Will the Internet Twitter Away, or Resurrect Literature?

A friend of mine, Anthony Alofsin, started a blog. He's primarily know for his contributions to the field of architecture, as a professor, and author of over 20 books on the subject. His interest in blogging, however, is literature, and -- i think -- challenging, and subverting a few of today's fashionable institutions of thought.

His first entry contains a manifesto:

Beyond mere entertainment, literature, achieved through writing, can still be subversive, can still seduce, and undermine. When words move beyond simplistic entertainment, they deal with ideas and themes that exist across time. Literature brings us to think about concepts that no longer appear in any discourse and are not so present in the dynamic digital world: life, death, loss, dignity, excellence, paradox, respect, irony, civility, altruism, all the varieties of tragedy, and joy too. Also, good literature provides the pleasure of words. Just as bloggers get immense pleasure in putting their words together, so does the literary writer. The language and syntax may be different, but underneath the satisfaction is not so different.

I'm reminded of George Orwell's 1946 essay, The Prevention of Literature. Writes Orwell:

Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. ...Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

He goes on predict today's publishing industry.

Even more machine-like is the production of short stories, serials, and poems for the very cheap magazines. Papers such as the Writer abound with advertisements of literary schools, all of them offering you ready-made plots at a few shillings a time. Some, together with the plot, supply the opening and closing sentences of each chapter. Others furnish you with a sort of algebraical formula by the use of which you can construct plots for yourself. Others have packs of cards marked with characters and situations, which have only to be shuffled and dealt in order to produce ingenious stories automatically. It is probably in some such way that the literature of a totalitarian society would be produced, if literature were still felt to be necessary. Imagination — even consciousness, so far as possible — would be eliminated from the process of writing. Books would be planned in their broad lines by bureaucrats, and would pass through so many hands that when finished they would be no more an individual product than a Ford car at the end of the assembly line. It goes without saying that anything so produced would be rubbish; but anything that was not rubbish would endanger the structure of the state. As for the surviving literature of the past, it would have to be suppressed or at least elaborately rewritten.


What Orwell couldn't have predicted was that it was the market (as a social institution) -- not a totalitarian government -- that exiled literature to die alone on a deserted island. He couldn't have forseen that the that his day's newspaper, and radio ads -- not the marxist and facist movements that he feared at the time -- would fulfill his fears.


Television is the fist that beats most American's minds into the familiar dull submission of conformity and lack of imagination.

-- Shut the fuck up donny. Cowabunga dude. Don't have a cow, man. What's your favorite show? --

Ad people pay for eyeballs, and TV producers try to capture as many eyeballs as they can. TV isn't stupid because a conspiracy wants us to be stupid: its stupid because we all tend to gravitate towards the same stupid things, and if the goal is eyeballs, go with the fart joke, guy getting hit in the nuts, celebrity freak out. Almost no one can turn away.


So far, the effect of the internet on the ad driven culture of the last 40 years is so brutally apparent that, its hardly worth reiterating. The twilight that's enveloped newspapers, and magazines shall fall over television as we know too.

Clearly, this trend is not bad news for literature. However, the internet isn't a golden angel from the sky. More importantly, don't listen to ANYTHING made of gold that descends from the air, for its tongue speaks only lies and treachery!

The internet wave -- in so far as a disruptive cultural influence will not stop -- recession or no recession. Its a communications tool, and the only human urge more predictable than sex is the urge to communicate.

In so far as literature is concerned, I think the trends benefit writers who blur fiction/non-fiction, and pack the most force in the smallest space. There's enough bloody subject matter writers on the internet -- what's needed are writers that can write small, beautiful works, regularly -- and can do so in a way that -- apart from being beautiful as prose -- evokes strong emotions, or makes people laugh. In otherwords, god like figures.

*My blog started out as a tiresome, staunchly progressive politics rant blog, and look what it has evolved to: a tiresome staunchly pro drupal development/rant blog.