Sunday, June 25, 2006

The future of authors ...

... maybe they have no future, though John Updike thinks news of their passing may be premature: The End of Authorship. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
One passage intrigues me: "This is, as I read it, a pretty grisly scenario. 'Performances, access to the creator, personalization,' whatever that is — does this not throw us back to the pre-literate societies, where only the present, live person can make an impression and offer, as it were, value? Have not writers, since the onset of the Gutenberg revolution, imagined that they already were, in their written and printed texts, giving an "access to the creator" more pointed, more shapely, more loaded with aesthetic and informational value than an unmediated, unpolished personal conversation?"
What about before the Gutenberg revolution? Authorship pre-dates Gutenberg by quite a few centuries. Printing may have changed authorship, but it hardly caused it. The electronic revolution is also going to change it - probably already has. I wouldn't worry about it. Chaucer did pretty well without Gutenberg. I suspect he would have done just as well had he access to a printing press. And I suspect he would have done well with a computer and an online connection. In fact, we know he already has: Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog


  1. Frank, Have you read the Updike piece? Your comment on it reads to me as if you haven't. Updike isn't announcing the end of authorship. He is criticising a writer who extoled the democratic virtues of the digital age.
    His point about the age before printing is also misrepresented in your piece, I think. Updike is defending the advance of printing from the point of view of it leading to a closer, better and more authentic relationship between author and reader.
    If i hadn't taken the trouble to read Updike (and thank you for the link) I would have ingested a completely wrong impression, and I might have been misled.

  2. I can see that I may have been misleading in that (a) I took my title from his headline and (b) by commenting, not on the piece as a whole, but on that one passage that I quoted. However, I am not sure that I agree with the point Updike is making, that, as you put it, printing led to "a closer, better and more authentic relationship between author and reader" - at least not as regards things that were written before printing. I haven't read Kelly's piece, so I can't comment on it, and much of what Updike says is obviously true. For instance: "... there is a ton of information on the Web, but much of it is egregiously inaccurate, unedited, unattributed and juvenile." But this is also true of what is published the old-fashioned way. A great many utterly ridiculous books arrive in my office ever day. The question of criteriology - of separating the wheat from the chaff - is perennial. And it is probably true that the electronic revolution has and will continue to exacerbate it. But circling the wagons is no solution.
    Notice, though, that by linking to Updike's piece you were able to check what I had to say against what he said - and to conclude that I came up short. Doesn't that indicate an advantage that the electronic media has that the old media doesn't?

  3. Hi Omaniblog: As you will see, I changed my post a bit. It was stupid of me to phrase it as I had, because Updike obviously was not announcing the end of authorship, but challenging that notion. Another example of the fingers on the keyboard outrunning the brain. Thanks for calling me on it.

  4. Frank,
    You're a good man. Thanks for taking the trouble to look back over it. I'm not used to commenting about such matters, so I feel encouraged by your response.
    Your blog seems incredibly rich and attractive. I must make time to read more of it.