Saturday, June 18, 2005

I Blog, Therefore I Am

CultureSpace: I Blog, Therefore I Am
This is interesting - suggesting how identities in cyberspace are being shaped by the blogging phenomenon. I read today that there are about 4 million active blogs and millions more that have been started but then fallen into disuse, rather like the diaries we all used to start on January 1st. Mine usually ended about January 6th when we went back to school after the Christmas break.
The way that bloggers have total control over publishing what they want is key to the whole enterprise. And we shouldn't underestimate the role of hypertext - links are the defining feature of the web in my view, its USP if you like. Bookshops and libraries need some sort of order, and thus you can't jump from one subject to another with the ease of hypertext. We've all had the experience of ending up reading something about the prevalence of gherkins as snack food in Poland when we logged on to look up the dates of Ben Jonson. Or at least, I have...

Reading, how to

Easily Distracted � Sample syllabi
Just came across this - it looks like it could be a great course. I'd sign up...

Meaningless Slogans yet again

Memex 1.1
The great John Naughton shares my frustration with corporate slogans. As he points out, consultants are paid huge wodges of money for this dross - you wonder why the companies concerned never seem to follow up by asking their clients if the slogans made an impression.

Theodore Dalrymple

Curtis Bowman: Theodore Dalrymple
Here's an interesting blog piece (what IS the word for a small section of a blog? - entry perhaps?) on Theodore Dalrymple (who would have guessed that's a pseudonym?) whose writings I have often been intrigued by. Curtis Bowman is not unsympathetic, but objects to TD's dogmatism. I know what he means, but on the other hand, TD bases his observations on years of empirical evidence. He writes about what he comes across on a daily basis as a prison doctor - and it is a catalogue of, mainly, bottomless stupidity. Dalrymple often shows, as he does in the passage quoted by Bowman, how these people seem incapable of helping themselves, and simply drift from one disastrous - I was going to write "decision" but the point is they don't make decisions - one disastrous scenario to another. They are passive observers of their own downfall. What concerns me is the fate of their children. These kids have no chance to grow up as reasonable members of a civil society. The right wing press, and some police spokesmen, I've noticed, have taken to calling them "feral children" and one can see where they get that idea. Schools are routinely blamed for the problem, though, as I remember wearily pointing out to people more than once when I was a schoolteacher, you can't do much with kids who don't attend school.
The underclass that Bowman refers to is, literally, reproducing itself, and I worry about where it will lead.
Trouble is, this makes me sound like a Daily Mail reading reactionary. I'm not. None of the mainstream British parties is leftwing enough for me. Still, though, I can't see how current policies - if we can dignify the short term opportunism and soundbites of the main parties with that term - can do anything to address the problem of the breakdown in civil society.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Coe on Johnson

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Nothing but the truth
More here from Jonathan Coe on BS Johnson. Coe makes the point that Johnson used the novel as a form, which might contain anything, including autobiography. The novel, in this view, doesn't have to be fiction. In that sense, Johnson compares to the early heroes of the genre, who went to great lengths to present their writing as if it were a true account of real events, mostly from an autobiographical viewpoint. Defoe's Moll Flanders is the most notable example.
Coe also places Johnson in the modernist tradition, rather than the postmodernist. It's true that many writers routinely labelled postmodern look very much like classic modernists when you get down to cases. Johnson's innovations, startling though they still seem, are nothing compared to Finnegans Wake or Flann O'Brien's At-Swim-Two-Birds.
This modernist / postmodernist dilemma might be easily resolved if we all just decided that the modernist era hadn't really finished, that modernist tendencies had just developed. Then postmodernism, in literature anyway, would disappear - which would be a very postmodern gesture...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

B.S. Johnson triumph

Guardian Unlimited Books | Special Reports | Top prize for biography of writer who won no glory
This is good to see. The Samuel Johnson Prize has been awarded to the obscenely talented Jonathan Coe for his biography of the almost forgotten - but not now - experimental novelist of the sixties, BS Johnson. His work is uncategorisable, really, and he was writing at a time when Kingsley Amis was considered daring. I hope the recognition that this biography has been given will see a revival in Johnson's fortunes. Maybe his books will stay in print long enough for me to set them as class reading for my postmodernism module...