black holes and gray matter. in one thousand tangos.

             

"Maybe apocalypse is, paradoxically, always individual, always personal."

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they’re the only business hiring. And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you’re not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification (“Overnight free shipping!”).

But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers. Plus it’s possible that the story isn’t over. Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers. Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to barnesandnoble.com, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

I could, it’s true, make a larger apocalyptic argument about the logic of the machine, which has now gone global and is accelerating the denaturisation of the planet and sterilisation of its oceans. I could point to the transformation of Canada’s boreal forest into a toxic lake of tar-sands byproducts, the levelling of Asia’s remaining forests for Chinese-made ultra-low-cost porch furniture at Home Depot, the damming of the Amazon and the endgame clear-cutting of its forests for beef and mineral production, the whole mindset of “Screw the consequences, we want to buy a lot of crap and we want to buy it cheap, with overnight free shipping.” And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

But apocalypse isn’t necessarily the physical end of the world. Indeed, the word more directly implies an element of final cosmic judgment. In Kraus’s chronicling of crimes against truth and language in The Last Days of Mankind, he’s referring not merely to physical destruction. In fact, the title of his play would be better rendered in English as The Last Days of Humanity: “dehumanised” doesn’t mean “depopulated”, and if the first world war spelled the end of humanity in Austria, it wasn’t because there were no longer any people there. Kraus was appalled by the carnage, but he saw it as the result, not the cause, of a loss of humanity by people who were still living. Living but damned, cosmically damned.”

Jonathan Franzen

What’s wrong with the modern world

America in 2013… : another weakened empire telling itself stories of its exceptionalism while it drifts towards apocalypse of some sort, fiscal or epidemiological, climatic-environmental or thermonuclear. Our far left may hate religion and think we coddle Israel, our far right may hate illegal immigrants and think we coddle black people, and nobody may know how the economy is supposed to work now that markets have gone global, but the actual substance of our daily lives is total distraction. We can’t face the real problems; we spent a trillion dollars not really solving a problem in Iraq that wasn’t really a problem; we can’t even agree on how to keep healthcare costs from devouring the GNP. What we can all agree to do instead is to deliver ourselves to the cool new media and technologies, to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, and to let them profit at our expense.” 

Technovisionaries of the 1990s promised that the internet would usher in a new world of peace, love, and understanding, and Twitter executives are still banging the utopianist drum, claiming foundational credit for the Arab spring. To listen to them, you’d think it was inconceivable that eastern Europe could liberate itself from the Soviets without the benefit of cellphones, or that a bunch of Americans revolted against the British and produced the US constitution without 4G capability.”

We find ourselves living in a world with hydrogen bombs because uranium bombs just weren’t going to get the job done; we find ourselves spending most of our waking hours texting and emailing and Tweeting and posting on colour-screen gadgets because Moore’s law said we could. We’re told that, to remain competitive economically, we need to forget about the humanities and teach our children “passion” for digital technology and prepare them to spend their entire lives incessantly re-educating themselves to keep up with it. The logic says that if we want things like Zappos.com or home DVR capability – and who wouldn’t want them? – we need to say goodbye to job stability and hello to a lifetime of anxiety. We need to become as restless as capitalism itself.”

The sea of trivial or false or empty data is millions of times larger now. Kraus was merely prognosticating when he envisioned a day when people had forgotten how to add and subtract; now it’s hard to get through a meal with friends without somebody reaching for an iPhone to retrieve the kind of fact it used to be the brain’s responsibility to remember. The techno-boosters, of course, see nothing wrong here. They point out that human beings have always outsourced memory – to poets, historians, spouses, books. But I’m enough of a child of the 60s to see a difference between letting your spouse remember your nieces’ birthdays and handing over basic memory function to a global corporate system of control.”

Jonathan Franzen

“At forty-five, I feel grateful almost daily to be the adult I wished I could be when I was seventeen. I work on my arm strength at the gym; I’ve become pretty good with tools.

At the same time, almost daily, I lose battles with the seventeen-year-old who’s still inside me. I eat half a box of Oreos for lunch, I binge on TV, I make sweeping moral judgments. I run around in torn jeans, I drink martinis on a Tuesday night, I stare at beer-commercial cleavage. I define as uncool any group to which I can’t belong. I feel the urge to key Range Rovers and slash their tires; I pretend I’m never going to die. 


You never stop waiting for the real story to start, because the only real story, in the end, is that you die.” 

― Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen talks about Freedom; the complexity of his friendship with David Foster Wallace, whose suicide partly triggered the book; and the ‘dull, throbbing anxiety’ of America’s liberal left: "America is almost a rogue state."

via/@DaveAtNorth

 peterfeld:


newyorker:

A Taste of “Freedom.” If you’re jealous of President Obama for getting his hands on an advance copy of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom,” don’t fret: versions of the book’s first two chapters, originally published in the June 8, 2009, and May 31, 2010, issues of the magazine, are available on our Web site. Read “Good Neighbors” and “Agreeable” while you wait—patiently or impatiently—for the book to go on sale Tuesday. And don’t forget that Franzen shares with Walter, the main character in “Freedom,” an abiding love for songbirds in their habitats: in his July 26th article “Emptying the Skies,” Franzen reported on the widespread killing of songbirds in Europe. The photo above pictures Franzen with David Foster Wallace at the 2002 New Yorker Festival.

Ha, I remember this, it was at the Friends’ House at E. 15th and Rutherford (Stuyvesant Park). I was working the Festival that year with a video crew from the business side of TNY. We were filming testimonials from people lining up, and from talent, for later use in an advertiser reel. I was in Conde’s market research department and had suggested some questions. Before the reading, the associate publisher asked one of them to DFW: “Who do you think you’re reaching when you write for The New Yorker?” He deadpanned (I’m paraphrasing — TNY people, hunt down this tape!): “I’m reaching a highly desirable demographic of avid consumers who are highly interested in all the fine goods and services advertised in The New Yorker.” Lol.


Perfect. 
Also, I am waiting impatiently. 

peterfeld:

newyorker:

A Taste of “Freedom.” If you’re jealous of President Obama for getting his hands on an advance copy of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom,” don’t fret: versions of the book’s first two chapters, originally published in the June 8, 2009, and May 31, 2010, issues of the magazine, are available on our Web site. Read “Good Neighbors” and “Agreeable” while you wait—patiently or impatiently—for the book to go on sale Tuesday. And don’t forget that Franzen shares with Walter, the main character in “Freedom,” an abiding love for songbirds in their habitats: in his July 26th article “Emptying the Skies,” Franzen reported on the widespread killing of songbirds in Europe. The photo above pictures Franzen with David Foster Wallace at the 2002 New Yorker Festival.

Ha, I remember this, it was at the Friends’ House at E. 15th and Rutherford (Stuyvesant Park). I was working the Festival that year with a video crew from the business side of TNY. We were filming testimonials from people lining up, and from talent, for later use in an advertiser reel. I was in Conde’s market research department and had suggested some questions. Before the reading, the associate publisher asked one of them to DFW: “Who do you think you’re reaching when you write for The New Yorker?” He deadpanned (I’m paraphrasing — TNY people, hunt down this tape!): I’m reaching a highly desirable demographic of avid consumers who are highly interested in all the fine goods and services advertised in The New Yorker. Lol.

Perfect. 

Also, I am waiting impatiently. 

The Corrections

Alfred was standing in the master bedroom wondering why the drawers of his dresser were open, who had opened them, whether he had opened them himself. He couldn’t help blaming Enid for his confusion. For witnessing it into existence. For existing, herself, as a person who could have opened these drawers.

"Al? What are you doing?"

He turned to the doorway where she’d appeared. He began a sentence: “I am - ” but when he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he’d entered, he would realize that the crumbs he’s dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds. Silent deft darting things which he couldn’t quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren’t uniform, weren’t an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he’d encountered the word “crepuscular” in McKay’s Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word so that for his entire adult life he’d seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of a kind of sinister decay; and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn’t just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he’d sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant of realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and the next, or rather he became trapped in that space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing on out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see if the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he’d entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods - “packing my suitcase”, he heard himself say. This sounded right. Verb, possessive, noun. Here was a suitcase in front of him, an important confirmation. He’d betrayed nothing.

- Jonathan Franzen

©2011 Kateoplis