Friday, January 25, 2008

Intergeneric Questions

A recent interview in USA Today with Stephen King on his new book Duma Key again brings up the question about crossing the borders of literature. I mentioned Mark Danielewski’s Only Revolutions a few blog entries ago in the context of visual literariness and the new optics and David Markson’s “paragraph” structure and Google entry gathering. These are structural experiments.

But what of cross-generic questions? We have passed (are passing?) through a period of dominance by popular culture. “High culture” seems to have lost meaning, even to its creators. If a grizzled resignation pervades the last generation of literary lions and a feeling of toothlessness the next generation of cubs, borderlessness excites the next. Granted, literary conservatives still exist, as well as the formerly hip generation who fought against literary quietude, but cross-genre reading (and writing) holds the hip quotient of the day. The same person who reads Heidi Julavits can read Jane Austen and Alan Moore, without embarrassment. Dave Eggers can re-imagine the life of an African refugee without too many accusations of inauthenticity that dogged the earnest heels of the sixties generation. Perhaps this is the promise of Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy finally fulfilled. To paraphrase Duke Ellington (he of Black, Brown and Beige): if it reads good, it is good.

Back to the digital age: if I ran Amazon, and didn’t care about the possibility of offending my conservative, reading customers (fat chance), I would give Kindle software to 100 literary, visual and music artists and tell them to create digital literary works. Then I’d offer them as free downloads to all Kindle users, without digital copyright protection. I’d love to see what David Foster Wallace, Alice Sebold and Matt Groening come up with, and how fast it gets passed around the world.

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