21 May 2006

Speed and Narrative Production

What a terrific morphic space this is . . .

I’d like to design an extension to Lance’s thoughtful and inspiring comments on pedagogy in the categories of writing and publishing. Think of it as an extra leg on what he said. Or something.

I have one word for you.


Let’s talk about speed. And in particular, its dominant status as the central feature to social organization, economy, being, and war circa 2006.

Why talk about speed? I suspect at the heart of our fledgling discussions about authors, the nature of innovative writing, non-mainstream publishing, and politics (hurray for those of you who insist on including this in the discussion) is speed—a speed that pulses out a beat faster than we can count it.

Lemme cop to the fact that I FIRST began thinking about speed as a conceptual framework after reading Paul Virilio.

I mention speed and I steal it from Virilio because it sort of shoots the gap between the market and art. It seems to me that publishing has become a game of extreme competition and velocity, with the exclusive goal being the quickly and mass produced product, fast money, and fast circulation of material.

I’m talking about the making of books—publishing--but I think I am also talking about authors and what they do and what they want.

Publishers and writers want speed.


They either want to be valued or presume they have no choice but to be valued in purely capitalistic terms, and the American market “writes” those terms.

They want to be recognized, legitimized, honored, given jobs in their genres. Quickly.

Bravo America.

Bravo you capitalist metropolis.

As an effect of technological evolution, speed has changed every element of our corporeal, material, and lived existence.

Thus, what’s happened to our concept and experience of time has EVERYTHING to do with discussions of writing, books and publishing. Why? Because reading has become buying/consuming—it has become a conditioned reflex (here there IS a connection to teaching, since our students are or will become either become consumers or readers).

"The tyranny of real-time is not so far removed from classical tyranny in that it tends to do away with the time for thought on the part of the citizen in favor of a conditioned reflex” (Virilio). Time needed to think is in danger of disappearing: "Democracy is the time spent waiting for a collective decision. Our current version, ‘live’ democracy, automatic democracy, does away with that time ... the opinion poll is the election of tomorrow, it is the virtual democracy of the virtual city" (Virilio).

Like the election poll (jesus. I mean really), the commercial (or mainstream, or whatever you’d like to call it) publishing racket has subtracted struggle, thinking, reflection, relationships with readers from the equation in favor of mass marketing of the product.

Technological advance makes this more and more possible.

I don’t think independent presses have any Teflon to speak of here…one of OUR authors at Chiasmus recently said to me: “I would hope that you would not stand in the way of a Chiasmus author making money just to uphold your tribal philosophy of artists creating a space of resistance and possibility . . . “

Reread that.

Yeah, I get it. Writers and publishers want to make money.


Writers and publishers think notions of connection, tribal identity, making art as an act of loving or being or resistance is naïve, quaint, romantic, old fashioned, uneducated, not academic enough, not saavy, not legitimate in the right circles, not newsworthy, not not not marketable, and worst of all, S L O W motion nonsense.

But I also get that making money and circulating the product on the market and making a name and scoring a job and getting buyers, reaching consumers – these are not the ONLY options. I mean, when did we decide to roll over and play dead in the face of the fact of the market?

Don’t panic. I’m not suggesting starving the artists or shooting the publishers.

I’m suggesting that one could circulate art differently. One could short-circuit the market. Go underground, as an act of resistance TO the market, as an act of social relevance UNDERNEATH THE BELLY of the market, where its very sex sits. Reproduction and circulation could happen in smaller cells, so that thought, reflection, and reading could be reinvented.

And here’s the kicker: technological advance makes THAT possible too (the internet).

So I’ll say it again, I think that writing and publishing COULD BE a site of resistance, even with all our socio-political woes, even in this dark and arguably evil moment in history, if we SEIZE the very materials and conditions which threaten to subsume us (nod to walt b.). And not in a naïve way.

The very element which rises up to obliterate independent publishing—the SPEED of the mass marketed book, the SPEED of communication, the SPEED of the dreaded barnes and noble selling mega-machine, the SPEED with which books become commodities and authors get seduced—could be understood as precisely the space of resistance.

The SPEED of information could rally a dormant breed of artistic activists. The SPEED of communication could unite cells of individuals toward common artistic practices and results. The SPEED of readers could be “turned on” by electronic connection, bypassing the market altogether, or dipping in and out of it randomly, chaotically, without permission or apology.

Think of an author’s work we consider “dead” being reincarnated as an internet event for a new generation of “readers.”

Back to speed.

Dromology. A word, a fiction invented by Paul Virilio. “Dromos’” from the Greek word to race. Meaning: the “science (or logic) of speed.” Dromology is important when considering social organization and the laws which govern it. “Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation” (Virilio).

Whether we are talking about the puny shrub’s dictatorship and the current new wave colonialism, or making books which matter, or writing, or teaching, or creating readers, I’m saying speed has something to do with it.

Perhaps part of the way out of the tensions and limitations inherent in the terms we use to define ourselves, our questions, our visions, this discourse we are creating is to reinvent the terms themselves—the conceptual frameworks, the spaces of possibility, something which Lance’s last post inspires in me. I suspect the nowness of things carries with it the terms of our remaking . . .


Dimitri Anastasopoulos said...

Thanks for bringing Virilio's thoughts on speed to the fore. They relate quite well to our current predicament, primarily in terms of the market's dominant aesthetic, and to any alternative to the market.

Virilio is also important because at some point in his economy of the speed of information, he talks of a point of departure, escape velocity, where speed becomes pure space.

I've thought of this conception as a formalist question, where time is treated as space, as say in a fiction. The severely limited unidirectional speed of the marketer simply can't account for the many different speeds of any given fiction, and some fictions certainly operate at different speeds and in MORE space than others.

Recently I read where a scientist proved (hypothetically) that the speed of sound may exceed the speed of light. Because the speed of sound waves can fluctuate the scientist offered that if the speed of each wave was quanitifed and aggregated that the cumulative speed of a sound wave (from its origin outward) would exceed the speed of light. I can only imagine why this would be important for a scientist to consider, but I do think of it as a good metaphor for fiction. If marketers imagine they can distill a fiction into a wave of market speed, then that's an incredible feat in itself. But they can't. The fiction will always exceed their powers.

The marketers have as much shot of doing that as I do of reproducing Bach with my Apple garage band software.

Lance Olsen said...

This is extremely helpful, Lidia. I hadn't thought of speed as a conceptual principle by which to frame our conversation. I especially found illuminating the juxtaposition of speed with time for thought; the latter term rhymes nicely, I want to say, with my idea below concerning the need for the reintroduction of the difficult imagination.

Anonymous said...

This articulation seems very accurate to me. I wonder why it is so difficult to adjust the terms of discussions like this or conceptual frameworks? What do people have to lose?

Anonymous said...

if we're to survive, then we have to get ourselves and our craft up to the speed that everyone esle is swirling around at.

i don't know about you guys, but i find that my reaction to light itself is a "space of resistance and possibility."

my seasons last twenty-three minutes.