Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Crazy Talk

michaelberube.com is being guest blogged at the moment and, in a long post about writerly categories and Kurt Vonnegut, guest blogger Lance Mannion quotes from a book called A Scream Goes Through the House by Arnold Weinstein and lets it pass with a minimum of objection. Here's the quote:
"My view of art is quite at odds also with the electronic network that stamps our age, because the Internet culture, however capacious it might be, is also largely soulless and solipsistic---informational rathar than experiential---when contrastred with our engagement with art."
This strikes me as shortsighted crazy talk. It's logically shortsighted because the web is a changing thing, so even if it was, at present, perfectly, unarguably soulless, it would be foolish to assume it couldn't gain a soul, whatever that might mean. That's a minor point about inaccuracy.

My instinct tells me Mr. Weinstein is exhibiting an inclination to dislike something that is new and unfamiliar and from which he feels excluded. This is wild and unfair speculation, I know. But his words do seem clueless. They strike me as the equivalent of saying there's no good literature being made in the world when you only read English. But that's another logical point. I guess my real objection is that the difference between a story published on the Internet and a story printed in a book is not one that should be understood as limiting the beauty or meaning of the online version.

In place of the blanket dismissal, I would be much more interested in a discussion of the limits and possibilities of experience and human interaction mediated entirely by means of abstraction, ie words and photos on the Internet.

You could title the discussion, Did You Really Break Up If You Broke Up On Myspace?

I imagine there are teenagers out there who have sketched out the protocols pretty thoroughly.

But the quote above strikes a nerve with me because I'm interested in the implications of its anti-web sentiment in terms of literature. There's an endless amount of thinking a person could do on that subject, but I'll offer a small observation that I think casts some light on what the meaning of online literature. My sense is that the increasing aesthetic quality of web publishing will go along way towards enabling greater degrees of poetic experience to take place in the conduit running between our glowing screens and our fleshy illuminated heads.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Slate's Pathologically Moronic Take on Preference

This article in Slate argues that lamentations about the death of the independent books are misplaced because the only difference between independents and megastores is that independents have more cachet among uneexceptional people who, nonetheless, want to feel literary. Here's a lengthy quote:

Our attachment to independent bookshops is, in part, affectation—a self-conscious desire to belong a particular community (or to seem to). Patronizing indies helps us think we are more literary or more offbeat than is often the case. There are similar phenomena in the world of indie music fans ("Top 40 has to be bad") and indie cinema, which rebels against stars and big-budget special effects. In each case the indie label is a deliberate marketing ploy to segregate, often artificially, one part of the market from the rest. But when it comes to providing simple access to the products you want, the superstores often do a better job of it than the small stores do: Borders and Barnes & Noble negotiate bigger discounts from publishers and have superior computer-driven inventory systems.

I take issue with the idea that someone's expressed attachment to an independent bookshop is affectation, especially as the writer defines it. I realize Slate's style is "breezy/intellectual" but the writer is essentially calling people who say something along the lines of "I like independents more than I like chains" liars without offering any evidence for it. I could just as easily say that people who write articles positing that a preference for independent bookstores do so only to indicate to others that they belong to a certain tribe do so only to themselves indicate that they belong to the tribe of populist truthtellers who see things as they really are and aren't afraid to do away with sacred cows.

What the author is indirectly doing is calling into question the nature of appeal, but instead of exploring that issue, ie whether the verb "like" means something along the lines of its most common meaning and, if not, what it actually does mean, he presents us with an answer that appears to have been pulled out of thin air.

Politics, journalism, the world wide web

The conflict between the netroots and DLC progressives, which parallels the tension between blog-based and traditional journalism, is too often cast as a conflict between messy upstarts and gray eminences. What nobody comments on is that a reasonable percentage of web-based political action and journalism is that it's in many ways superior to traditional forms of the same.

The medium is superior. Via the web, you have the capacity for meaningful audience feedback, instant access to the record, and the opportunity for any internet-enabled person to contribute.

The reporters are better. Internet journalism is often undertaken, as in the case of Dr. Delong, or Juan Cole, by experts in a given field. While their knowledge is not absolute, they are intimately familiar with the state of play in a given field and are much less likely to fall prey to thoroughly debunked theories and talking points. In addition to the skepticism that reporters are supposed to cherish as their most powerful weapon, bloggers bring to bear a mindset informed by academic rigour.

Web-based reporting is more free of conflicting interests. While bloggers do depend on information that comes free-of-cost from newspapers, they are not in any way beholden to them, to advertisers, or to the institional interests of a given publication. Nor does their livelihood depend on what they say or how they say it.

Internet-based political action is far more transparent than establishment versions. Members of political parties have had far less capacity to influence their party. You could become an activist/professionalize your political involvement, you could write letters, and you could vote.

Web-based debate is, counter-intuitively perhaps, given the stereotypes about angry bloggers, more measured, more thorough, less exclusive, less resource intensive, and more responsive than op-ed debate. It's sort of a low-cost, fast-reacting, and wildly participatory form of peer review. Look at TPM cafe for an example.

So what's really interesting about articles like this from the NY Times is how far out of the loop they are. At the level of his article, he doesn't realize how quickly its shortcomings will be illustrated to millions (?) of readers and, therefore, how easily its message is discredited, which actually increases the message's inaccuracy. Because the message is less potent, it can't go as far as it might have in the past to perpetuate the meme of a "troubled directionless democratic party."

He's also missing the boat at the level of the wider political landscape. Because of the web and its capacity for dissemining information and argument, establishment members of the democratic party are going to be less label to practice politics-as-usual. Simultaneously, the party is more likely to gain political power, in that the Republican party is equally hampered. It is far less able than it has been in the past decade to influence the messages moving back and forth through the national discourse.

The future is by no means certain, but at the very least, there are more reasons than there have been in a while to expect that progressive politics will be both more succesful and more effective than they have been during the time when the myth of the dems-in-disarray was the dominant meme.

Only people with outdated ways of getting information might fail to see it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I like sports, and love basketball, but this bothers me:

Lebron James lifted the young boy, kissed his head and pulled the tiny child close. Cradling the 1-year-old in his rippling arms, Cleveland's star carried his son off the court. It was LeBron Jr.'s turn for a ride.

Daddy already gave one to the Cavaliers.

James scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and posted the second triple-double of his first visit to the NBA playoffs, leading Cleveland to an 86-77 win over Detroit on Saturday that cut the Pistons' lead to 2-1 in their second-round series.
Lebron James is a great player. He may well end up being the best pound-for-pound basketball player to we've seen so far. And, one of the reasons I like him most, even though he's one of the most athletic players on the court, he plays in a way that would be effective for anyone, regardless of their speed, strength, etc. He anticipates plays, moves the ball away from pressure, and attacks at the right moment.

But the weird daddy-worship in the AP opening does turn the stomach. Does anyone think that what happened on the court was at all similar to the opening paragraph description of James picking up his kid?

Does he feed Zydrunas Ilgauskas from a bottle?

I can't imagine he does.

So, why the daddy metaphor? Because the writer desires it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Novels I have finished since March

Miguel Street byVS Naipul
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
The Best People in The World by Justin Tussing

Friday, May 05, 2006

My grandmother, her condominium, connecticut, winter

I admire my grandmother. She went to Smith college and majored in Latin and she has a very refined way of speaking and she can converse about anything.

She spends most of her time at one end of a couch in her condominium in Ridgefield, Connecticut, which is where I grew up.

She moved there, along with my grandfather, when I was about ten or so. I remember the night they moved. I sat on the carpeted stairs and ate take-out fried chicken out of a bag.

I remember enjoying my life, loving it deeply when I was a child. Whatever that was, it was a beautiful emotion, and very different from the color of the emotions one experiences in adulthood.

The night they moved, the condominium was full of boxes and the odor of boxes and maybe the lights didn't work because we were doing things in the dark, or the halflight.

I don't remember where my grandfather was. Everyone else was coming up and down the stairs--from the entry way to the first floor, from the first floor to the second.

My grandfather died when I was fifteen and it was a blow to our family. We seem to have been diminishing since them.

I moved to California and that disconnected us further. I am happy here, but not without regret.

The condominium is once again full of boxes. My uncle, who lives with my grandmother, collects books and sells them on the internet. He's been doing it for at least five years and the house is now crammed with boxes full of books.

Everyone receives books from him for Christmas. They seem boring at first, but if you look at them for a while, and think about why he chose them, you notice how beautiful they are.

I would like to move back to the east coast and look at the barren trees and all the other sparse brutalities of winter through a large window.

People say they have dreams, by which I think they mean difficult-to-fulfill desires, and I have long thought myself to be free of them, but I'm not. My dream is to consume time in a particular kind of room in connecticut in winter, a quiet place with bookshelves, and books, a carpet, and a tall window. I would be alone much of the time, but my wife and my family would drop in often.