Like many who went through college and then grad-school in the religion / literature / philosophy circles, I’ve read and pondered my share of Derrida and the consequences of ontology on our “demon-haunted world” … another reason I’ve absolutely loved playing AC Valhalla (about 125 hours in at this point since picking it up over the Holidays).
A pun coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the early ’90s, hauntology refers to the study of nonexistence and unreality (so the opposite of ontology). Contemporary philosopher Mark Fisher makes extensive use of this concept, describing hauntology in his book The Weird and Eerie as “the agency of the virtual … that which acts without (physically) existing.”
For me, there’s no greater example of this than in Valhalla’s ruins. While open-world games are often dominated by landscape, mirroring the history of art where scenic oil paintings—once considered inferior—grew into a position of relative dominance, the ruin has seen a similar ascendency. Just as Romantic poets mulled over the allure of rivers and mountains, a passion for ancient ruins bloomed too, with painters like J. M. W. Turner and John Constable touring Britain in search of architectural wreckage among the rolling hills.
Almost every writer or artist I know has a newsletter. One way to understand this boom is that as social media has siloed off chunks of the open web, sucking up attention, the energy that was once put into blogging has now shifted to email.
As a writer of nonfiction, I can’t help but love writing’s roots in enumerating concrete objects and reality itself. The textual analyst part of me loves how Mesopotamian tokens were wrapped in clay envelopes after being impressed on the soft exterior – perhaps clay-wrapped tokens of meaning give rise to the notion that text is both a surface and an interior, and that that’s what leads us to talk so relentlessly (in English and other languages) about what is ‘in’ a given text. The poet in me wants to repurpose the heavy thumb of authority’s use of writing on behalf of the powerless. The linguist in me recognises the cognitive significance of the layers of writing’s invention, none of which the brain was evolved to do specifically but with which we have co-evolved. And as a partisan of text, I know its deep history won’t ever be erased.
I’ve always loved maps and map-making. As a kid, I filled notebooks with imaginary island countries or continents (and their cities) on alien planets. My favorite cartoon was Tailspin because of that fantastic rock formation that ringed their island. Many of the framed pictures in my office (and our home) are maps or geography related now.
My favorite class in high school was my 9th Grade Geography class. I rocked that class and I’d quit my job today and go get a degree in Geography or Cartography if I had any real guts (follow your passions, kids). Maps are time machines. They take accumulated knowledge and transport ideas into the future. They are magical and products of our best hopes (or deepest sins).
Brilliant Maps is one of my favorite sites on the web, and I highly recommend / warn you view it (serious rat hole timesuck if you’re being “productive”).
I try hard to let my daughters and my son develop their own interests and not over-influence their choices in life (well, besides Star Wars but that’s a given). I see my 8 year old constantly observing me and picking up my copies of X-Men trade paperbacks that I “casually” leave on our coffee table after reading, and my 5 year old asking what show I want to watch on Netflix. I see my newborn son tracking me with his eyes and watching my hands fly across my clickety clackety keyboard (as MH calls it) while he fights a nap as he lays on his playmat and I sneak in some work at my desk. It’s inevitable we heavily influence our kids’ choices, of course. I just don’t want to ever be that parent reliving my glory days on the baseball or golf team through them. I want them to discover agency and identity in a positive way that feels so hard to create in our over-protective-surveillance-bubble-wrapped-life that we’ve created with our mobile phones and low attention spans. Don’t get me started on GPS devices.
One of the things I secretly hope all three of them really come to discover, value, and have a life-long obsession over are maps and geography.
So, if you’re reading this MH, LC or Jr in some future time (I wonder what device my kids could possibly be reading this text on in, say, 50 years… I bet it’s some sort of a neural network link where you can dip into the stream of history and experience any recent time / place / event virtually as if you were there… possibly even talk to a person who is “dead” but very much alive in the digital universe… weird… and yes, I have a “digital death plan” in place to have this site and many other things I manage keep going in the unfortunate (?) event I kick the bucket unexpectedly) after I’ve recycled my atoms back to the universe, I hope you like maps as much as I do. You’ll find some of my favorite books on the “maps” shelf on one of our bookcases and there are some hidden surprises in there for y’all.
Otherwise, if you read this and I’m still a breathing entity…stay away from my books and go get your own from the library.
We (I think unfortunately) gave in to the loud minority on Thinking Religion, but I still very much personally enjoy the flexibility and personality of long form podcasts. And books. And blog posts. And thoughts.
Despite our newfound digital souls, we’re rekindling the notion that not everything can or should be “bite sized” to satiate our digital materialism.
Focus Fracas – The Chronicle of Higher Education: “We talk a lot about distraction, but the way we tend to talk about it suffers from historical amnesia. Since the invention of writing, people have warned about its supposedly harmful effects. Socrates thought it would weaken readers’ memories. ‘Be careful,’ Seneca warned, ‘lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady.’ In his Moral Letters to Lucilius, written between AD 63 and 65, Seneca touches on a condition that today might be diagnosed as attention deficit disorder. The ‘reading of many books is a distraction,’ he cautioned, that leaves the reader ‘disoriented and weak.'”
“Brilliant Books compared Lee’s new book to James Joyce’s Stephen Hero, a book that was never pitched as a mainstream novel.
“Hero was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic Portrait,” the store explained in its statement. “Hero was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans—not as a new ‘Joyce novel.’ We would have been delighted to see Go Set A Watchman receive a similar fate.'”
“In one of her last interviews, conducted in 1964, Lee said: “I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.”
A publisher that cared about Harper Lee’s legacy would have taken those words to heart, and declined to publish “Go Set a Watchman,” the good idea that Lee eventually transformed into a gem.That HarperCollins decided instead to manufacture a phony literary event isn’t surprising. It’s just sad.”
Way more people watch TV and movies and listen to music than read books or magazines. That’s why we’re starting to see that Netflix is Netflix, Spotify is Spotify, and ebook and magazine subscription sites are, well, something else.
You have to be careful of those romance novel readers.
I’ve been fascinated by the concepts of ebook monetization since self-publishing and ebook publishing became a bona fide option for mainstream publishers and authors. It’s one of the reasons I’m excited about what Merianna is doing with Harrelson Press and the ultimate direction we’ve mapped out there (more on that later).
However, it’s clear that a subscription type model from Scribd aren’t the best way forward. The ebook industry is a weird and complicated beast as companies from Google to Apple to Amazon have discovered in their various attempts to become the “Netflix” of this respective market.
Regardless, publishers are going to be the ones that have to change and adapt to make sense of this newish form of reading and producing/consuming content. We’ve seen how the music industry seemingly collapsed during the last decade when singles become the prime selling vehicle, replacing albums. Now, we’re seeing a period of consolidation by the major labels and partners such as Apple or Spotify to allow for the labels to make the most profits from agreements while artists are paid fractions of a cent per streamed play. That will change as artists figure out the game and we see more Taylor Swift’s pushing their weight around the industry.
I don’t think we’ll see a similar contraction / consolidation in the book publishing universe because the tools for making and consuming books are more democratized and the industry is ripe for disruption.
It is not just that people with degrees in English generally go to work for corporations (which of course they do); the point is that the company, in its most cutting-edge incarnation, has become the arena in which narratives and fictions, metaphors and metonymies and symbol networks at their most dynamic and incisive are being generated, worked through and transformed. 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. If there is an individual alive in 2015 with the genius and vision of James Joyce, they’re probably working for Google, and if there isn’t, it doesn’t matter since the operations of that genius and vision are being developed and performed collectively by operators on the payroll of that company, or of one like it.
The older I get, the more I want to share the joys of “the canon” and liberal arts in general. Every generation feels that its world is slipping into the morass of public, but our Amazon reviews and Buzzfeed listicles don’t make me feel any more assured that we’re not…
Although serious writers continue to work in the hope that time will forgive them for writing well, the prevailing mood welcomes fiction and poetry of every stripe, as long as the reading public champions it. And this I think is a huge mistake. Literature has never just been about the public (even when the public has embraced such canonical authors as Hugo, Dickens, and Tolstoy). Literature has always been a conversation among writers who borrow, build upon, and deviate from each other’s words. Forgetting this, we forget that aesthetics is not a social invention, that democracy is not an aesthetic category; and that the dismantling of hierarchies is tantamount to an erasure of history.
Worth your time (and I love the dig at Amazon and the cartel of book publishers):
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.
Parker’s Back is still one of my favorite stories, and I’ll definitely be picking this up:
She sensed that the act of creation in both was not her own. “My dear God,” she wrote, “how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us.” Like the Psalmist who asked God for words to pray, O’Connor believed that words themselves are a gift from God. She wrote, “There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted.”
My favorite line from my favorite episode of Dr Who:
Doctor Who “The Impossible Astronaut” (Episode 6.1) | Planet Claire Quotes: “The Doctor: Mr. President. That child just told you every you need to know, but you weren’t listening. Never mind, though, ’cause the answer’s yes. I’ll take the case. Fellas, the guns? Really? I just walked into the highest security office in the United States, parked a big blue box on the rug. You think you can just shoot me?”
Fundamentalists in Mali aren’t the first or the last to commit such atrocities, of course. Europeans have a long history of setting fire to their respective pasts as do Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Seleucids, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Sumerians before them.
We set fire to the past when we speak of “the Founding Fathers” or “Biblical veracity” everyday.
Still… “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” as Faulkner reminds us.