Friday, April 9, 2010

Contemplative Reading

In re: my last post: Is contemplative, long-form reading coming to an end because of late-Modern focus on speed and technology? Here's T.S. Eliot from 1934's "Choruses from The Rock":

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The End of Time (Narrative Version)

My recent talk at Concordia College, A Brief History of the Book-Like Thing, or How to Read a Delivery System, Easy Lessons in Elementary Mediology (the title reflects a lame, nerd's joke when he speaks to an audience of academic scholars), was a survey of narrative delivery systems (I'll call this last term a retro-neologism, 'though I know there is a neologism for such a concept but I can't remember it at the moment) from the cave-drawings at Lascaux to the digital reader. To each technology developed that delivered narrative to the reader, I applied current publishing industry standards (the Roman wax appliqués on wood were faulted for their lack of durability during beach-reading, for example). I ended with the simple statement "The next delivery system will break down narrative time so far that time itself will not really matter." Almost all post-talk questions asked about that statement.

My point was that during the past few thousand years both the delivery system and the narrative it contained included a concept of duration. The former means the durability of the words on the stone, papyrus, vellum, paper, etc., which survive for a specific amount of time. The latter refers to the "story" itself, which, even when there is no linear or sequential time involved, has duration, for the most part. (Space is also a consideration, and the time and space interplay is of interest, as in
Régis Debray's characterization of the book--meaning the codex-like thing--as "une chose delimit
ée," but I won't deal with that here.) New works by David Shields (Reality Hunger) and Padget Powell (The Interrogative Mood) deny duration and internally obliterate time, which may be an early result of the recently developed narrative delivery systems. This approach isn't entirely new, of course (read Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines) but current and coming delivery systems may lend themselves to this new type of narrative. For example, 'though the Japanese have delivered full, plot-heavy novels on the cell phone, would the duration-free and plot-free narrative be better-served by the cell phone (or Twitter), and vice-versa?