Being and Seeming: the Technology of Representation
September 24, 2006 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Being and Seeming: the Technology of Representation an essay by novelist Richard Powers
posted by MetaMonkey (11 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Richard Powers is brilliant. I recently read his next novel, The Echo Maker, and found it thrilling and thought-provoking. His novels Galatea 2.2, The Gold Bug Variations, and Prisoner's Dilemma are equally wonderful, ambitious, and smart.
posted by digaman at 10:59 AM on September 24, 2006


A lighter-weight Powers read that is amusing is his little Flash meditation on spam, They Come in a Steady Stream Now.
posted by digaman at 11:01 AM on September 24, 2006


Thank you, MetaMonkey - I can't get enough Powers (brilliant is the apt descriptive, in truth!), and this is a treat to read while I wait for The Echo Maker to arrive here.
posted by vers at 12:09 PM on September 24, 2006


I think just about anything Powers has written is worth the effort, but especially the novels from "Operation Wandering Soul" forward. There is a very clear line, for me, betwen that book and those that came after it, and the ones before, like "Goldbug Variations", "Three Farmers...", or "Prisoner's Dilema". They are all much darker and seem to kick Powers' already prodigious braininess up a couple of notches. I particularly liked "Ploughing the Dark" and "The Time of Our Singing"
posted by hwestiii at 3:48 PM on September 24, 2006


I have yet to read any Powers but have wanted to for a while. I just read this essay but find it somewhat banal, the data structure as the premier artform of the information age? I've programmed for years, created lots of data structures. I suppose an analogy could be made between data structures and architecture (we even use the word architecture in describing computer systems) but data structures are less art and more like blueprints, created, set in stone by a designer which everyone works around with much cursing and sweat.
posted by stbalbach at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2006


Well, it's kind of an intresting idea, but I can't imagine many people admiring datastructures the same way they do buildings arcetecture.

And while there can certainly artistry in data structures, I would hardly say that it's a key to structure's success, it just makes a programmer's job a little easier.

Look at mp3 files, for example, by many accounts a horrendous datastructure, yet one of the most popular.
posted by delmoi at 4:56 PM on September 24, 2006


So is he a good postmodern writer like Pynchon or a boring one like DFW?
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:59 PM on September 24, 2006


Though I've read and loved Powers's Galatea 2.2, I have been been perpetually only halfway through his insufferable The Prisoner's Dilemma, a novel that seems to be about how enamored a novelist can be with his own thought process. The characters are turgid, unsympathetic, and apparently differently-named versions of Powers himself.

I did not read the entire linked article and I am not going to because of sentences like this:
Hypertext markup represents a kind of superset of the syntax of prose, making simple linear fiction a kind of zero-case boundary condition of a more daring, far-flung toolset.
That sentence means nothing.

In the first place, there is no way an abstraction can be the superset of something it represents. Any markup language necessarily has fewer utterances than the code it is used to mark up. In this case, the idea of "Hypertext markup" containing more possibilities than "the syntax of prose" is mind-bogglingly idiotic.

Powers can be a good writer, but he also can be a word-mongering windbag, especially when he pens things that have no meaning outside their syntactical structure.
posted by mistersquid at 5:08 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Another huge Powers fan here. Thanks for the post.

I just read this essay but find it somewhat banal, the data structure as the premier artform of the information age?

I think you're missing the point. The essay isn't really about data structure, it's about art.
posted by languagehat at 5:52 PM on September 24, 2006


I don't about pomo/Pynchon/DFW. All I do know is that I've been able to finish every Powers book I've started. I'm 1 for 3 with Pynchon.
posted by hwestiii at 6:06 PM on September 24, 2006


This is quite an old essay, isn't it? I think it was written about the time of Powers's virtual-reality novel, Plowing the Dark (2000).

The essay isn't really about data structure, it's about art.

Isn't it about both? It seems to me perfectly legitimate to criticise Powers for misunderstanding hypertext markup -- just as it is perfectly legitimate to criticise, say, Martin Amis's Money for misunderstanding the way the financial markets work.

So is he a good postmodern writer like Pynchon or a boring one like DFW?

I don't really think of Powers as a postmodern novelist at all. I think of him more as a documentary novelist in the tradition of Upton Sinclair or John Dos Passos, writing strenuously researched novels-with-a-thesis. I like his novels, though I find I have very little compulsion to read them a second time.
posted by verstegan at 2:20 AM on September 26, 2006


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