In early February, 2021, Darel Paul, Professor of Political Science at Williams College in Massachusetts, delivered to Hillsdale College a lecture entitled Political Correctness and Higher Education.
The introducer first introduces herself. She is Katie Ingham, a junior biochemistry major at Hillsdale. She speaks clearly and confidently and makes a good job of it. She might be mortified by her one small stumble, but I’m not: they happen. Nevertheless I have one little axe to grind. The introducer should never lead the applause for the introduced. The compulsion to do so is very strong; it feels as if you should; it even feels right while you are doing it; but it just looks wrong. It also sounds wrong because it is amplified by the microphone.
Professor Paul comes to the microphone at 1.21 speaks till 41:45 and then takes questions.
He reads a script. My tireless campaign for speakers to shoot from the hip has an etymological enemy here. The word “lecture” means “reading”.
The written word and the spoken word are different species. The language is different – subtly, but still noticeably. If you close your eyes you can still tell that he is reading. From the start it is clear that Paul’s theme is going to be very interesting, but I don’t need a talking head to make it so. This was written to be read and I’d prefer to read it. The talking head can try very hard to make the written word sound like the spoken word, thus blurring the boundaries between the two species, and learning to write speeches in spoken English can help, but Paul has written this in written English.
Another way to try to blur the boundaries is to read very expressively, and Paul does, but that still leaves another problem which is virtually insuperable. The written word and the spoken word are – or should be – differently structured. The spoken word should use much broader brushstrokes than this.
When reading you can stop to reflect on, and mentally debate, a passage. The desire to do so is a sign that the writing is challenging, provocative, and worthy of your time. You can’t do that while someone is speaking.
I can – and with this lecture often do – pause the video for the same purpose. You can do that also, but the students in the hall cannot. They may be supplied a transcript, but then that makes the lecture itself redundant.
Addressing a topic that demands fine brushstrokes, and delivering your address in a medium that demands broad brushstrokes, may seem an insoluble conundrum. It isn’t: there’s a solution, but it would take much more space and time than I have here.
Meanwhile, I commend this lecture as very thought-provoking and worthy to be regularly paused.