Thursday, December 06, 2007

The book, the sheets, the net, and the illusion of choice

So what are we making with all of this effort to connect? Aside from pooling ourselves to be sold as pods of advertisement interests I mean, aside from trading off a certain exchange of information in a format that can be sold? Have you been keeping your Facebook one-liners? Have you thought of saving them to create a long list poem illustrating the mood of Canadian literature circa Autumn 2007? The thought had crossed my mind, and I let it pass...thought...flickr...thought...flickr...

Here is an except from "Lastingness," an essay by Lisa Robertson in the summer 2007 issue of Open Letter:
I read in early morning, preferably in bed. If I can be grateful to capitalism it is for this reason: it has permitted me to bring books into my bed.

Or I read afternoons in the Library, seated midst the anonymity of a rustling. Turning the public pages, my desk-lamp joining the complicitous glow, I become a member of rustling. Password carus, lowercase, seat 1030.

Reading in the utopia of airplanes is quite total.

I flew to the British Library to trace Lucretius. I had applied to the authority and received the plasticized reader's identity card. My declared interest was the early translation history of De Rerum Natura in England in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The door handles of the reading rooms were wrapped in soft grained black leather bound in place with fine stainless steel wire.
"I flew to the British Library...." she says, "the door handles of the reading rooms," the conflagration of sheets and pages under the "complicitous glow." How intimate reading can be. And how urgent the need to touch text, to see a site of origin. Much less exciting to take one's laptop to bed, and with it the constant potential of so much drama, terror, anxiety, and historical weight... Though myself, and many I know, engage in such practices. In fact one couple I know had chats online while they were side by side in bed, each reading separate sites. They have since separated...

But how can this compare to flying to the British Library to read Lucretius? Or sifting through the papers of Virginia Woolf in the reading room at the New York Public Library? You will notice a sidebar with a daily entry and link to the excellent site featuring Samuel Pepys diary. And though it's fun that he is there, a click away, I'm happy to report that Woolf's diaries and letters are not on line. Not yet, and I hope not in my lifetime...

It isn't that I'm against the internet, or Facebook, in theory. What I'm balking at is the totality of it, the unthinking march forward. The all or nothing. And the corporate approach. Why can't we see alternative modes of social networking? Who owns the format of Facebook? Who owns the content? What happens to your communications when you decide to opt out? I guess one thing I'm asking is why can't this system be replicated in a non-profit, community minded mode? Perhaps this is where the next small press book fair should be.

I know that it seems as though I'm contradicting myself, but in essence, no. What I'm suggesting is a more mindful and selective integration of textual and communication technologies. What might be a partnering (to wrestle a corporate-think word back into more neutral, or people-friendly terms), or a mirroring of physical events to online events...and what might make the local more than a simple selection. Freedom has become a habit of selection. Not setting terms, merely selecting from a set of the market's terms...

As Benjamin Barber (among many, many others) has pointed out, it's been decades since the market responded to any real consumer need...the market sells what is easiest to sell in the most units. The illusion of choice is the illusion of choice.

P.S. I'm not a big fan of Pound, but here's an interesting blast from the past--and a time when even Poetry Magazine seemed to understand the diversity of voices and form.