One of the problems with telling other people’s stories is that you bear the responsibility for the telling. Technology invites each of us to tell our story in many mediums. When is it stealing? When is it exploitation? When is it empathy? When is it giving the gift of meaning–the only gift writers have to give? Language, that puckish knave, can sometimes express meaning well outside of the writer’s good intentions. That is why to write is both brave and foolish. For me, the act of empathizing with another human, of becoming them in my imagination, of wresting meaning from brash reality, that is the payoff.
Still, times change. We must listen to others and take heed. Here: http://nyti.ms/1XRvsz8
Here’s a great comment that made it to the front page of Reddit on the uses of literature.
The universe is huge. Time is impossibly vast. Trillions of creatures crawl and swim and fly through our planet. Billions of people live, billions came before us, and billions will come after. We cannot count, cannot even properly imagine, the number of perspectives and variety of experiences offered by existence.
We sip all of this richness through the very narrowest of straws: one lifetime, one consciousness, one perspective, one set of experiences. Of all the universe has, has had, and will have to offer, we can know only the tiniest fraction. We are alone and minuscule and our lives are over in a blink.
Sometimes I think that the problem with reading is a problem with its plausibility.
Here is a passage from Northrop Frye’s theory of modes: (P 51)
“We note in passing that imitation of nature in fiction produces, not truth or reality, but plausibility, and plausibility varies in weight from a mere perfunctory concession in a myth or folk tale to a kind of censor principle in a naturalistic novel.”
There was talk during the Bush administration of examining library records. Librarians were right to resist such inquiries on the grounds that such a intrusion in the civil liberties of readers would endanger the ability for free discussion of ideas. However, some part of me wished to see the results of an exhaustive survey of what people were reading from libraries. Which books were reserved, by whom, and how often. This is the kind of data that would speak volumes about our culture. Only recently has such information even been theoretically available. And yet, of course we should not look at such data. Though I like to sometimes imagine that the Librarians of the world know exactly what we are reading and thus know who we are, or worse, who we would like to be.
This is one of my favorite techniques. It was employed by W.G. Sebald in The Emigrants. It is used to drift from one 1st person point of view into another 1st person point of view. And it’s not as simple as it sounds. For one thing, he doesn’t use quotation marks to demarcate dialogue. Also, paragraphs come rather infrequently, so it’s not as simple as indenting. He uses a couple of techniques to do this. Here’s one:
The literary arts seem more today than ever before wracked with anxiety. By anxiety, I mean in a state of terror without object. A fear that there is something to fear. Everywhere the future of literature seems uncertain, its coming death all but declared. The writer, the devoted reader, the publisher, the journalist, the teacher, the professor, in a vague, generalized way feel that something is happening to literary culture. Though should one try to pinpoint the source or find definitive proof of this anxiety, one will most surely find competing evidence that will immediately disprove whatever was once proven.
Value Investing is the most literary of all the investment paradigms. It was invented by Benjamin Graham, a man who was not without certain literary qualities. As a prodigious student at Columbia, he was given a choice of instructorships ranging from Mathematics to English and Philosophy. Pragmatism drew him to finance. Alice Schroder’s Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life provides very moving portrait of the Dean of Wall Street, often withdrawing from the company of men and longing to commune with the likes Virgil, Horace, and Juvenal. “Money isn’t everything” he tells a young Buffet at a cafeteria in lower Manhattan. No, among Graham’s other pastimes were philandering, teaching, and writing, the trifecta of almost all literary figures.
Can there be said anything of Phillip Roth that has not already been said? As a public figure he predicts the end of his own genre. And yet, to read his work is to become intimate with the original thrust and power fiction has on the world of ideas. Existence, the subjective reflection, the booger rolled in the fingers and felt for the thousandth time, is still a vital act. Just because there are less readers does not mean it is unimportant. This is to succumb to the fallacy of near-history.
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