The Verity La Forum was conducted by Alec Patric from July 2011 to December 2011
Forum Question: A New Archaeology
When the novel first emerged it was considered trivial entertainment. The literary productions most honoured were to be found in verse and sometimes on stage. As those media waned in their traditional states, the art of song writing matured and attracted many of the talents driven by poetry. Cinema rose into a global phenomenon—becoming the major cultural agent for all Western cultures.
We are presently watching the book dwindle into the doddering ineffectuality of old age as print media prepares for retirement. A new medium is already emerging. It is often considered trivial entertainment, just as the novel was in its youth. Will an e-form emerge in the coming generation as the new literary standard? Is the blog already the key artefact for a new archaeology?
I really don’t think this is the end of the printed book as we know it. Many publishers tell me this is a boom time for print publishing, actually. But I find the idea of blogs and so on being part of a ‘new archaeology’ quite interesting. Are you suggesting that the whole thing is about to collapse like a doomed ancient civilisation, fit for future archaeological digs? Or perhaps i’m reading too much into this …
The idea of archeology is that we use remnants of a vanished culture to reconstruct their society. With the blogging world we’re dealing with remenants that are constantly vanishing so that even after a few years we feel like sections of our culture have been lost. If we look through the blogs of the literary community in Australia we find a class of people relegated to almost total insignificance by the dominant culture. The comments back and forth between bloggers, the posts, the links, etc, become a document for a section of the population that is being beaten into the dust.
I must say I very much like hearing the word ‘class’ in this context. It is often assumed all writers are in ‘it’ together, that they have common interests and so on (especially in the postmodernist, post-political, post-ideological discourses apropos of the internet) most of which I find insincere and silly. So I agree with you that there exists a ruling class in the literary world, and that anything that might offer a way of resisting their hegemony is a good thing. But I’m not sure if online phenomena like blogging are, as you’ve put it, ‘being beaten into dust’ because they’re in the way of the ruling class or because they’re too fragmented and ‘dusty’ (that is, an effect of hegemony) to begin with. I think the digital scene does have the potential to challenge the inequalities that characterise the print publishing milieu (the wikileaks ‘event’, seen as a purely journalistic phenomena, could be an example; although it too was swiftly co-opted by print newspapers) but I feel this potential is yet to be realised.
If writers are being pushed further and further into cultural insignificance, then a street brawl among those that are devoted to literature is not what I’m hoping to see. The ‘ruling class’ of the literary world are themselves servants to the dominant culture, and there’s little point in trying to subvert their ‘authority’. There is a process of democratisation going on within our industry, in small press publishing and e-publishing, but the fight I’m more interested in, is for cultural relevancy. A blog is part of a forum, and voices that in the past were provided no opportunity to be heard, can now at least find places to speak. So much so, that there’s a fear of deluge, as though the masses will start speaking and destroy all literary values. It’s a panic that the barbarians are not at our gates but thrive within the city itself. There are no gatekeepers to a blog and it’s only commerce is with others who want to hear a blogger’s voice. The authority of the voice, the value of its message, is what distinguishes it. That’s all that a writer can ask for. So a blog can indeed become a new literary standard, judged purely on its merit. If it has none, it will simply be ignored. The goal of a blog can be to subvert dominant groups who seem to govern taste and distribute the small-change they have been granted by the dominant culture. I think it’s more important to look for an engagement with a readership. To reach beyond the Intelligentsia and reclaim the audience.
Well, I don’t think writers are being pushed into cultural insignificance – some are, but some aren’t. I’ve been to a number of literary festivals recently, and from what I’ve seen (lavish sums of many being spent to accommodate more important guests in five star hotels; very long queues of fans waiting to get their books signed; five figure advances for new books by commercially successful authors; literary awards each worth tens of thousands of dollars; major grants, commissions and residencies; and so on) the ruling class of the literary world are, for better or for worse, nowhere near extinction. If they are, as you say, servants to the dominant culture, then they are getting rewarded particularly well for their servitude. (I could quote some frankly mind-bugling figures here.) I know mainstream/popular media doesn’t pay much attention to contemporary Australian writers, but many contemporary Australian writers are doing very well without any need to plug their books on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. So I do think subverting their authority is crucial – even if you disagree with me that it’s something worth subverting in and of itself – if only because the Intelligentsia dominates and controls the means by which one can reach an audience. My earlier experiences as a self-published writer (particularly seeing my book removed from the shelves of a so-called independent bookstore to make room for books by commercially published authors) have made me aware of not only the injustices in the publishing/bookselling world, but also how these injustices result in some authors being deprived of, precisely, an opportunity to engage with a readership. Does the internet help us get around that? I.e. can class struggle – the unavoidable antagonism between unpaid and overpaid writers – disappear in the cyberspace? I’m not sure. I really wish the barbarians were at the gate.
Vox Populi: More Voices from The Forum…