Monday, 30 March 2009

The credit crunch/recession as the end of postmodernism?

Andre Glucksman has an article about how the current financial and economic meltdown represents the end of postmodern economics.

Fascinating. When I started thinking about these things in 2006 it was texts that seemed to offer signs of the move beyond postmodernism. Three years later there seems to be something equivalent going on in the political, social and economic sphere.

Journalism versus literature

Nick Cohen wrote about contemporary shifts in journalism in yesterday's Observer. Trenchantly and memorably put, as always:

Professional journalists in the age of the internet look as doomed as blacksmiths in the age the combustion engine. Local newspapers are disappearing. National newspapers and commercial TV stations are seeing the web take their advertisers.

Even the gloomiest forecasters expect there will still be a few reporters around in 2025, but as with blacksmiths, we will be curiosities.

There is no point arguing against the inevitable and many optimists believe that the destruction of the old order should be welcomed. In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky celebrates the switch to a democratic world where publishing costs next to nothing and anyone with access to a computer can write for an audience which in theory extends to everyone with a computer on the planet.

These changes have been widely discussed, and although I think the fabulously-named Shirky is simplistic in his enthusiasm, the question that came to my mind when I read this is: if journalism is being turned upside down and inside out by digitization, why not literature?

For me this has something to do with the characteristics of the digimodernist text: favouring onwardness, haphazardness, evanescence and fluid-boundedness, it plays into the hands of the nature of journalism. Literature, however, is stuck with the traditional form of textuality, finished, set, frozen in its scope and extent. Consequently, there are no digimodernist novels and poems (yet).

As for "feet of" Clay Shirky, he needs to consider what will happen to the prestige that historically has attached to "publication" when everyone can publish, and when text distributed to the entire planet to read becomes as ignorant, fanatical, biased, unreliable, and even loathsome as so much UGC is. That prestige will go; or, more probably, things will restructure in ways we can't yet see.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Copy editing for fun

It's my birthday!

As for Digimodernism the book, I've been through the process of copy editing. This was slightly odd. We're going with American spelling and usage as the book will probably sell primarily in the US, and some of the alterations the copy editor insisted on were to bring it into line with American habits, such as a distinction between "which" and "that" as relative pronouns which (?) is lost on the average Briton but crucial on the other side of the Atlantic. Fair enough. And there were other questions - where to put commas in phrases in inverted commas - which relate to publishing conventions. Couldn't argue there either.

But I couldn't understand some of the issues. For instance, I was asked to make my use of synonyms like "the United States" and "the US" consistent throughout - i.e. stick to the same one every time. Why? How many times have you thrown a book to one side in irritation crying "for pete's sake, he's said UK, but he said United Kingdom in the last chapter!". When did you last get annoyed because on one page it's World War II and on another it's the Second World War? My rule of thumb is not to repeat words or expressions more than is absolutely necessary, and this rule is, I would argue, why God invented the synonym.

Still, I have a lot of respect now for copy editors. They do a very hard and thankless job with great diligence - it's one of those roles that no one notices except when it's carried out badly. And all that worrying about detail does do your head in - it's a short step from the comma to the coma.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Comment is free (but is it healthy)

I've been spending (or wasting) time recently on the Guardian's Comment is Free site It's an emblematic digimodernist forum. As message boards go it's one of the more interesting and fruitful. Articles of a Guardian nature (favouring issues related to race or gender, tending to criticism of Israel or US foreign policy or Britain and to idealization of France or Scandinavia, etc.) are uploaded on to it every half hour or so during the day, joining those also available in the printed paper. After spending a certain amount of time commenting you get the feeling that you know the regulars - Kizbot, LordSummerisle, MrPikeBishop - as though you were actually acquainted with more than their pseudonym and a selection of their opinions. It easily becomes "addictive", or it encourages repeat behaviour patterns, because once you've added your thoughts and wisdom to a thread you find you're somehow desperate to know what others make of them. So you go back and look, again and again. Losing interest in a discussion, you find there's a new article to append your reaction to, and so it goes on. Eventually you've lost several hours of your day. And what have you achieved? You've told some people whom you'll never know some things they can do nothing with as they'll never know you, and they've done the same back.
Cif is pretty good because often people respond to each other, and as a result there's usually (not always) a governing ethos which forces contributers to use logic and evidence to support their views. On many other message boards people spout and rant away in a little argumentative bubble of their own, indifferent to the rules of rational debate. On a good day Cif is like a spirited argument in the pub with some articulate, informed, interesting and committed friends. It's stimulating, challenging, fascinating. On a bad day it's like a semi-involuntary outpouring of rage and hatred by lonely people in the street with mental health issues. It seems futile and really sad. Although the Guardian is a centre-left paper many contributers are well to the right, and presumably go to Cif because they're spoiling for a political fight. There's a recurring flirtation with anti-democratic stances on many of the threads, and a sense of dissent for dissent's sake on some of them too.
David Mitchell (above) recently complained in The Observer, the Guardian's sister paper, that message boards degenerate into outlets for vile and sociopathic loathing when they are supposed to provide a forum for thought He suggested circumventing this drift by posting a certain banal and vacuous response on threads; hundreds of Cif posters, "hilariously", did exactly that to his article. Are message boards a "good" or a "bad" thing? Interestingly, it's impossible finally to say. All depends on the last or the next contribution: if it's abuse, no; if it's a thought or an angle you'd never previously encountered, posted by someone with interesting things to say whom you'd never otherwise meet, then boards are wonderful. You make of them what you will; they are what we will. And I'm not telling you my pseudonym, no.


Monday, 2 March 2009

Gran Torino

Peter Preston has an article in today's Guardian oriented around Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino which makes this interesting point:

Half a century ago, as Eastwood played a TV cowboy in Rawhide, it became accepted wisdom that Hollywood was doomed. Who would want to pay to go to the movies when slumping at home in front of the box cost nothing? Cathode-ray tube would oust silver screen just as surely as, today, it is assumed that another kind of screen will kill words on paper. But discard such doom-fraught assumptions. Gran Torino is already $100m in the black. Clint, at 78, is as bankable as ever. Cinema admissions - in the midst of the crunch are up, not slithering down. And it is television, the new whiz-kid on the block, that is gasping for air.

We're in the middle of a huge historical shift in text, what sort we want, how we access it, and so on. How things will pan out is anyone's guess, but the tectonic textual plates are shifting. I read last week that people used to say that the computer was the biggest thing since the invention of the printing press but they were wrong; it's the biggest thing since the invention of the alphabet.

I suspect they're right. All bets are off.