Sunday, November 01, 2015


A book is not the same as an e-manuscript.  Right.  A book is a physical thing that requires supplies like paper, and manufacturing like a printing press -- therefore a book is a product of capital.  The skill set of the reader (both the recognition of letters and ability to see through the writing to the ideas) is more crucial than even an editor or type setter.  Print has no usefulness if no one can read it. Once it is made, it can be physically altered by marking or tearing out pages or burning, but it is as real as a chair or a bicycle.  No instrumentation is necessary.  Just a mind.  (You can read with your fingertips.)  Learning to read is a public good that justifies basic schools.

Translating to electronic media means one does not require learning language code, not even spoken.  It may be entirely in terms of images or sounds or graphic symbols.  It does not exist in reality, but only in the arrangement of cybercodes and its reception by a person with an ordinary set of senses.  And a mind.  It requires special machinery to detect: a hard-drive, a screen, maybe Internet.  The education has not been provided by schools.  Access may be handheld, but it will need electricity.

A barrier to either kind of communication (paper print or electronic media) is instrumentation, the same as radio, or at a very primitive level, a musical instrument, but a human body is the ultimate instrument of communication.  It can sing, dance, tell stories, give backrubs and have sex. It can sign-talk and code things like eye-blinks in order to convey information and meaning.

We are all struggling with the problem of how to create gradients of value for the purpose of creating profit from writing.  Not for paper and a press, but to keep the creator eating.  A book, like any physical object, can be physically seized, locked up, destroyed, in the most direct way.  It can be artistically bound or encrusted with jewels.  The creation of the actual choice of words is mysterious and mostly misunderstood or misrepresented as when something is print was supposedly dictated by a god or a spook.  It was once mysterious.  When print is changed for the purpose of making it worthy of sales, we call that editing.  Now that editing is controlled by profit, and distribution of books means physically storing and moving objects, it falls into the paradigms of widgets which have been heavily industrialized and pounded into advertising concepts: defining consumers, promoting directly to them, pandering, associating with celebrities.  Music is a little different.  As long as people can whistle, there will be no real copyright for a tune.

Swerve.  This is a link to a trailer for a course that can be taken online from the U of Chicago.  I don’t know whether anyone else in my circle of readers has access to this course, but I’m going to try to take it.  It’s nerdy stuff and I may get lost, but I think I need to have the concepts.  I want to escape widget marketing.

So what are the prospects.   Once past the status and keeping up with the Joneses,  the great cry is always for “immersion,” an experience.  How does media become an “experience” instead of an object to leave on the coffee table?  (Or maybe hide somewhere private.)

“Shared experience” like a roller coast ride together or sitting on a bench together watching a sunset might be a good paradigm for non-print “vooks.”  Unique experience is probably the key to a lot of social goods, even more than money.  It’s the missing part to the HIV puzzle, the Ebola puzzle, the war puzzle, because empathy is a moral empowerment.  But it is not immersive to simply be in someone else’s head, esp. if they are rather different, unconventional, like a Somali or Tibetan child.  You can’t just empty their lives into someone else.  There needs to be artistic shaping to deliver the message.  The problem is how to do that without simply playing Procrustes and smashing them into the already established stigmatic patterns.  It cannot be one-size fits all, can it? 

Another problem is that not every person who has been stigmatized and abused will want to make their life available.  They will need disguise, interpretation, and protection.  And there are bound to be people who want to seem worse than they are.  If bad is going to get attention and money, some can be badder than anyone else.  No problem.  Happens all the time.  Deal with it.  That’s what fiction is about.  Learn from it.

I’m a person who wants to do the right thing, to see what’s happening with accuracy and sympathy, and then to do something that helps, if only providing insight.  It’s not enough.  The culture has to see with accuracy and sympathy and then act.  Even so enlightened and educated a group as a Unitarian Universalist congregation will have a pattern that they believe and it will be hard to get past.  They won’t attack or question, it will just be blank.  Worse, some may get off on the drama of it all.  But mostly they just won’t get it.  And they’ll go to widgets: banners and t-shirts.  Celebrity marketing.

It’s easy to see people one doesn’t know very well as just pegs with no intentions or preferences.  BIG mistake.  Don’t think they can’t shuck and hustle and blow smoke and even participate in what is best for themselves.  Or worse.  Out of desire.  They can be infuriating.  How do you make people want to immerse in THAT? School has taught too many the evil of fearing ambiguity, even more than the Other.

I’ve been thinking about two dimensions of doing the right thing that address content rather than style.  One is compassion, when one understands suffering and moves to oppose it.  (“Black Beauty,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Girl, Interrupted,”  "Dispatches")  Compassion towards oneself is included.  The other one is justice.  It’s on the logical/rational side of the room where Science lives.  Law comes to visit, but law is more about social accommodation on the group level, in print.  Skillful and inspired writing does come into it but how it works in a specific case will be different.

They say that a cardinal or maybe even the Pope once remarked that hearing the confessions of nuns was like being pelted with popcorn.  Maybe the equivalent (for similar reasons) among American aspiring female writers is something like being plunged -- not into a searing cauldron -- but into a jet-circulating hot tub with plenty of bubble bath.  It is class-written bliss dependent upon equipment.  Like “Shades of Gray.”  Watch the very popular film, “Half the Sky,” and note that it took movie stars to get the story told.  It is THEIR immersion that we are watching, not the Third World women and girls.   Are you realizing why I prefer CSI shows, even with the glamour (magic) of fantasized Miami?  The tragedy of it is how sexy and bizarre the violence has to be to pull people into the story.  BUT it is accessible to anyone watching, not just readers.

Reading is distancing for some people.  Writing is a little different.  Even writing logical clarity can put the writer into a state of “flow,” which is when you are working at the edge of your skill level, no matter whether it is beginner or master.  “Flow” is an active version of immersion.  Flow is more effective than opium, can get you higher than meth, can pull you into extraordinary emotion -- maybe healing and maybe not.  It can give you an orgasm.  In fact, orgasm and ejaculation IS your body coming to flow, the obliviating edge of experience.  To many of us, writing is making love.  It’s combat.  It’s parachuting out of an airplane in the dark without knowing whether it’s flying over land or water, much less where.  

And you don't know who packed the parachute.  Or when your next meal might be.  But that was the same with paper.

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