Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Projected Poems of John Ashbery

For the past thirty years, one of my hobbies has been to dabble in the study of languages. I’ve learned enough of five or six to struggle through popular and literary novels, but never enough to consider myself more than competent in any one but English (though I will confess to having translated a couple of books from Spanish). I was often stymied by an inability to get the books I wanted in the languages I was studying, even with the circulating collection of The New York Public Library at hand. When I studied Indonesian for a couple of years and had become comfortable enough to make my way through simple novels, I found that I couldn’t find very much in the United States. I was, however, able to get a copy of Charles Webb’s The Graduate, in Indonesian, and I spent a couple of weeks parsing its sentences. The limited availability was a good thing: I could read only what I could get.

Fast forward to 2030. Every book ever published in every language is available for download on my e-reader. There are no literary critics, only social networks. Absent expertise, relativism triumphs. The concept of historical lists of must-reads—a popular “canon”—is laughable. Universities don’t teach literature classes, they embed literature in experiential technical training (except for a few hold-out teachers, called Mandarins, after the sectionable fruit). The Ford Motor Company is defunct, and history really is bunk. Instead of reading, I am injected with the memory of reading specific books and, boy, I really got a great deal of pleasure from reading Don Quixote for the third time (so much richer after three readings, isn’t it, especially when you read it, as I remember doing, while sitting on the terrace of a castle in La Mancha?). Sometimes I don’t have the memory of books given to me. Instead, I call up a hologram of William Gibson and he reads his new book to me directly in virtual reality. When I don’t like the direction the story is taking, I tell him to change it, which he does, according to my specifications. John Ashbery just passed away at the age of 103 and I was thinking about his poem “Purists Will Object” and how we’ll never have any new poems from him after sixteen collections. But the past is now the future so I call up all his poems and feed them into my Recryptoverse program and it creates twelve new Ashbery poems which I add to my blog as “The Projected Poems of John Ashbery” so that people can read them on their UrenkelKindle.

No comments: