This Slashdot interview with author Neal Stephenson makes for a great read - and I have never even read any of the guy’s books. There is so much juicy goodness there that it is difficult condensing the quotes that really made me pound the desk in excitement, but for starters, read this and see if it reminds you of anything:
The novel is a very new form of art. It was unthinkable until the invention of printing and impractical until a significant fraction of the population became literate. But when the conditions were right, it suddenly became huge. The great serialized novelists of the 19th Century were like rock stars or movie stars. The printing press and the apparatus of publishing had given these creators a means to bypass traditional arbiters and gatekeepers of culture and connect directly to a mass audience.
If the parallels with blogging do not slap you in the face...Well, come here, because I want to do it. (Not really. Okay, maybe a little.)
Stephenson discusses the differences between what he labels “Beowulf writers” (writers who are held accountable by the market) and “Dante writers” (writers who are held accountable by their patrons - in modern terms, academia and the “literary” world). Stephenson, with his insanely popular best-sellers, is definitely a Beowulf writer. Again, see if this reminds you of anything:
[P]eople on the Beowulf side may never have taken a writing class in their life. They just tend to lunge at whatever looks interesting to them, write whatever they please, and let the chips fall where they may. So we may seem not merely arrogant, but completely unhinged. It reminds me somewhat of the split between Christians and Faeries depicted in Susannah Clarke’s wonderful book “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” The faeries do whatever they want and strike the Christians (humans) as ludicrously irresponsible and “barely sane.” They don’t seem to deserve or appreciate their freedom.
Any resemblance there to the attitudes of some Big Media journalists to bloggers? I would say so.
And in a passage that reminded me of the cynicism with which some non-commercial bloggers (those into blogging sheerly for the love of interacting in the network and self-publishing their words) regard commercial bloggers (companies using blogs to communicate with their markets, industry peers and potential customers), Stephenson relates:
...I just got back from the National Book Festival on the Capitol Mall in D.C., where I crossed paths for a few minutes with Neil Gaiman. This was another event in which Beowulf writers and Dante writers were all mixed together. The organizers had queues set up in front of signing tables. Neil had mentioned on his blog that he was going to be there, and so hundreds, maybe thousands of his readers had showed up there as early as 5:30 a.m. to get stuff signed. The organizers simply had not anticipated this and so---very much to their credit---they had to make all sorts of last-minute rearrangements to accomodate the crowd. Neil spent many hours signing. As he says on his blog the Washington Post later said he did this because he was a “savvy businessman.” Of course Neil was actually doing it to be polite; but even simple politeness to one’s fans can seem grasping and cynical when viewed from the other side.
One more quotation, then you can all go read the whole interview for yourselves. Here is something to remember:
It has happened many times in history that new systems will come along and, instead of obliterating the old, will surround and encapsulate them and work in symbiosis with them but otherwise pretty much leave them alone (think mitochondria) and sometimes I get the feeling that something similar is happening with these two literary worlds.
Link via Samizdata