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You know who sells a lot of soap? Procter & Gamble. Do you think P&G soap is “the best”? or “the best” for the $? What is?

Whoopi Goldberg won an Academy Award. Roberto Benini did, too. FORREST GUMP did. DRIVING MISS DAISY did.

Have you ever said, after the Grammys or People’s Choice Awards or Golden Globes, “So-and-so was robbed!”?

Remember platinum records? Remember gold records? I don’t think you can play them. (Can you?)

Copyright ensures that when you buy a book, you buy a quantity of paper, glue, and ink. A book. You do not buy THE book.

The number of books bought and left unread > The number of books bought and read Continue reading

The reason why poetry once lost favor with the more judicious

Now, commendation and its opposite being analogous as regards effects, we cannot easily deny the fact that although the law prohibits one man from slandering the reputation of another, it does not prevent us from bestowing reputation without cause. This pernicious license in respect to the distribution of praise has formerly been confined in its area of operations; and it may be the reason why poetry once lost favor with the more judicious.

-Michel de Montaigne, writing in 1572

Intro and Outro

thomas mcmahonThere are writers who seem to fall through the net, who somehow miss out on the audience they deserve. They are known to a few, but the wide and admiring readership they deserve. I would hazard a guess that not many of you know the name of Thomas McMahon, and those who do will almost certainly not have encountered Ira Foxglove. So, let me tell you a little story. Continue reading

Tolerance and Accessibility II

faulkner_picLet’s try a slightly different tack this time. Here are the first two paragraphs of a review written by Clifton Fadiman and published in The Nation on January 15, 1930.

Probably someone has already remarked that the perfect enjoyment of great literature involves two factors. The reader should make an analysis of the methods employed by the artist to produce a given effect; and at the same time he should experience a synthetic appreciation of that effect in its emotional totality. The analysis must be almost instantaneous, almost unconscious. Otherwise the reader may become enmeshed in a tangle of aesthetic judgments, and experience difficulty in feeling the work of art as a whole.

Here, perhaps, lies the problem of comprehending the present-day revolutionary novelist. Frequently the intelligent reader can grasp the newer literary anarchies only by an effort of analytical attention so strained that it fatigues and dulls his emotional perception. He is so occupied in being a detective that by the time he has to his own satisfaction clarified the artist’s intentions and technique he is too worn out to feel anything further. This is why the Joycean method of discontinuity has been entirely successful only when applied to materials of Joycean proportions. For it is obvious that if the theme is sufficiently profound, the characters sufficiently extraordinary, the plot sufficiently powerful, the reader is bound to absorb some of all this despite the strain on his attention. But if after an interval of puzzle-solving, it dawns upon him that the action and characters are miniscular, he is likely to throw the book away in irritation. The analysis has taken too long for the synthesis to be worth the trouble.

Continue reading

Tolerance and Accessibility

OK, well, obviously, anything that spawned Godwin’s Law isn’t going to be the best place to start an intellectual inquiry into tolerance, but I am drawn to the difficult and obtuse and comment threads are nothing if not difficult and obtuse and nothing’s going to cure me of this perversity short of a stroke or a railroad spike so here we go. Reading the comments below the following video led me to think further about the ill effects that aboutness can have. First, let’s take a quick look at the video:

As I’ve already said, the video is less important than the comments that follow it, so let’s see a couple of those:

Screen shot 2014-07-04 at 11.38.41 AM

Screen shot 2014-07-04 at 11.52.12 AM(Just a soupcon. Wouldn’t want to spoil the sauce!) Continue reading

Inverse of distraction

At the very moment the book is dematerializing, it is becoming more embodied than ever, the book celebrating the fetishization of the book’s bookishness: design, layout, texture, smell, borderlands. [[there.]]

Ever since the codex took over from the scroll sometime in what we arbitrarily call the middle ages, the book seems to have been under threat. Yet the book as object, as something over and above the contents of the book, is something we have experimented with and changed and revised time without end. Back in the 1960s Ace books introduced their Ace Doubles: you open a particularly garish cover and read a short sf novel which took you to approximately half way through the volume, then you closed the book, turned it over, and found another garish cover which you opened to reveal another short sf novel, sometimes by the same author, more often not. Haruki Murakami published Norwegian Wood as two small paperbacks, one red, one green, contained within a book-shaped box. B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates allowed the reader to assemble the book in any order they chose. In Our Ecstatic Days, Steve Erickson has one long sentence that runs like a thread from page 83 to page 315, cutting through the midst of all else that is happening in the novel. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions tells its story in two portions, one occupying the top part of the page, the other upside down in the bottom part of the page, so that every so often you need to turn the book through 180 degrees. These, and there are more, many more, are all examples of the physical characteristics of the book being exploited as part of what the book is doing, an enhancement to the story.

In an age of e-readers it is easy for most stories to be translated straightforwardly to the screen, but the textural as opposed to textual characteristics of such books cannot be so translated. Any book that does anything more than simply tell a story defies the digital revolution.

Which is a way of saying you couldn’t, you wouldn’t want to read Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting on a screen. Continue reading