Talked To Death Dept.

A Swing and a Miss - B. R. Myers - The Atlantic

Decades ago the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran wrote that he found novels from Latin countries less deep and moving because, or so he suspected, the writers in those more sociable climes talked their thoughts to death before putting pen to paper. In that sense, ours may now be the most Latin culture of all. In an effort to offer something, anything, that is not already on Facebook, our writers seem less likely to go big than to go small, writing in great polished detail of the most trivial thoughts and deeds.

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I'm not sure if "Latin countries" includes Brazil, because that would disqualify folks like Machado de Assis, who I most definitely count as being both deep and moving. Bloody shame, that. Cioran is also one of those authors whom I give points for being original, but take them away again for being interminable and tedious — you dip into him for aphorisms, but reading him as any kind of systematic thinker seems unwise.

But let's drop back a bit and look at the main contention of the above 'graf — that the chattier the culture, the less likely it'll produce untrivial literature. (I didn't like using the word "untrivial", gross as it is, but it seemed closer to what I meant than just saying "profound".)

The problem isn't that we post every stupid little thing on Facebook or what have you — it's that we are letting that way of talking and thinking about things push everything else out of the picture. The mode itself isn't new; Dwight Macdonald was complaining about similar things in newspapers back in the Thirties, where a sentence or two separated by asterisks in a columnist's daily tattle was what passed for insight.

The conventional wisdom about "short, controlled bursts" is that people have less time to read and so much information to contend with, that it's better to adapt to their attention spans than to fight a losing (information) war. It's people's attention, not even their money, that has become the real commodity —and their time is a form of money, to them, since they only have a finite amount of it to spend.

I agree with this, up to a point. The trick is to find ways of using those shorter bursts to hook an audience's attention for longer and longer stints — so that by the time they sit down for those 500 or 800 pages you've been saving them up for, a) you'll have something to say to make it worth the time and b) they'll be all the more grateful for the experience. That all requires some thought about what those 500 or 800 pages do actually contain, instead of what can be pumped full of air to fill that space.

Tags: readers  reading  writers  writing 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2012/08/19 10:00.

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