Sunday, May 31, 2009

Death of words (Sunday Essay 9)

I had a large backlog of these essays, I figure i'll put them here in case i want to see them again.

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I think the world is done with the written word as entertainment.

Do not mistake me as saying fiction is dead. Fiction is not dead. As instruction, it remains. As a way to pass the time, it remains. But the days are soon over when someone will say, "of the many entertainments available to me, I choose THIS BOOK for the next 12-25 hours." I think we are the last generation that will think that.

So I'm writing to an audience destined to forever shrink, in a market already oversaturated with talent.

Historians will say of this time, "that's when the moving picture replaced the written word." And it's true. It hasn't stuck around because it liquefies our brains. It has become the dominant method of entertainment because emotionally it resonates more directly with the audience. And so much film appeals to baser desires, because these can be sold easily to the public to lift their moods and therefore recommend the film positively to their friends, while allowing directors working on the intellectual cheap to skip some of the more difficult elements of filmmaking. But to say film is less 'deep' than a book is moronic; the poignancy of real images filmed and conjured by real artists, even incompetent ones, are worlds more instructive than the code-words produced by a bumbling man in a shack.

Even the most cheap commercial trash has more depth, ounce for ounce, than the most sublime book ever could; the ability to focus on images as they move and change, allowing the photographed reality to become our reality for a season, these events are not to be taken for granted; they are what books try and fail to demonstrate.

Watching a man vomit makes us queasy; reading about it doesn't. It may make us uncomfortable, but it won't make the bile rise up our throat.

So, let's enjoy the subtle pleasures of a book while we can. We have been predicting the death of the book for generations and always been wrong. I don't think this is an abandonment of the prevarications of literature, just a reduction in standing of the novel versus the financial and critical success of film. And that IS something we've seen. As the number of readers grows, the number of writers grows. Which means the truly great are lost in a sea of unimaginative stinkers. Like a flower choked down by weeds, but not quite dead.