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04/22/2010

“Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly (the incessant aggressions of the Press against the privacy of stars and the growing difficulties of legislation to govern them testify to this movement). But since the private is not only one of our goods (falling under the historical laws of property), since it is also the absolutely precious, inalienable site where my image is free (free to abolish itself), as it is the condition of interiority which I believe is identified with my truth, or, if you like, with the Intractable of which I consist, I must, by a necessary resistance, reconstitute the division of public and private: I want to utter interiority without yielding intimacy. ”  – from “Camera Lucida” by Roland Barthes

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future book

03/25/2010

The rock documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, improbable as it may seem, has a clue in it about the future of publishing. Music critic, David Fricke, laments the state of the music industry in which one label (Reprise, a Warner subsidiary) drops Wilco from its roster after the band delivers a challenging yet watershed album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. After label-less Wilco streams it for their fans on their website, creating such a buzz that it feeds a bidding war, the band finds itself a new label, Nonesuch, another Warner subsidiary. They sold it to Warner twice! Fricke shares an interesting observation about the nature of music itself (while couched in the subtextual language which acknowledges a cutthroat industry that ONLY values commercial success) that could also apply to books:

Holding up a CD, he speaks his peace:

“This is a record. This is something someone will buy…They’ll pay 15, 16 …whatever bucks for it. And that’s cool..but you know what’s encoded in this dopey little disc — you know, that’s what matters. This — the artifact, the actual object — is not. What’s encoded in here, if it’s any good — you know — you’ll hear it and just as — as a.. as a writer, as a fan, as a guy who just listens to music a lot — you know, if you don’t get it…you know, I just think that’s kind of too bad.”

That was back in 2001 or 2002. Nearly ten years later, it’s an observation very few can disagree with in a world where the iPod (and the 10,000 songs it can hold) is ubiquitous. So the record, the cassette, the CD…the book…are all artifacts of the “thing” that actually matters, the art that needs a “delivery system” in these rapidly technologically collapsing days. But it partly gives me pause, for surely, someone is working to create a device to deliver music directly to the part of your brain that processes sound. And perhaps one that will allow words to scroll across your eyes, too. Oh no, Apple!

If you can recall the freedom of first experiencing the untethered technology to play your music then you have to acknowledge that at some point books (those things with paper leaves) will one day be seen as antiques despite their superiority. Once paper falls away (hopefully not entirely), never again will it be possible to have a truly fixed document. The digital — until the next wave of technology — is too easily mutable. Who knows what textbook revisions we are in store for?

With such a Brave New World on the horizon, our present challenges may one day seem paltry. This is a moment when publishers and their allies/nemeses (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, literary agents) are struggling to co-operate and survive yet best one other. The dissonance of that tact will be fruitless since in this economy most customers are blithely unaware of the embattled state of the industry and if they are, must likely be loosing interest in these wars, even less likely to be sympathetic. They want engaging and entertaining books for reasonable prices. If not, there’s the library. Or better yet, HBO.

With new technology, books, along with TV, video games, movies, etc, are in a limbo space where they easily become part of what Henry Jenkins calls “Convergence Culture,” a phenomena where for this moment nearly anyone has the ability to create or re-create works and distribute them, whether on the Internet, via print-on-demand services, or a trip from their desktop to a Kinkos for a quick bind-up job. So with some interested parties epically conflicted, what is interesting to note, is that some customers are also becoming “publishers” and creators. There’s a long tradition of self-published books among niche markets and communities (E. Lynn Harris was a major pioneer). Chapbooks for poets are a burgeoning business. Mom blogs (like my cousin, Dorothy‘s Laundry Can Wait) give way to books. The big news is when an established literary star like John Edgar Wideman breaks from the routine and takes charge of their output. This may be the moment that takes the stigma out of self-publishing, one of the main barriers preventing writers from regularly taking such a route.

Publishers are trying to avoid the mistakes of the music industry and yet…Google wants to convert every book into digital files (current copyright law be damned). If Google gets (or takes) its way publishers may have to quickly embrace the idea of converting every book known to man into an eBook version while consumers are still used to paying for “books”, so at least they and the authors and their heirs may reap some financial reward. Google’s ambitious initiative may extend the life of works to a much wider (and searchable) universe, allowing the collective populace a chance to advance its evolution. Surely young people of the next generation will not have to lose brain space to memorized historical dates or…or anything…with the knowledge of eons of human civilization at their fingertips. And if that’s the case won’t some among them then be able to use that freed up extra intellectual muscle to finding a cure for cancer, solving economic crises, or building a time machine that inevitably someone will use to go back in time and destroy the Google that made it all possible? Well maybe not the last Terminatoresque scenario but the consequences of Google getting its way will be enormous.

This is a moment before readers and audiences will consciously get to choose a winner. After a certain point it will be gone. There are very few horse-drawn carriages, not too many gaslights, and who knows what this is?* I do imagine with tribes, niches, and communities finding each other on the Internet (the water cooler of the world now, word of mouth to the nth degree), people’s tastes narrow and refine to the point that readers will easily find and support whatever suits their tastes without direction from publishers or the media foisting it on them. Most likely this will make for a diverse landscape of art with far fewer mainstream hits. This may be more satisfying for the many more voices that will be subsequently heard and as long as the words survive and the meanings behind them, I suppose that artifact, whatever it is, should not matter.

*for those who do not click, it’s a typewriter eraser.

A Change is Gonna Come

03/23/2010

Ai

03/21/2010

I first read Ai at the insistence of a writing teacher who recommended her to me. Because of my own mixed-race heritage? Perhaps.  I devoured “Sin,” “The Killing Floor,”and “Cruelty.” They were persona poems: written in the voice of fallen or falling people with a clear empathy, disconcerting in their seductive elegance.

She became one of those writers who belongs to a place and time for me. I was shocked to see I hadn’t listed her among dozens of my favorite writers on my Facebook page.  Hearing of her death today made me think about the debt I  owe to her in terms of shaping my racial identity.

Nearly everything about her thrilled me in its audacity, from her name (a new name – not even a pseudonym – that declaimed a father), to her biography (in which she claimed her father’s race along with all her mother’s). If there was something willfully contradictory about her creation story one could overlook it since by making it she was so clearly owning, yet sharing, herself:

“People whose concept of themselves is largely dependent on their racial identity and superiority feel threatened by a multiracial person. The insistence that one must align oneself with this or that race is basically racist. And the notion that without a racial identity a person can’t have any identity perpetuates racism…I wish I could say that race isn’t important. But it is. More than ever, it is a medium of exchange, the coin of the realm with which one buys one’s share of jobs and social position. This is a fact which I have faced and must ultimately transcend. If this transcendence were less complex, less individual, it would lose its holiness.”

why we move

03/04/2010

I just went through moving last weekend. I’m only now recovering from the trauma. Did I know it was coming? Did I have time to prepare? Of course, but did any of that make any difference when the day finally arrived and I was caught emotionally and physically unprepared for the actual act. Before any heavy lifting occurs, there is the main hardship…what to take, what to leave behind? If a neighbor hadn’t taken my white sofa (sadly and yes, embarrassingly stained), I would have left it behind. I had a flash of it on the slushy, snowy sidewalk and it occurred to me, someone could do a photo study of white sofas left behind on sidewalks after moving days. They always seem so chic but mine was from Ikea. It’s the bane of Ikea: one-use only furniture.

Apparently moving is one of the most stressful times in anyone’s life. I’ve had my share and I have been fairly blithe about it (Many, many years ago, I  moved from the Upper West Side to the East Village in the back of a yellow cab with my clothes in shopping bags. Hey there, 23). But somewhere along the way I accumulated lots and lots of stuff (enough for a stall at the Brooklyn Flea). Literally rooms and rooms of a Brooklyn apartment’s worth of stuff. If I had read this article in the NYT before moving, could I have saved myself some headaches?

Probably not. I do feel lighter and know that when I do move again, I shall be much lighter on the possessions front, which is half the battle. I may be able to revert to my early adulthood ways, in which I was, at least physically, easily moved.

Migrating

02/22/2010

Since I’ve had increasing technical issues with blogger, I’m in the process of moving this blog elsewhere but I have started a parallel mini-blog here for the interim: http://unveiler.tumblr.com/

I’m new here

02/08/2010

“I’m New Here” (released today, February 8th) will be a landmark recording by pioneer spoken-word poet/musician Gil Scott-Heron.  Check out “New York is Killing Me.”

I dare not post the video for “Me and The Devil,” the remake of the Robert Johnson song (I am not a horror movie aficionado, and to my never-seen-the-Exorcist sensibilities, it qualifies as one).  Find that nightmare on YouTube yourself.

It occurred to me that if you watch the video for the blockbuster anthem by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, “New York State of Mind,” right afterwards you get the antithesis of Scott-Heron’s New York and can see how two halves might live in this city.   Jay-Z’s is a seductive, Disneyfied version, while Scott-Heron hints at the ineffable desperation of those who might take the worse of two different lines: bought or sold.