"a tomb in miniature for our souls”
March 7, 2015 6:16 PM   Subscribe

The death of writing – if James Joyce were alive today he’d be working for Google: [Guardian Books]
There’s hardly an instant of our lives that isn’t electronically documented. These days, it is software that maps our new experiences, our values and beliefs. How should a writer respond? Tom McCarthy on fiction in the age of data saturation.
posted by Fizz (11 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
No.l He would be an anthropologist. Writing is not dead. Writing about writing well may be.
posted by Postroad at 6:25 PM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

How should a writer respond?

Apparently not by getting to the point in any hurry.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:36 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

"Travel and travelers are two things I loathe- and yet here I am, all set to tell the story of my expeditions"

-Levi-Strauss, 'A World on the Wane'
posted by clavdivs at 6:42 PM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I asked him with my eyes to ask again google and then he asked me would I google to search google my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him google and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume google and his heart was going like mad and google I said google I will google.
posted by percor at 6:55 PM on March 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

Or shall I wear a red, google?
posted by sonascope at 6:58 PM on March 7, 2015

Two hundred thousand years ago, a couple of cavemen sat around a fire, and one said to the other, "Whelp, now that these young upstarts are inventing the past tense, all of our best story-telling is going to shit, because listeners are losing all the immediacy that our present-tense-only language offers." (What he actually said was "Oog!" but his companion understood the profound nuance in this statement.)

"Yes," replied his friend. "Now we will never tell stories again. Young people with their new communication modes ruin everything, and now humanity's storytelling capacity will be crushed like Ock is-and-always-will-be crushed under the mammoth's foot, for how can one tell a story without immediacy?" (Or, in the language of the time, "Gak!")

"Truly we live in a degenerate age," agreed the first caveman. "Instead of immediate events, they wish to discuss trivialities of the past. Storytelling is dead." (Or, "Bippy bippy OTT OTT OTT!")

In a nearby copse of trees, a pair of chimpanzees gazed down on the humans.

"Look at those assholes," said one chimpanzee. "They evolve a descended larynx and start lighting shit on fire and suddenly they're too good to talk to us."

The second chimpanzee gave him a cold stare. He was tired of this discussion, having heard it many times before. "Shut up and pick my nits faster," he replied.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:39 PM on March 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

omnipresent and omniscient data that makes a mockery of any notion that the writer might have something to inform us

I can't really express how utterly empty this piece is. The author has just taken the world with all its contents, relationships, and actions and then just calls it data. And, lo, this mountain of data overwhelms us all in to silence. Bullshit. He seems to forget that the artist, as well as the anthropologist, is the one who takes this complex and chaotic world and shapes it into something we can begin to grasp. And I am not implying that this shape for grasping is somehow real. It is art. Levi-Strauss gave us structuralism, a tool to shape culture but are his categories real? Who knows. But as a tool it works. It is art too. Google is just an index. I want everything that comes before the index. For that we need writers, artists.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:03 PM on March 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

If James Joyce were alive today he'd be a Raï bandleader.
posted by ovvl at 2:07 PM on March 8, 2015

While “official” fiction has retreated into comforting nostalgia about kings and queens, or supposed tales of the contemporary rendered in an equally nostalgic mode of unexamined realism, it is funky architecture firms, digital media companies and brand consultancies that have assumed the mantle of the cultural avant garde. It is they who, now, seem to be performing writers’ essential task of working through the fragmentations of old orders of experience and representation, and coming up with radical new forms to chart and manage new, emergent ones.

Wow. This is wrong. The first sentence reflects a lack of understanding of literature past and present. "Comforting nostalgia about kings and queens" is a new aspect of fiction? Are you high? The sentence also betrays a lack of understanding of avant gardes. Jeebus. Nice twofer. The second sentence betrays a lack of understanding of advertising, which has been hammering on this shit for so long that it was old news by 1970.

The article is ahistorical malarkey. You had a nifty thought about Levi-Strauss and Mallarme? Cool. Talk about that. But don't try to make it into a Grand Statement about Art, because you're going to reveal yourself to be a wanker.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:21 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tintin and the Secret of Literature is an exercise in wankery too, but it's fun to read -- maybe because it's impossible to take the book too seriously.

I think McCarthy got his mind blown by Theory back in the 80s and never really recovered. He can quote endlessly from all the right books, but he can't quite synthesize what he's read into a really original idea. You can see at the end of this essay that he's groping towards something potentially interesting:
Alternatively, we could explore, with trepidation and with melancholy joy, this ultra-paradoxical and zombie-like condition, this non-life-restoring resurrection that, if De Certeau is correct, is writing’s true and only lot, its afterlife. What would this afterlife look like? What forms might these melancholy-joyful explorations take? It is impossible to prescribe these – nor would I want to. I just hope they happen: let a thousand zombies bloom.
But he basically admits that he can't articulate this more clearly ("These thoughts are difficult, elusive, hard to parse. Yet I suspect they are vital if we want to think of what it means to write today"), so he has to fall back on vague-but-suggestive language and the overgeneralizations from earlier in the essay. He might actually be on to something, but I think it's going to take someone more capable to flesh it out into an actual idea.
posted by twirlip at 12:14 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

this guy knows his Literature and his Critical Theory for real, but he gets his knowledge of the world of technology from the tech press. It's a beautiful, rich piece of writing. Strange how the Guardian combines click-bait and LRB / NYRB level writing.
posted by grubby at 6:23 PM on March 9, 2015

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