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Anthology Anthropology

8 April, 2009 (09:46) | New Media

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The Sunday New York Times never fails to deliver fascinating writing. Rather than an in depth article on the latest outbreak of war or an insider’s guide to to the latest trend, the most interesting piece of the April 5, 2009 edition was the two paragraph conclusion tucked at the tail of A.O. Scott’s “In Praise of the American Short Story.”

Scott reviews three biographies of well-known writers of the early 20th century known more for their short prose than their novels. Despite not seeming his original intention of the piece, Scott used the opportunity to tuck his own hopes that new media might be a boon to literature instead of the detriment is so seemingly is:

The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?The death of the novel is yesterday’s news.

The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.

I’ve always felt that short stories are generally better written, more interesting and far more poignant than their longer brethren. This is why Ernest Hemingway will remain a great writer in my mind despite being one of the more terrible novelists I’ve read.

As for Twitter and blogs relating to the short form, I can’t say I disagree, but part of me loathes to admit such a connection.

Despite my conscription into the community, Twitter remains an insipid and directionless tool that is simultaneously offering a new modality to conversation and new means of marketing to the masses. By the time it’s gained a true foothold, it will, like all fads, be played out among the hipster technophiles, be embraced by the corporations, and rest on the outskirts of the mainstream, slowly weaving its way into culture, unable to change and adapt while new technologies are making its model better without breaking the crust of across the board adoption.

Blogs, meanwhile, are a two-toned attack on journalism. At once, they are being accepted because they allow insight and personal opinion to flow together easily without the false semblance of objectivity the mainstream media still attempts to pervade and they offer information major publications often deem too trivial or unnecessary to cover.

The true beauty of the blog isn’t in its relation to short fiction, but its relation to reporting and media. The idea that the public can become the editor via Google by popularizing important topics and articles instead of being spoon-fed by the media elite is both attractive and scary. As an unapologetic elitist, I fear granting the public control of the media, but given the failure at journalistic integrity we’ve seen in the time since I was born, it might be best to tear down the institution for which I’ve desired to find livelihood and build anew.

The other night, Devin’s wife Laura pithily remarked with eyes rolling, “Everything is photoshopped.”

It’s both a damning statment and a sad truth that the veracity of information is always at question. Growing up, I could tell that critical thinking simply wasn’t taught in school anymore. Today, critical thinking is a skill that can’t compete with pure cynicism, since dismissal is more often than not warranted. How are we supposed to judge the veracity of reporting when reporters are more aptly repeaters and the liars have tools spinmen only dreamed of?

Unfortunately, what started as a commentary on the short form has turned into a rant on the slow death of journalism. And almost as unfortunately, the self-serving turn away from mainstream journalism is nearly called for by Scott in his mention of self-built anthologies. The death knell of the media was in part the rise of Fox News and the ability to find the news people wanted instead of the news people needed. In the same way, as fulfilling as a perfectly tailored anthology might seem (and yes, I originally cooed at the thought), there are losses in such an endeavor.

We are living in the age of the auteur, where directors, authors, writers, and performers are the tie that bring us to often unrelated projects. I read everything by Neil Gaiman and have watched everything by Joss Whedon, even that which doesn’t live up to expectations (which is a surprising majority of his work in the latter case).

The first loss is capitalistic. Great authors often support lesser authors when their stories share page space. Great authors also often start as lesser authors, and if it weren’t for anthologies, they might never become great authors. Allowing people to pick and choose which stories are included means choosing who receives revenue. I would much rather have an industry supported rather than an individual.

Secondly, and more damningly, anthologies are one of the only means of introducing something different into my literary diet. They provide a chance to experience not only great short form literature, but different types. If one were to build one’s own collection, it would lose that opportunity to discover something new and different.

All that isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place for reading the same author or listening to the same album, but anthologies are not it. I dream of a day where a writers’ union might create a means to revenue sharing for all struggling artists, but until that day, allowing the dispersion of blogs to flavor literature and its publication is a very scary and tremendously sad change.

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  • TheOldBear

    This is one of your best commentaries. It's both well reasoned and well articulated.

    Every anthology must have an editor who sifts through a lot of material to decide what should be included and what should not. While it's attractive to think of compiling one's own idiosyncratic anthology, I doubt that most people have the time or inclination to scour the blogosphere and other resources in search of those occasional jewels.

    Possibly the new “editor” is the aggregator. But regardless of what you call the media gatekeeper, its function is essential even for those who may want to compile their own literary smörgsbord.

  • TheOldBear

    This is one of your best commentaries. It's both well reasoned and well articulated.

    Every anthology must have an editor who sifts through a lot of material to decide what should be included and what should not. While it's attractive to think of compiling one's own idiosyncratic anthology, I doubt that most people have the time or inclination to scour the blogosphere and other resources in search of those occasional jewels.

    Possibly the new “editor” is the aggregator. But regardless of what you call the media gatekeeper, its function is essential even for those who may want to compile their own literary smörgsbord.