I was truly psyched, this morning, that the angry internet mob forced David Remnick to disinvite Steve Fascist from the New Yorker's ideas party.
And I'm going to use this as a plug for my essay on the Books and Film Globe site, since it is relevant.
What I was trying to argue didn't have a snappy label. Now I've come up with one: hyperliteracy.
The thing one reads, over and over, is that "nobody reads anymore." N+1, a supposedly lefty site, just featured an editorial that went over the ground with a special hauteur, like the Marquis complaining about the gardner:
"Gone are the happy days when we dialed up to submit a comment to, only to be abused by Glenn Greenwald or destroyed — respectfully — by the academics at Crooked Timber. Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere… Even those who stridently disagreed shared some basic premises and context… Today’s internet, by contrast, is arbitrary and charmless. On social media, criticism once confined to the comments now comes as free-range abuse directed at other readers. Readers can address all parties instantaneously — writers, editors, publishers, and the world. And so writers who publish online peer into the fishbowl of readerly reception. Drop in some flakes and watch the fish swarm.”"
The idea that nobody reads is contiguous with, and overlaps, the idea that everybody is out there in a meanspirited twitter mob, shaming and destroying freedom of speech left and right.
Myself, I'm for the mob. But even if I wasn't for the mob, I would do a little more thinking about this idea of the writer on one side and the readerly swarm on the other side. Like, where does that idea come from?
Here I'm gonna quote my piece:
"The N+1 article is balanced on a division between the writer and the reader – as if we were still in a space where this division was socially absolute. But that has long been swept away. Rather than fishes swarming, readerly reception is now transformed, almost instantly, into writerly reception. It is as if the dull kids in the back of the classroom, the ones who passed around notes, are now in the front of the classroom, writing on twitter. Which is just another form of classroom note. And the authors are not amused. Like teachers, they suspect that the amusement those notes are causing is distracting from the very important lessons being drawn on the blackboard.
The writerly revolution has still not been fully comprehended, I think. Literacy, until recently, has been thought of as largely passive. In the early modern period, learning to read did not necessarily entail learning to write: women, for instance, who formed even then the most ardent corps of readers, were often not instructed in writing. But both functions became one in the great literacy campaigns of the nineteenth century. Still, just as math beyond primitive algebra were taught to the masses and immediately forgotten by most of the masses, who had no practical use for them, the tools of writing were often used rarely after high school.
All of this has changed in a historical instance. The child who doesn’t know how to use the keyboard on the cell phone is now a rarity. Writing on the popular level has caught up with reading. Twitter is a fascinating place to watch the collision between an older form of literacy and a newer one. Far from being the “cesspit” that older media peeps – and the cranky formerly hip denizens of N+1 – like to despise, it is creating its own vocabulary, its audio-visual forms, its links, its infradig references. It is the old story of the modern: make it new."
We passed a threshhold we don't recognize. Barthes's death of the author entailed, necessarily, the death of the reader, because these were functions in a system of literacy that depended on a relatively small number of people having access to both sides of the literate paradigm. Now, everybody is on both of those sides. The readerly swarms are writerly swarms - they comment and gloss with no sense that they are violating some hierarchy. Far from being the end of reading, this is what hyperliteracy looks like, the crown on a state sponsored effort that has spanned two centuries. The tools of the old penmen have been given to us all. And we should fucking use them.