Monday, January 04, 2016

Writing and the Internet

"In writing for a newspaper you told what happened aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if your stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me..." (Hemingway)

Last year, I did a lot of writing online. In fact, I feel like I did hardly any writing off-line. Everything I wrote was an immediate engagement with a particular set of readers in what I imagined was a particular state of mind. I probably overestimated (and sometimes underestimated) the attention they were actually paying to me, but I was certainly addressing myself to the moment. I don't think I will do so much of that this year. Frankly, it was exhausting, and not, in the end, very satisfying.

Also, I've noticed that I don't read books anymore. They feel strangely "dead" to me because neither their authors nor my fellow readers can be corrected when they're wrong. I'm losing a particular kind of literary experience, the slow pleasure of reading to shape my emotions with precision. I imagine many of us are in a similar situation, and it is probably the source of many of the problems that have so infuriated me this past year.

We are reading and writing too close to the nerve. We do not absorb or digest our literary experiences any longer, we merely react to them. We are too quick to affirm or denounce the things we read (or even hear someone say) as though their meaning is obvious. (I say "we" out of politeness, but I know I should speak for myself.) For a moment last year, I thought this was the future and the future was good. A new kind of "situated" writing could emerge. A site could be constructed where we would once write a book. The pages could change and adapt to current conditions like a body.

I no longer think this is a healthy idea.

I want to venture a suggestion about real writing: that it is fundamentally disloyal. Loyalty is the bigotry of the heart, I once said. It's as odd as Barthes' remark about the "fascism of language". I'm uncomfortable with both ideas, but I feel that, when we write on the Internet for immediate publication, we are always playing our ideas onto a field that is conditioned by our loyalties. That is not how literature is made.

Most writing on the Internet, I fear, is merely the confrontation of our loyalties with our bigotries. Real literature is the confrontation of honesty with decency. I'm going to take some time this year to figure out what I mean by that.

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