I’ve been spending a lot of time in the local (St. Catharines) 24-hour Starbucks, where there is wi-fi and a constant slew of people, students to retirees, most with computers, banging away at assignments or blogs or novels or who-knows-what. Continue reading “Graphomania”

The other porn addiction

Hal Niedzviecki in The Other Porn Addiction, from Walrus Magazine, April 2009:

British social theorist Nikolas Rose talks about the modern individual as an “entrepreneur of him- or herself” who is “to conduct his or her life, and that of his or her family, as a kind of enterprise, seeking to enhance and capitalize on existence itself through considered acts of initiative, and through investments.” The modern individual, then, seeks relationships that are essentially “parasocial” — the term social scientists use to describe the one-sided relationships we have with celebrities, in which we know everything about them, but they don’t know we exist. Social networking scholar danah boyd [sic] has argued that this flow of detailed information is creating a new class of people in our lives — people we follow closely online and come to know intimately but voyeuristically, without any need for genuine interaction. [emphases mine]

Much as i appreciate, at times, the product of “the other porn addiction” (subtitle: Why are ordinary women exposing themselves online?), the article provides some thought-provoking issues as to the social health of the people involved.

I’m a big admirer of Niedzviecki, one of Canada’s most astute social commentators. Hal’s website:

Art = suffering: Snicket

Author Lemony Snicket

[Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket] said people are attracted to dark and subversive stories this time of year, in part because of the dark and cold outside.

“In real life, I prefer miracles and goodness. In a work of art, I prefer the opposite. I think people often get confused over what they like in one versus the other,” he said.

“When you’re travelling on an ocean liner, you would prefer it to be iceberg-free. If you’re watching a movie about an ocean liner, you would prefer it to run into the iceberg as soon as possible, drowning whatever good-looking actors are aboard.”

… “I think holiday stories don’t necessarily need to provide lessons and stories and reassurances, but should be entertaining and engaging,” Handler said.

“If you set out to teach a moral lesson, you’ll probably make a tedious story. If you make a good story, it will probably end up to have a moral lesson.”

— From the story Lemony Snicket has lump of coal for holiday reading.

Inflating the lit quotient

I know i’m mostly regurgitating the words of others and contributing little original thought on this blog these days — ’tis the widespread curse of blogging (and often of journalism) in the modern world.

In my defence, it’s an unaccustomed thrill to have a good computer and fast Internet access, so i’ve been ranging widely and indiscriminately in search of reading, amusing and wanking material. (Perhaps you didn’t need to know that last.) I’ll be losing the access soon, so i’m going at it compulsively now.

In the interests of literary pomp, here are a couple of thoughts plucked from the Holt Uncensored blog of SanFran editorial consultant Pat Holt .

One includes a cardinal sin of amateur writing (even among professionals) that runs rampant in small-town scribbling, my own included:

“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”

Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words — you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:

“Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important — his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time — and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension….  Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.

Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

And another on the self-inflicted degradation of publishing in general:

That same Page Six mentality that turns the arts into a gossip machine has moved the focus of publishing away from books that are literature and put the spotlight on the authors who create literature. Roth doesn’t mean we’re honoring authors more than books –- quite the contrary. He means we’re exploiting famous authors by writing biographies that deliciously and salaciously accent their hidden pasts, their secret inspirations, their dark side. It’s more lucrative to do that, he says, than to publish serious literary works.

In Roth’s latest novel, “Exit Ghost,” he especially indicts “cultural journalism” as presented and practiced by the New York Times.

“Cultural journalism is tabloid gossip disguised as an interest in ‘the arts,’ ” a character protests in a letter to the Times, “and everything that it touches is contracted into what it is not. Who is the celebrity, what is the price, what is the scandal? What transgression has the writer committed, and not against the exigencies of literary aesthetics but against his or her daughter, son, mother, father, spouse, lover, friend, publisher, or pet?”

I’ve gotta say, i concur. I refuse to be sucked into the cult of celebrity, but it’s so in-the-air that I too would probably piss my pants if i ever by chance shared an elevator with Britney Spears. Though i suppose i’d have to recognize her first.

Deep artsy thought (not mine)

Here are a couple of pithy ideas taken from from the endnotes to Voyage Along the Horizon, by Spanish novelist Javier Marías (written at the age of 21). Longest literate sentences i’ve ever read, by the way.

[The] end of a novel isn’t usually very important. In fact, people never seem to remember the endings of novels … and movies. Conclusions and final explanations are ofter the most irrelevant — and disappointing — parts of a novel. What counts the most — and what we remember the most — is the atmosphere, the style, the path, the journey, and the world in which we have immersed ourselves for a few hours or a few days…. [p. 182]


Nowadays, those of us who are writers spend a lot of time expressing our opinions about almost anything that happens anywhere in the world…. We are constantly being asked to take a “position.” or to demonstrate our solidarity with some cause or disaster or problem. For my part I have always made an effort to distinguish between the novelist and the citizen.
As a citizen, I have an opinion about far too many things…, and in this sense I feel very much a part of the world, and quite obligated to become involved in what is happening around me. As a novelist, however, I am not a citizen. In that area, I try to steer clear of judgments, moral codes, and … morals at the end of the story. [p. 180]


burningmanAnd the following riveting observations (emphases mine) are taken from an interview by Geoff Dyer in MODERN PAINTERS, spring 2003, with Larry Harvey, founder and director, and LadyBee, art curator, of the (in)famous Burning Man festival, held for a week around Labour Day in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, every year since 1986:

LH: The art market is a winner-takes-all system, and there are very few winners. In this country, state support for the arts is almost non-existent so you get a thousand people competing for a tiny bit of money. The ironic thing is that Burning Man has become the largest funder of artists in San Francisco. By making Burning Man a gift economy and treating the artist’s calling as a kind of vocation devoted to gifts we’ve not only been able to give money to artists but have generated a huge amount of communal support for them.

Q: What are you looking for in the artists you choose to support?

LH: The first thing we ask is whether they have a community who can help them and whether they are willing to collaborate with others. Everything in the market drives people away from this kind of approach, because they want to create a unique commodity that has unique value. We ask that the creative process have a social, interactive aspect, and then we ask that the work itself function to convene society around it. That produces a huge amount of social capital, as opposed to normal monetary capital. So in a way we’re creating a new kind of art market which depends on extended social networks that arise around the artists’ gifts.

Q: What was your background, LadyBee, before you started working for Burning Man?

LB: I went to the Art Institute of Chicage and was totally sold on the idea that I’d sell my work and make a living from it. I spent a decade in New York, became disenchanted and moved to San Francisco. Then I went to Burning Man, where artists were renting trucks and hauling huge amounts of material out there at their own expense, and going to huge efforts with crews of helpers to build a piece that would exist only for a few days after which they would actually burn it. This was the most radical thing I had seen artists do. Obviously they weren’t motivated by careers and money — there was something else going on. They had the experience of making the wtork, they had a venue to show it where a lot of people would see it and interact with it, they’d get a lot of feedback from the community, and then the piece would be gone. I hate to use the word ‘pure‘ but it seemed a much purer way of making art.