publication at Bartleby Press. 

By all means publish it. (Though you might want to talk with him about another title—I’d suggest The Incredible Shrinking Man for reasons I hope I can make clear later.) It is a coherent book after all, though I doubted that at first glance, as you seem to have done as well. I agree that it doesn't really draw up into a bang of a conclusion but now after a careful reading I see that it can't, and shouldn’t try to. 

I was thinking of the Borges essay, it seems like it was in Other Inquisitions[ii] in which he calls into question the belief started by Goethe that significant historical moments can be identified when they happen. That's all we get for television news anymore, everyone so sure they can discover the big event and be the first to report on it. Goethe would be disgusted. 

Borges recalls the Chinese philosopher who argued that since the unicorn is a mythological animal which none of us has ever seen, if one did come our way we would have no means of recognizing it. I think Scollon's book is struggling to identify the same unicorn a lot of others are looking for. 

We all feel times are changing and I like the way Scollon keeps coming at these changes from different perspectives; but it really is too much to believe that anyone is likely to do very well at predicting where it all leads us. 

I think that explains the atavistic streak in this set of essays (can I call them that?) Unable to see how to go forward, Scollon takes us back again and again to a few things we know for sure; they are as old as our life on earth as humans; our food comes from the earth, our life depends on other life, if we don't watch out for these eternal verities, we'll be in serious trouble. That's what is most appealing about the book for me. 

Peter, I've started out this way because I didn't want to leave any doubt in your mind that I think you ought to publish this book, pretty much as it is, warts and all. And now having said that I want to raise some questions I had in reading it that I'd really enjoy talking to Scollon about. They could be seen as criticisms of the book. I'd rather think of them as extensions; ideas I've had in reading the three essays and in thinking over what he's said there. 

As you'll see, I couldn't resist from time to time wending in and out of Scollon's style, especially the style of Time and the Media. It started out as a normal review letter, but then got so long I thought I'd do better to package it up separately with this as a cover letter. 

So there you have it. Thanks for giving me the chance to review the book. I think it'll do well for your press. By the way, my daughter wants to know if you called your press ‘Bartleby’ because you'd really prefer not to publish anything, or because you deal mostly in dead letters? Kids! 

What follows now is my review of the manuscript. 

What Makes a Book a Book? 

I started in on this review by seeing if I could reconstruct Scollon's thesis throughout the three essays. I think it goes like this, starting with The Problem of Power (this one by both Ron and Suzie Scollon): 

Power and alienation are both ways of talking about asymmetrically structured human relationships Both of these concepts are artefacts of asymmetrical modes of communication such as writing (and now printing and electronic broadcasting) The solution to the problem of power posed by Schmookler is to re-establish three fundamental relationships: our relationship to the earth, our relationship to each other, and our relationship to the past 

In other words, knowing one's past, one's place, and one's community are non-power-seeking ways of resisting the unilateral exercise of power. So the Scollons say in The Problem of Power that we should add a fifth category to Schmookler's four responses to the exercise of power. Schmookler says we have: 


Absorption and transformation



 as our only responses. The Scollons add to these 

5.  Resistance and independence through learning the past, learning place, enlarging the future, and cultivating relationship


[i] The three essays by Ron Scollon and Suzie Scollon are, The Problem of Power, The Axe Handles Academy, and Time and the Media  (Haines, AK:  The Black Current Press.)

[ii] Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions (Austin, TX:  University of Texas Press, 1964)  The particular essay is entitled ‘The Modesty of History’.

[iii] Andrew Bard Schmookler, The Parable of the Tribes (Boston: Houghtin Mifflin, 1984).  There is now a paper edition, same specifications, dated 1986.)


the full text may be downloaded here.....



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