04 July 2006

digerati & literati

I recently came across a slightly snarky column by Alex Beam in the Boston Globe that won't simplify the conversations we've been having lately about podcasts, audiobooks, and John Updike's clearly provocative (if belligerently ignorant) lament of the continuing McDonaldization of the book world and critique of many things digital.

The article, entitled "The Brave New Book," mentions the Updike essay that we touched on here and discusses the (second) coming of the electronic book. Rather than summarizing Beam, I thought it might be fruitful to quote a few of his most salient paragraphs, and then raise a few questions of my own about them in particular and the possibilities inherent in the cyber-beyond (especially for innovative and/or alternative prose) in general:

Who can forget the hype attending "electronic readers" like the $600 SoftBook and the $1,500 EB Dedicated Reader, which were going to make paper-and-paste books obsolete? The chief executive of SoftBook called his product a "booklike experience," perhaps one of the great euphemisms of the digital age.

Now the e-book may have a second shot. Sony has shown geeks its forthcoming Reader, which looks a lot like the old SoftBook but supposedly uses improved, Reader-friendly "e-ink," developed by Cambridge's E Ink Corp. In a grandiose public relations flourish, e-book e-vangelists Project Gutenberg and World eBook Fair plan to "publish," or make available for download, 300,000 free e-books starting July 4.

The new hype differs from the old hype. Everyone acknowledges that the boxy readers like SoftBook bombed. Now the e-bookies insist the Game Boy generation wants to read books on their tiny iPod or cellphone screens. "You wouldn't believe how many people read books on their PDAs [personal digital assistants]," says Gutenberg founder Michael Hart. OK, how many? He has no idea.

. . .

As it happens, the e-book is the solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Check out my Personalized Literacy Unit, a 2003 release from the Bantam Dell labs. It's an $8 paperback called Persuader by Lee Child, and it weighs the same as my stripped-down cellphone and less than my Palm Pilot. (A friend's reaction upon learning that I carry a Pilot: "How 1997!") I've used my PLU on an airplane, in the car, and in a few other places where you wouldn't take electronic equipment.

I am giving the last word on this subject to Cambridge's director of libraries, Susan Flannery. Instead of theorizing about libraries and the future of the book, Flannery and her board are building a new, $60 million main branch to provide state-of-the-art library services for the next 20 years. Barely a mile from Flannery's office, Google is scanning the books in Harvard's libraries for eventual inclusion in Kevin Kelly's "liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas."

. . .

Flannery calls herself "a big fan of the printed book" who now does more "reading" of audio books on her iPod than between hard covers. "I am part of a transitional generation," she says. What about digital books? "I would think the reference collections would be target number one for being replaced by electronic sources. We are prepared to reduce their shelf space accordingly."

But some publishing trends favor print, she notes. "Graphic novels are a whole new publishing area that is purely print. They're very popular, and the category seems to be growing. I don't think electronics will replace children's books—their visual beauty won't translate to the screen, and parents want the kids sitting on their lap."

I find myself left, not with answers, but with questions—including several perhaps painfully obvious ones, like who in the world still considers graphic novels "a whole new publishing area" or conceives of the act of listening to an audiobook as "reading"?:

1. The book has been and done various things at various times in various places in various ways. Five thousand years ago, for instance, baked clay tablets in Mesopotamia recorded deeds to land and other business records. Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans used the inner bark of the papyrus plant to fashion their books, pasting sheets together in strips sometimes 144 feet long. The codex, made up of several sheets of vellum, existed for centuries after its appearance in 300 AD. Is the movement toward the e-book (if not now, then in the not-too-distant future), given certain economic and environmental necessities, simply an inevitable change in what an information package looks like, and, if so, what's the big deal? Or is it is something else altogether—a loss, a supplement?

2. E-books and audiobooks (especially iPod-friendly ones) will, at least theoretically, make fiction, innovative and otherwise, more accessible—much like the World Wide Web has allegedly done. But if anyone can, and anyone does, "publish" via podcasts and the Web, if "publish" is indeed the word I’m looking for here, where will the quality of publication go—whatever we may mean by quality? Or, to put it another way, as I did in an earlier comment: does anyone really want to know what everyone thinks about anything?

3. What will become, in other words, of the idea of literary value—however we might define such a dicey term? How will we discover it among the sea of linguistic dross, should we wish to? And, should we not, what precisely are we reading for in the first place?

4. Ten years ago, writers like John Perry Barlow used the energetic metaphor of the wild west for what was going on on the Web, where all fences were down, and one road as good as another. Now, though, a more apt metaphor seems to be the Mall of America, and, quite possibly, the advent of the Web has signaled little more than the beginning of a new technocracy that ultimately discriminates between computer-haves and computer-havenots, techophiles and technophobes. What possibilities still exist there for innovative fiction?

5. What aesthetic forms, innovative and otherwise, lend themselves to digital space?

6. What zones of resistance and refusal continue to exist in digital media like the Web, and can we imagine a way to keep them from becoming coopted in, say, another five years? In another ten?

7. Is the Web in fact the new worldwide café that early media hype proclaimed it to be, a new global meeting ground for, among others, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the alternativized—aesthetically, socially, politically? Or is it merely the commodified simulation of community populated by isolated aliases uncomfortable about interfacing one-to-one in what some geeks refer to as The Big Television—namely, the real world? Where, that is, is the body going? Where has it gone?

8. What are we to think of RAND Corporation senior computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg’s assertion that “the contents of most digital media evaporate long before words written on high-quality paper. And they often become unusably obsolete even sooner, as media are superseded by new, incompatible formats . . .”? How will the longevity of the digitized book, digitized space, affect how we think about enduring art and the cultural cliché of the "timeless masterpiece"?

9. Back, for a moment, to pedagogy: will education become more interactive, I wonder, and hence more captivating for students, bringing them back to the acts of reading and writing with renewed vigor through the advent of, say, email’s and text messaging's immediacy and the dynamic experience of hypertextual interconnectivity offered by the meta-book called the Web? Or will education become increasingly a simulation of itself through distance learning programs that make good economic sense only by extracting genuine human connection and genuine Socratic inquiry from the learning experience? Will education become, in other words, simply one more version of commodified television with its MTV-ized rhythms, surfaces, and shine—more and more fiscally justified form, and less and less reflective, historically situated, and humanely interactive content?

10. Please don't get me wrong. I apologize in advance if these questions seem too deliberately and predictably shrill by half. But I think their tone, which houses something like urgency in my mind, simply underscores how interested I am in what's going on in the digital realm, how much of what I see vexes me, what the possibilities are for tribes like ours. I've collaborated on the hypermedia version of my novel 10:01, teamed up with Ted Pelton to form this blog, urged us to explore the potential of the podcast, and headbangingly adore a number of electronic texts from Michael Joyce's still glorious afternoon: a story and Shelley Jackson's brilliant My Body (another wonderful unwriting of the Frankenstein myth, by the way), to Stuart Moulthrop's Reagan Library and ongoing experiments at The Iowa Review Web. But I'm also impressed, given how long said realm has been around, and given how many people have been involved in its workings, how few really fascinating pieces of writing it has produced and how so much of it functions as little more than another site for teaching us to desire more things we don't have and don't want. Why?


Lance Olsen said...

I think Debra Di Blasi meant the following as a comment to my post rather than the one before about Raw Dog Screaming's line-up, so let me paste it in here for clarity's sake:


Lance, I just had to drop in on this one.

Though I understand why you've posed some of your questions, I think most are moot. Explore the possibilities the way good visual artists explore: do. The exponential progression of technology leaves little time for predicting outcomes, for by the time one has reached a hypothesis the technology is obsolete.

As you know, I'm not squeamish about converging technology with literature; I embrace it. Right now (well not *right* now), I, and a recording studio and musician, are adapting a new collection of prose-poems/poetic-prose to a hybrid of rap/spoken word/electronica/whatever. The tracks will be downloadable on delivery sites worldwide, but for those who still collect CDs, the jewel case will contain a beautiful [yes, paper&ink] book of the writing. My decision came after suspecting that I'd have a real audience of probably no more than 200 people if I published only the book. My potential audience is much wider if I produce a CD *and* a book.

Similarly, I've decided to go ahead with my concept of collaborating with a recording studio to produce a CD of a "soundtrack" for my novel, Ugly Town, with music by young rap/hiphop artists discovered in a competition held especially for the book.

Also, one of my collaborators (who is also a fiction writer) is creating a podcast "opera" dedicated to the concept of the listener isolated in her/his world of iPod among a crowd isolated in its world [oh, funnily enough, I just wrote 'word' instead of 'world'] of iPod.

My point: There are countless and, I think, fascinating possibilities available to innovative writers now, especially if one is excited about the new readers waiting to read/listen. (And they are there; I have a smart 15-year-old who, like his smart friends, are hungry for new, intelligent forms. You should hear how sophisticated they are in discussing these forms, the concepts and history behind them, and how they relate to present cultural!) Production costs are incredibly cheap: It cost me less than $100 total to deliver Umlaut's album to over 19 sites worldwide, including to iTunes and Rhapsody, and including my own UPC code.

But merely talking about possibilities, and not doing, is like breathing on cold glass to figure out if you're alive. In this regard, I *right now* return to my work.

writing in exile from the tribe...
jiri cech channelling
debra di blasi chanelling
jiri cech
(or vice versa)
(or vice versa)

Lance Olsen said...

Thanks for joining in the conversation, Debra. As always, the projects you're working on sound jaw-droppingly fun.

For me, doing and asking aren't mutually exclusive, asking never a moot endeavor. It strikes me as productive, even essential, to ask while I'm doing, do while I'm asking—become, in other words, always-already self-conscious and self-critical about what I think I'm up to, within what constraints I'm working, why, and how.

Joe Amato said...

Actually, I hear Debra’s point about (in essence) critique/theory/commentary vs. art-making per se. I could straddle this issue perhaps too easily by suggesting that one also makes critique/theory/commentary (and then talk about my own efforts to forge links twixt these two ostensibly disparate realms of making).

But I think this hits on a problem associated with the digital explicitly at this point -- and it’s been with us for a good while now: the sense that the (digital) work itself might “automatically” incorporate criticism within it (of course, this is evident too in some sense in the cherished notion that the avant-garde work teaches us how to read it). If you go way back to Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing (1991), you’ll find the following assertion on p. 165:

“In fact, an electronic text is not hostile to criticism: it incorporates criticism into itself.”

Now, I took some exception to this assertion when I reviewed Bolter’s book in 1991. But it’s easy to see how this inclusive dream of hypertext, if you will, might be understood as having been realized by media convergence of the sort that the digital (and the Web in particular) has precipitated in the intervening fifteen years.

We’re in difficult waters here, at any rate. To simplify things, I would suggest that we accept the fact that there will be those of us who continue to find discussion of what we’re about absolutely vital to our aboutness, and those who would prefer not to deplete their creative energies in this regard. Clearly, I’m someone who finds he cannot operate in the absence of critical inquiry and exchange. (For me this blog falls under the latter rubric.) I could, again, make a more sophisticated argument for why I think it vital to the larger cultural ferment that we participate in doings such as Now What. (Plug: my forthcoming Iowa book, Industrial Poetics, may well be my final book-length attempt to make this kind of argument to the academic community, in quasi-academic terms.)


I wanted to add, here -- having remained silent till now on this question of audio books, podcasts and the like -- that you fiction writers really ought to give a listen to what we poets have been up to in this regard, both practically and theoretically, for ages. Practically, consider for starters the vast and growing sound archives at PENNSound. Theoretically, have a look, say, at the collection of essays in Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word, ed. Charles Bernstein (Oxford UP, 1998), and Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies, ed. Adalaide Morris (U of North Carolina P, 1997).

And as far as current events go, consider the fact that our newest Poet Laureate, Donald Hall -- very much a non-digital kinda guy -- is reportedly considering putting poetry on satellite radio. The poetic word and its aural dimensions are, as you all must know, ancient considerations.



Lance Olsen said...

What Bolter has to say makes great sense to me, Joe, and ditto with Landow, by the way, who makes essentially the same point in his editions of Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, and so I wonder:

Can we really imagine an innovative writing that isn't self-aware, which is to say by nature theoretically minded and informed, even at the moment of its own making (and even if it isn't at the moment of its own making fully conscious of being so minded and informed)?

In fact, might that awareness serve as the beginning of a beginning of a definition of the innovative?

On a related matter: I know neither Close Listening nor Sound States; could you perhaps give those among us equally ignorant a little primer?

ddiblasi said...

Joe: Yeah, we've had a long discourse on this already, and I just *knew* you would respond. Heeheehee.

I don't think the pieces at PENNsound are related to the work I'm talking about, unless there are audio-architectural works on the site that I haven't heard yet. What I've listened to there (far from all) I would categorize as basic or less-basic poetry readings. The hybrids I describe use the various technologies' metaphorical and literal architectures as resource, not just source. A recorded reading isn't like a recording wherein the boundaries of the technology and the merged art forms and the culture's relation to the aforementioned, are explored and refined -- thus the merging of rap, performance art, sound design and the "idea" of traditional, printed poetry.

I could/should/will-in-that-
together-someday-soon-or-never write a disseration on the architecture of sound in literature, and it will make my point clearer. Meanwhile, if there are similar works on PENNsound that I've missed, please direct me to them. (P.S. Don't forget my writing education is primarily in poetry, not fiction.)

Lance: I agree with you that innovation begins with intent. Although I suspect (fret?) that folks consider, for example, The Jirí Chronicles a light serving of low-fat fiction, it's a deeply serious (and, yes, critically [self-]analyzed) work steeped in Systems Theory and a shitload else, begun in 1998. If you want, you can read the critical statement at: www.debradiblasi.com/newsletter.htm

I might retract my "moot" comment if so many of the questions seem deja vu, probably because nearly all of my critical conversations (face-to-face) and theoretical criticisms are now in the visual arts, and we were examining (and teaching) much of these concerns a few years ago. It's interesting that literature tends to lag behind the visual arts in so many regards, and having taught experimental writing to visual artists I can tell you that it must be because literature carries with it a slightly moldy aura nurtured in the Petri dish of K-12 academia. College art students arrive with the same rules and boundaries carved into their otherwise risk-taking brains and must be mercilessly flaggelated with psychosis-inducing writing exercises to set them free. Once free, of course, they fly pretty high. Except those weighted with lice.

But enough of the birds.

I appreciate your ear-fingers. I've been reading this blog primarily to discover new publications and solicitations for work. So far, it's been great.

If I drop in occasionally, as I may, you may label me a hypocrite without fear of retribution.

sunbathing in Elba,

Joe Amato said...

Lance & others, quickly, b/c I have eggplant parmigiano in the oven and breaded pork chops on the stove: impossible to give you a shorthand on the breadth and scope of those two essay collections I mention. Jed Rasula's ("Understanding the Sound of Not Understanding") or Steve McCaffery's ("Voice in Extremis") essays alone (both in the Bernstein collection) could occupy a few days of deliberation, and the collection edited by Morris is equally fascinating. Plus, I don't have my books with me here in Boulder.

On a related note (?), the term, "ambient stylistics," is starting to pick up steam in some digital media quarters. (Please just Google it.) It's a term that originated, far as I can tell, with poet Tan Lin -- well, the two conjoined words may well have been in use in discussions of music for years, but I'm talking about its current cachet. (Paraphrasing quickly here) Lin seems to be looking for a mode of writing that encourages "impermanence," and what some commentators are seeing as a form of "boredom" (note scare quotes, please).

What the relevance of same might be to the current moment, as we're articulating it here -- ?

Gotta run, more later perhaps.



Lance Olsen said...

Debra, you write: I might retract my "moot" comment if so many of the questions seem deja vu, probably because nearly all of my critical conversations (face-to-face) and theoretical criticisms are now in the visual arts, and we were examining (and teaching) much of these concerns a few years ago.

My instinct is to be careful drawing a line, as you seem to do in your statement, between visual and verbal arts, and imply that the former are somehow more advanced in what they teach and think.

The books by Bolter and Landow on these issues that we're referring to and that I was greatly influenced by both came out in 1991, and many of us had been talking about and teaching the fusion and confusion of the visual and verbal in various digital formations at least since the publication of Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story in 1990, although my sense is that the interest in these issues heated up with the advent of the World Wide Web in 1993. Andi and I started working on our text-collages in the late eighties.

The reason I pose the questions I do, and have been posing ones like them since the early nineties, is that they are central to our interaction with and interrogation of things digital, and the landscape of the digital has transformed and is transforming with such speed that it stikes me as important to keep asking ourselves those questions in the rapidly changing cyber-contexts through which we're navigating.

Joe Amato said...

Oh hey, Debra -- my reference to PENNSound in reference to a past post by Davis re things audio (and related comments). This blog is growing - fast! - hence the confusion. Sorry.

BUT, for a more extensive historical audio record, see UbuWeb, which has recordings going back to the early decades of the last century, and prior, incl. folks like Hugo Ball and Apollinaire. This was at a time when the flux of modernism captured the typographical, visual, aural, etc. Picasso painted, of course, sculpted, assembled, and wrote poetry (see Pablo Picasso, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & Other Poems, ed. & tr. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris [Exact Change]).

I mean to suggest that we're at yet another point at which (what we now call) media convergence is right at our fingertips. This, to me, makes it more imperative than ever that we rethink how to evaluate what we do.

Historically, there are reasons why writing is lagging, as you suggest, behind the visual arts. Much of this may be laid at the doorstep of increasingly professionalized MFA programs in writing, esp. as they developed in the postwar postsecondary world in conjunction with developments in NYC-centered publishing. The rub is that one can't in good conscience produce (i.e., "teach") writers who aren't at least familiar with the business side of writing. At the same time, knowing about such stuff ought not to "drive" such programs (which is all too often the case), anymore than ought withered notions of "craft" to guide all workshop work.

A long, multifaceted discussion implicit in all of this. I'll stop here and hope to hear from others. Thanks & thanks --



jdeshell said...

Lot of interesting thinking here. While questioning the notion of technological “progress” on a web log is a fool’s errand, perhaps this is the role I’ve been born to play. A few observations/questions/provocations/prevarications:

Is there a contradiction in lamenting the “Californification of History” on one hand and celebrating technological progress on the other? In a world where podcasts or the internet(s) etc. are the main sources of information, is it any wonder history (which, like fiction, resists the easy USAToday soundbyting inherent in [symptomatic of] new media)?

Both literature and history (like philosophy) seem tied to the traditional book.

Again, and I’m quite sincere in this question: what can these new media do that novels can’t. Debra, you argue that you’ll reach more than the “200 people” you’d reach only with a book. So this is a marketing, rather than an aesthetic, decision? I mean no disrespect. However, I have a huge interest in keeping those realms separated.

Isn’t there a huge difference between reading and listening? Can we conflate the two?

This is from WAW, in a previous post, arguing for podcasts:
The most successful podcasts are designed for the medium, not adapted to it. I think Trevor understands this as well as anyone could and I suspect you are in the best hands out there to get this rolling.
Just keep in mind that in this world of short attention spans, ads on every surface, and jump-cut living, the podcast can be a terribly effective tool. Used well, it could bring a mighty number of new readers to the book. I know many (many!) people who will happily listen through a 5-15 min podcast who would not dream of reading a 5-15 page short. Capture thier attention and show them what they really want, and they'll come. It works. Just look at corporate America - they've mastered it!
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Is this really what we desire? Does anyone else find this depressing, something to be resisted rather than embraced?

Both Debra and Joe argue that visual criticism is ahead of literary thinking. I couldn’t disagree more. Most writing in the plastic arts, with very few exceptions (Owens, October folks, Krauss and a few others [not exactly a contemporary list, I know]) is way behind--philosophically, conceptually, historically--almost any good lit crit. Or, if we can get rid of the timeline metaphor: art criticism and theory is not nearly as sophisticated or complex as most lit theory and criticism. But pick up a recent Artforum and you’ll see what I mean. This is not to defend lit theory and criticism. Some (most?) of it is execrable. It is to say that there have been few thinkers on the level of a Blanchot, say, or Benjamin, or Butler, who have patiently and painstakingly interrogated and plumbed the forms, functions and effects of literary language.

Again, to disagree with Joe (at least here). I’m not sure MFA programs in Writing are any more professionalized than MFA programs in Art. In fact, I would argue that because there’s more money, the MFA Art schools can be even more professionalized. Even at Bard, one of the most avant-garde programs in the country, careering was definitely and consistently in the air.

Some of the questions Lance so smartly raises about the ‘freedom’ on the internets and how that freedom relates to literature has to do with the idea or the function (and here I’m going to agree with Joe) of the editor. This position (of the editor) needs to be fleshed out.

Why is much of what is written on or for the web not great, and not even good? Or. As Lance puts it, But I'm also impressed, given how long said realm has been around, and given how many people have been involved in its workings, how few really fascinating pieces of writing it has produced and how so much of it functions as little more than another site for teaching us to desire more things we don't have and don't want. Why?
Possibility One: the web has made such questions of good, great, ok and such moot. Quantity has replaced quality. There is no longer a hierarchy of discourse. It’s all good.
Possibility two: the aesthetics of the new technology have not yet caught up with the technology itself. We’re still groping around, trying to find methods and criteria of evaluation and discernment, of making difference. We’re not there yet.
Possibility Three: technological advancement has freed us too much. We need limitations (forms) to make art. We’ll find these forms eventually, but we haven’t found them yet.
Maybe some combination of the three?

I find it impossible to shop and write in the same space.

Are the digerati and literati antagonistic, mutually exclusive? Do they have irreconcilable goals? And I don’t mean “antagonistic,” “mutually exclusive” and “irreconcilable” either in the dialectical or interesting plural Nietzschean sense.

Heidegger: “The essence of technology is by no means anything technological. Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.”

Can one quote Heidegger on a “blog”?

Thanks to you all for getting me thinking. Jeffrey.

Joe Amato said...

Jeffrey, thanks for all of that. I'd like to let your provocation stand as it is, b/c I think we need to yank ourselves out of any complancency, incl. any of the digital variety.

But I really didn't mean to suggest that visual arts theory was ahead of lit theory. I'm much (much) impressed with the sweep of the Blackwell anthology, sure. I think we'd do well not to argue for the inherent supremacy of one or the other theoretical disciplines, in this case, b/c they boil down all too often to matters of emphasis.

Also, I too think it's the case that the MFA in Fine Arts is itself culpable on the count of hyperprofessionalization. I mean, I didn't intend to single out the MFA in Creative Writing vis-a-vis same. But I think, as Steve T. has so astutely argued, that the major publishing houses are far more conservative than the gallery circuits, which latter have managed, to a considerable extent (and despite or perhaps b/c of connoisseurship and the like) to offset the hyperprofessonalizing practices of the academy.

Anyway, more to say, esp. about the editorial function. But again, to say that I do very much appreciate your provocation.



jdeshell said...

Got lost in my own sentence. The first sentence observation should read:

Is there a contradiction in lamenting the “Californification of History” on one hand and celebrating technological progress on the other? In a world where podcasts or the internet(s) etc. are the main sources of information, is it any wonder history (which, like fiction, resists the easy USAToday soundbyting inherent in [symptomatic of] new media) gets lost in translation?

Sorry. Sorry I also missed the quotes marks on both Lance's and WAW's posts. I'm inept with HTML tags (they were in italics). The essence of technology indeed.


Mark Wallace said...

This may sound terribly old-fashioned, or not even relevant to many of you, but I know that for myself, I don't feel especially in the dark about what I want from a work of art--and I don't care whether it's the highest tech digital, or lowest tech pen scrawl, whether it's a realist story of the 1905s or the most innovative anti-conventional fiction or poetry.

What I want, to keep me involved in a work of art, is insight. About the world, or about language or other physical materials, or politics or publishing or what have you. Insight.

I want something that shows me, or tells me, or leads me to, something that I didn't know before and need to know, or something that lets me see in a new way what I thought I knew. It can take me away from myself, or bring me crashing right back to where I am. But it's got, somehow, to teach me something.

A question that I feel like asking in a lot of contexts lately: does anybody else get tired of hearing other people say the same things over and over? Don't other people get tired of saying them over and over?

Sure, I know that sometimes we need to hear something over again, that as Stein said, there's no repetition, only insistence.

Which, as you have to admit, is an incredibly insightful point about repetition.

Of course, one problem with the concept of insight is that what seems insightful at one point may just seem old-hat at another. But somehow I don't usually experience it that way: somehow, moments of insight are news that tends to stay news.

And I certainly don't mean that insight has to be purely true in any simple (and simply dead) sense. But insight is, somehow, partly true ENOUGH to keep me going.

I'm sure one could puncture holes in the theory behind this statement. But the fact is--and discounting work I have to read for my job, which sure as hell requires repeating things over and over--if a work tells me what I already know in the way I already know it, I put it away and don't think about it again. If it's teaching me something, I continue.


Lance Olsen said...

Mark, you said: A question that I feel like asking in a lot of contexts lately: does anybody else get tired of hearing other people say the same things over and over? Don't other people get tired of saying them over and over?

To my ear, this seems to harmonize with that assertion I made here in what seems like 1392: one instinct of the innovative is to tell unconventional stories in unconventional ways—not just to goof around, not just to have fun (although those two impulses are part of the reason at least I do what I do), but to shortcircuit the narratives we're told so often and in so many overdetermined ways (by the government, by the entertainment industry, by the academic trade) that they begin to sound like the truth to far too many people.

That is, we're precisely the writers who are "tired of hearing other people say the same things over and over."

It's that impression of hearing something you haven't heard before said in a way you haven't heard it said that for me registers as something like real insight.