April 29, 2010
Let them eat literary cake
Rich Adin, who posts on the TeleRead blog, is a good example of my modified Chesterton: it's not that when people stop believing in God, they believe in anything. Rather, they take their inherent religious fundamentalism and impose it on their current cause du jour.
Because, you know, it's the most important thing, like, ever!
So instead of having to content with just one goofy religious apocalypse per religion, everything--no matter how dumb or inconsequential--ends up presaging the end of life as we know it. (This also follows the rule that the less important the issue, the louder the argument.)
Adin's apocalypse is the end of "traditional" publishing. He's been writing about it for several weeks, and the apocalyptic fever is taking over his brain. His thesis in a nutshell:
The lack of gatekeeping standards, the lack of publication literary standards that ebooks bring to the marketplace, and the sheer volume of ebooks available solely because of a person's ability to bypass traditional publishing, indicates to me a downfall in literature.
For a brief moment in time, technology did allow mass media to be highly concentrated and refereed by a small number of "gatekeepers." This was an historically anomalous period. That power is now flowing back to the unwashed masses from whence it sprang.
Hence the "mass" in mass media.
Prior to the printing press, the preservation of "high culture" depended largely on the tastes and predilections of the (self-appointed or power-grabbing) elites. "Low culture" depended entirely on the great mass of commoners liking it enough to keep it around in the collective memory.
Over time, the jots and scribbles of human creation--no matter how inspired--will largely vanish from both ends of the spectrum. The citizens of 18th century Vienna spent the bulk of their free time not being entertained by Mozart, Haydn and Salieri, but by musicians long lost to history.
As he identifies so strongly with the privileges of high culture, Adin is understandably upset over the demise of a cultural aristocracy, an attitude perhaps best illustrated in Henry V: "You and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners."
Every dilettante imagines himself a "maker of manners." I wish I were. Alas, democracy has arrived. Let them eat literary cake, I suppose.
I wouldn't worry about it, though. Adin is really only rediscovering the dichotomy paradox. It's been around for at least 2500 years. I suggest he study the Pareto principle and power law distributions and update his mathematical logic.
Over time, almost everything regresses to the mean. At any given moment, we are truly lousy at predicting what won't. Art and literature are no exception.