What Happens to Writing in the Age of the Internet?

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What Happens to Writing in the Age of the Internet?

good afternoon i’m dana gioia the director of the Harman Eisner program in the arts here at the Aspen Institute and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to one of our arts and culture track sessions what happens to writing in the age of the Internet it is my pleasure today to have three preeminent American writers a fiction writer a poet and a playwright who will converse about in a sense the position of the writer in America today immediately next to me is Tobias Wolff a novelist short story writer and memoirist the author of this boy’s life old school and most recently our story begins new and selected stories the next to him is the poet and essayist jane hirshfield author of six books of poetry most recently after as well as the collection of essays nine gates in Turing the mind of poetry and finally John guerre the playwright the author of the house of blue leaves six degrees of separation the librettist for the musical two gentlemen of verona the winner of the Obie’s tonys thank you all for being here today what we’re going to be talking about is something that I think is subtle is complex but it’s fascinating which is the way that technology affects art we know this from the history of literature before there was writing literature was oral which meant that it had to be more or less in verse if anyone was going to remember it once the phonetic alphabet was invented prose became possible once mechanical type became possible and people could read uniform type reading went from something you did out loud to something that was silent which made the novel possible recorded sound changed the history of music the effects of technology are I think often misunderstood people tend to think of them in sort of binary terms off and on one technology usually doesn’t replace another for example when television came along it was predicted that radio would die as a medium today people listen to more radio than they did during the Golden Age of Radio but it changed what radio did and radio began to do what it could do better than other media which was speech talk and music motion pictures changed theater but it didn’t put theater out of business and what goes on inside of an art form is always as powerful as the cultural changes that are happening around it and so if we just think of the communication technologies that have been invented in the last hundred years and this is simply a very partial list radio telephones talking films television video recording tape recording faxes computers internet smartphones Kindle etc etc they’ve changed the way that people communicate and people use language so what we want to talk today is about how the changing technological world around us affects the artist the art the audience and arts place in culture Toby if you’d be willing to entertain the first question I want to ask as an artist whose medium is print you know the novel which is a this print world that the reader enters which you know is a still a relatively modern form versus poetry or theater have you seen changes in your writing career about about fictions place versus other other forms of entertainment other forms of art and specifically I think I think you want to talk about some of the ways perhaps that you think the Internet has changed this sure I I find it hard to talk about writing without talking about reading and I remember when I was in my 20s I took a tour of Chartres Cathedral and there was an Englishman who gave that tour for decades some of you probably remember his name I don’t but anyway I remember something that struck me and has stayed with me was when we were looking at the stained glass windows in sharp eye some of them were vivid and alive and some were dull and this was explained to me I don’t know if there’s actually a scientific basis for this but I leapt on it this was explained to me as a consequence of how much light each of them these windows receive the ones that got a lot of light I stayed alive were much much much more jewel-like and those that did not receive as much light grew doll over time and I think that

literature hat is like that and that light is the light of the reader’s attention if you don’t feel that on your work if you don’t have some sense that there is going to be that quality of attention it can’t have a but over time a dull inning effect on the work i think i’m lucky i sometimes feel in fact as if I caught the last wave in the because I am most concerned about the the what I what I am worried is the the declining quality of attention to literature it needs it needs silence it needs a kind of unbusy mind a mind that can light on something and stay on it for a while to really reward a tool to reward that kind of attention and I am worried that our habits of mine now encouraged by the kind of relentless novelty speed and immediacy of of our digital atmosphere is kind of eviscerating that that capacity for sustained deep attention and so that’s one thing that I you know that that that concerns me I don’t think oddly enough that the writing in our culture has as yet suffered the the the young riders the young poets and short story writers and novelists that I follow are as good as they ever were and so it’s a wonderfully alive culture right now but but you know I try not to worry about the future because my powers as a prophet have yet to be proven then and I might as my brother never tires of reminding me I laughed in his face when he suggested to me that Richard M Nixon might win the election in 1968 so and it’s been like that ever since so you know but it is a concern I have as a writer it’s about the reader in America Jane you and I are pretty much contemporaries and you know poetry is is the is the Jane that we are the perpetually imperiled art in fact one of the people that ask them when I say he was in a panel together expressed initial surprise that I had included a poet on the panel as if you know as if we you know you know we we deserved more of a place beyond being an interlocutor have you seen the art of poetry change the poetry’s position the United States change over the last 30 years because of any of this technology well I think it’s very hard to sort out poetry from the general quality of attention that Toby was just talking about in poetry changes very quickly all the time it is a fluent and responsive and electrically quick art I believe I also think that it is in some sense poetry’s task since literacy so before literacy when a a poem in verse was the memory of a civilization then poetry was doing one job it was holding the center and I think all poets and all readers and lovers of poetry have some memory of this as the golden age when everybody would listen to the bard but then literacy came along there were other there were encyclopedias there were other ways to hold attention and since then i feel that poetry has moved to the task of actually attending to what the mainstream culture neglects so when culture grows too intellectual poetry will grow more passionate when culture turns too much to the soundbite poetry will grow more complex but there there is room for all kinds of poetry and I think in contemporary America we are seeing a huge spectrum of ways of writing poems ways of being a poet that that all doors are open but I would like to talk a little bit about this business of the internet because I’ve thought about it and it seems to me that there are three basic realms that the internet affects us one is the simple technology

of it the storage and transmission of words and there’s an awful lot of press about this there’s a lot of press about the future of publishing there there’s a lot of press about copyright issues and and and that kind of thing and in a way I think that’s the least interesting part of it and the more interesting part of it has to do with what Toby touched on which is the McLuhan esque effects that the technology has on attention and i think that the internet in my experience and i went online fairly early but in a very limited way i joined i don’t know how many of you know the well that that Stewart Brand founded in the mid 80s what it’s an online community which predates AOL predates the web predates compuserve he seeded it with a lot of interesting people and they and newcomers have been talking to each other ever since so it has more of an extended conversation than Twitter or Facebook or or even blog and response you know the whole current universe of the internet is not actually my experience of it but what I what I feel in my own relationship to how being online for for a good long time now has affected me is there are two axes one is the axis of reach and there’s no question but that reach has grown exponentially larger anybody who wants to anywhere in the world who wants to know about me can google my name get a lot of information when I was in China last year and was told at the last minute which dissident poets I was going to have a meeting with I could go online put in their names and actually find half of the 12 in English translation and read their work before I met with them that’s astonishing I can read ancient Sumerian texts and proverbs online they were preserved because they were carved into clay they were preserved because of physicality we think the physical degrades but it’s actually so far a lot more stable than digital as any of us know who have unreadable five inch floppy disks somewhere in a bookcase so reach I think we know is a good and an expansion and something which has made possible drawing on vast intimacy’s of experience as well as depths of experience that were not available to us in this way before but then there’s the vertical axis there’s time and deep time and the internet as we are mostly experiencing it now is a little endangering of deep time because it is such a quick burst universe and you’d think this might be good for poetry but I don’t think it is so good for poetry poetry is not quite the same as a sound bite it’s not the same as a you tube that goes viral and you know 20 million people see Obama he’s Irish with you know the 0 ‘ and it was marvelous but it’s gone and and that experience didn’t leave much of a mark on people whereas even a 17 syllable haiku which seems terribly brief a lifetime of attention honing went into the writing of that haiku so so I’m going to speculate one thing about the future and then I’ll stop talking and let John have a turn at this which is my speculation i don’t know that this has that much to do with poetry but i think we are going to see almost inevitably a high youtube artform develop the way the 17th century Japanese poet basho took this playful game the 17 syllable poems were a party game when he got hold of them and he took his attention as a poet and a human being and turned it into what might be the most widely practiced form of poetry in the world today in America in Japan in Sweden the black novelist Richard right at the end of his life wrote two thousand haiku and they’re quite good but this was not done in a universe where you’re continually interrupted and you flit from thing to thing which is my experience of what most of the internet is like and I cannot write a poem within the consciousness that being online evokes inside of my own mind and kinesthetic desire to be embodied in the world Oh do you have a new question

sorry that we have to look for tis the twitter is the art form no not not as it currently exists it’s possible somebody might do it but not yet not there yet it would ivan tell you with that it’s just how about writing in the age of Internet it’s more and i find that writers work pretty much the same way we just it’s us alone working but i think it’s the response but you know what ill be talking about the reader it responding to the right i mean i’ve been at a number of panels today and yesterday and in each one I looked down my row and ever during the panel everybody was on their blackberries doing it nobody was listening I don’t know what they would they was just all I don’t know how many of you on your blackberry and so that to me was fast it made me think last week I was at the beach I live out at the beach in Long Island I was i love because i take a five-mile walk every three to five mile walk every day so quietens great and I heard this noise I came upon one beat I came to the sky and he was standing after his knees in the water and I heard this voice say yeah you’re my lawyer you’re gonna do what I tell you that yeah it’s got back in all I the world and I said well there goes the ocean you know me I got the beat you know but this guy was almost drowning in a rage on a cell phone and it made me think about our lack of attention plays when I was a kid plays came in three acts uh and even though was reached we’re short of the great place chillers play you know I’m rimini shakes-drayton fiber up five acts I mean where people would go to the theater was a social event you went to the theater for about three to four hours as you do to the Opera today and part of the life we’re going to the theater was who you sort intermissions your life during you know during intermission but you wanted to extend it now one of the selling points of a player will be they say come let’s go see the show it’s only 90 minutes you say oh great i’ll pay a hundred bucks to get out early yes and George and it’s that and I learned this what extraordinary detail the Campbell’s Soup and their commercials now makes commercial i used to see what 30-second commercials you campbell soup now makes their commercials are only 15 seconds because that’s the new attention length of an audience 15 second they can’t even take 30 seconds they say it’s 15 to sell you cream of mushroom soup and so I am Morris I’m very very intrigued by getting audiences how audiences listen I know that in the theatre new york people you’ll see these rays of light come here people Brooke that they are ability that I wanted to say are ability to remove ourselves from where we are that we lose our set is today to lose our sense of local self that no matter where we are we can uh we can be involved with somebody we don’t want to talk to or a lawyer or just telling what you you hear people walking down the street and saying yeah now i’m crossing the there’s a starbucks and now the light is red and waiting to light to change it now i’m crossing through your file fascinating things that people are saying online and it’s just recording their lives like we all live in these human blogs I uh from me I didn’t start i started using a computer in the mid-80s my wife had been on it earlier and i said i don’t want to get near a computer on or near a computer and then what changed my mind was I met these two riders who said that they could travel with their work in a computer and I didn’t realize that was suddenly it made your work portable and that was a revelation that you didn’t have to carry a suitcase around with you know with with all research work in drafts of things if you were going through going from one place to another and but I so I got but I realized early on that the way I worked on my computer still is that I do i right hey I have to hand write I have to write and then I put that in the computer and then I print that out and I read it and then I right on that and then I put those changes so I found out that’s the biggest change in my way of writing is that I had this you know yin yang or whatever you’d call it pouring from one cocktail shaker pouring from one glass into another way of writing that it showed me that it was the lap for me my computer is one of the greatest single advance in my life I remember when I was a kid like 1948 my father bored I wanted a ballpoint pen i saw in Life Magazine a new thing called a ballpoint pen and the wonder of it is why I had to have won my first or do you want a ballpoint pen for I said because you can write under water see why do you want I suggest a man you want your under one so i can imagine time I got a plan we had cell phone to talk to your lawyer oh that’s right and then I remember I wrote on underwater

with I got my ballpoint pen in the paper all fellow belated but that’s before the ballpoint pen running under water learning how to make the lap my computer and then laptop become personal for me I was that’s the only profound change in my life and a very meaningful one and i know that i hate Kindles I hate nooks I hate Kindles I hate all those things but the one thing I’ve learned is you see people coming to Rome my wife is president American Academy and Roman a lot of people are traveling that do work and this art people will arrive with a couple of books I’ve read on the plane and all their research on a Kindle that to me is good for portability for nothing else Toby you teach in one of the best writing programs in the United States at Stanford University and have you noticed the generation of young riders that are coming in that their primary experience with literature differs from you know let’s say what it was when you were a student well I teach John bet if I could me just digress for him and I couldn’t help thinking of John’s image of this guy standing in the surf and it reminded me of a line that you wrote once you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean the way it used to be anyway uh the to get back to this I you know that the it is a problem IIT I teach a big lecture class that reef all the incoming freshman at Stanford about 250 of them and there’s no question at all that and I had taught there and I have a kind of you know good sample here because I had also taught at Stanford in the late 70s for a while and there’s no question at all that the that the students aren’t used to the kind of I think deep reading the meditating on texts to the extent that I think they were when I when I first taught there they’re very well they’re very hardworking and curious students and we try to help them are gained this by banning computers from my classroom is one way I do it and so that they look at me and we talk we actually have a conversation an exemplary moment that I’ve had here was I was attending a panel and there was I was a very interesting panel a guy got up and asked a good question and and went back and sat down and well that’s good question he had asked was being answered really well he was he was done his instrument whatever it was he wasn’t even listening to the answer and and that is the kind of reductio ad absurdum that we are kind of struggling against with our with our students the older ones i have the postgraduate students are kind of self selecting bunch and they are people who are kind of in the old mold of readers and writers they the technology enters into their work ah they use it in their work they use it for research it appears in their work in different ways because the world is is different and it would be a strange kind of fiction that didn’t reflect that momentous difference but you know it is it you know we are all children of our time in one way or another and and I am you know we rock and roll is here to stay uh we’re not gonna we’re not going to stop that you know it’s in and so we have to in some way learn to work with this but yeah I see some differences you could make an argument that the technological change this happening the internet is actually the minority partner in terms of the print that what’s really big i entered our YouTube these things were which brings us back entirely to oral culture you know which is you know it’s the telephone it’s the cell phone it’s the radio it’s the TV it’s the CD it’s the YouTube which puts the poet kind of back where we started you know in an oral culture and probably the primary means of location foremost poets today and spend the similar to a playwright which is destined performance is a public reading of poetry do you feel in a sense a kind of difference in connection when you’re reading poems to people where they’re hearing it versus your sense of what goes on when they’re seeing it on a page and it’s impossible to know exactly what goes on at a page yeah my relationship with the poem on the page is individual private and personal it has to do with my finding what it is I want to put there in the first place it is never an active recording it’s an active

discovery and so my primary relationship with the poem on the page is the actual making of it and when I give a reading I actually am in order to bring that home forward to other people I am trying to return myself to the condition I was in when I first made my way towards it and that experience also has a lot to do with this issue of time in that what writing allows you know writing is the first technology and I don’t think given the condition of my memory which is that of an untalented fruit fly I’m not sure that I would have made much of a poet if I of course if I were in an oral culture with no writing I might have had a better memory but but you know memory is not my strong suit I compose on the hands I think I hear and I right and so this technology of the written word which is the first technology we’re talking about is actually for me a way to stop time and to allow a larger quantity of time to come into a word a sentence align a poem then could have if it were just occupying the moment of its saying now of course when I give poems at readings this is an intimate experience and it’s remains for me quite moving when my poems touch people and usually as a as a writer primarily of of the page and not I’m not a performance poet my first relationship is in the privacy of the study it’s a surprising thing to me that I can give a reading and see the response and feel the response but I also feel as though I want the life of the poem to not be confined to those moments when it’s set allowed if the person doesn’t take the poem home with them and think about it again if it hasn’t come inside of them what is its life very transient very fleeting John we’ve been moving from an art form which is you know fiction which is tends to be highly individualistic poetry which can you know has a communal aspect in a private aspect but theatre exists with an audience and part of the experience of theatre is actually to be sitting next to somebody who’s laughing are not laughing or excited or not excited and you experience things differently when you’re in a group you’re in a crowd you’re not even that’s why I that’s why I have always only wanted to write plays because a novelist has a redwood forest to make paper to tell his story I mean you could write a thousand pages worth where as Jane so profoundly profoundly since that the way time enters into playwriting we have to tell our story in 90 we have to write our novel in 99 pages imagine if a novelist if the new novel came out and the audience the readers for the novel had to come to a darkened room you had to come to a room each given a copy of the book and a flashlight and then eight ten after eight the house lights went down and they turned on the flesh and you wanted to start turning the pages at the same same rate of speed and respond at the same rate of speed I mean that’s it’s ridiculous and whether that’s what a play is and also the pace of the actors becomes necessarily the pace of the audience and they can and they know know when they change there’s a kind of it’s the bits a bullfight it literally is a blood sport between the audience and the stage that’s why all the words we use to say when something was you know was you know was a failure we said they killed us last night they suis were slaughtered last night or on the contrary the EO say we wiped them out last night you know we kill them you know and we kill them or you know that’s so it’s all about responses to a play to a theatrical event are all and the generally in terms of a boxing event or a blood sport the question I want to ask you what do you think we would lose as a society as a culture when we lose these communal experiences certainly isn’t part of Aspen even though some people are multitasking all the time part of the of Aspen is simply the people you’re with the the end experience a speaker an idea I was something to cause something I was just I’m answering your question but in a roundabout way is I was thinking that we Toby and Jane and I are talking about writing which means the voice of the writer the human the voice of the writer whereas so much of the internet and technology this comes from what I was just we met were just listening to what I had to say about this guy you know with the talking to his lawyer in the ocean or you got you know somebody walking on the phone describing where they are on the street that most of the

information that is passed along on blackberrys on ipod ipads whatever is information is informational it doesn’t it lacks the human voice its information to say meet me here at this time or I’m feeling this where I’m seeing this whereas the right the writer is you know we can’t teach writing or you can do is help that person find his or her voice the voice that is them and so much of writing online is so anonymous because blog writers are imitating not writers but imitating each other and there’s an amass Astaria among writing that’s done online that is not writing it’s just ventrally you’ll get so many I’ll get so many young writers will come in you know come into a class and they will write brilliant parrot they’ll write brilliant place in the voice of David Mamet or Harold Pinter or Beckett they will write brilliant Sam Sheppard plays but to get them to write their own voice to find their own voice is the challenge and it must be to come to something you say know you’ve written by your 35 pages you give me I believe this two-page exchange it is most you this this sounds like you and not like somebody else and that’s the trouble with stuff on the internet why it has no why it’s like snowflakes why it’s just because it is sound bites it doesn’t have any human voice behind it other than rage or glee that’s why the emotional scale on blogs or either you know sort of what you wanted you die you know it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen or your this is magnificent you’re going to you know five stars that you have Yuri it’s and what I want to talk about is to me the most profound change you know and all the things that you talked about the biggest changes you know in our life you know the you know from the pencil you can I a form to the you know the stone paired to Gutenberg to the pencil to you know the typewriter is the effect of the human voice the way I was just amazed thinking about this talk about the job at the change that technology has an our work the changes in writing come not from something with lithium in its I’m you know there’s going to have you know some mineral that can only be dug up in Afghanistan and put into our computers now of the the profoundest changes imagine being a writer like Aldous Huxley I mean we just read as I Compton McKenzie who were Somerset mom I mean the major writers design and suddenly Ernest Hemingway comes along and he shows get puts a new voice in the ear and the eye in the mouth and the heart of the reader and all writing changes after that and suddenly Aldous Huxley who was red red red was just you know it makes all right it’s just out of date because we no longer want to read that Mandarin style anymore we want to see things stripped down so much so that then that uh you know that Hemingway them became of self-parody even across the river into the trees he was imitating himself which is why that book is so extraordinary to read in my life from me the biggest change Tecna the biggest technical change in my life was are a couple of things one was when I was about 15 or 16 seeing tamburlaine the great by marlo not knowing that you could say those things would do those things on stage and AH f scott fitzgerald I didn’t know that those that crossing at queensboro bridge its sunset could be a sacred event a sacred events a sacred event as much as much as any of the Catholic stuff that I had to put up with you know how to go to school with and then hearing we’re not hearing the voice of Philip Roth when I first read the short stories of Philip Roth and heard this voice in my ear and read portner those those the obligation that that gave to me as a writer where I had again finding one’s own voice the way that when a writer like Tony Kushner came along with angels in america it just raised the moral bar it raised the bar of what the stakes of writing had to be in angels in america it brought politics and that which was most profound in our lives today into a field that a group of a thousand strangers coming together said yes I want to hear that and so that to me is for me all the profound changes will come from they’re all gimmicks they’re all informational

change I love having my blackberry I love my black burgers my wife and I are always missing each other here will like here it was i’m at aspen where the hell are you you know and my wife says yama something’s it’s a mound by herbert bears about 5,000 mounds that by her big day you know and we can find each other and it but it’s about it’s about location is not information but for me what I’m still looking for and i’ll just i’ll just say one thing i’m probably wrong my wad at the end but i was just not yes forgive me Toby and j but i was given a little while ago a novel it will come out this winter it’s the galleys of a novel by very important American novelist and it’s destined to be a big bestseller a big big success and I read it was curiosity you know I read it cuz I like to be no person are you know what’s flattered that you know to have galleys have to read the author you know and I realize I have been reading this book by Javy mr I ask all your face tomorrow which is three volumes a 1200 page Latin novel by Britain’s as a couple of years ago that has so changed the way I what I did my demands of reading or plus that in roberto bolano that and they show me how boar has has grown what is what is what his children are that I could not reading this American naturalistic brilliant novel was like driving a 1956 Cadillac it was like it just was a great piece of machinery but it didn’t have the mat didn’t have it wasn’t shocking or violent the way that my reading your face tomorrow or any book Bible ano I realized that it’s got into my brain and has done to me what Hemingway did to Aldous Huxley a generation ago and so that’s what that to me is what is that all the changes are going to come from Toby are going to come from Jane pointing out I mean we’re talking about the silence you know finding those silences I’ve just read a story a knockout story by Toby Cole our story begins an unpublished stories real Nightingale it’s about a man who was terrified of his sons dreaming he’s never doing anything and he puts him in this horrible met military school and when he delivers a kid to the military school he realizes the brochure that he was a complete lie bears no resemblance reality and he leaves and he cannot get his son back and he realizes it’s a very I’m simplifying the story profound but it’s about a man realizing that he did not he was terrified or frightened or had contempt for his sons dreaming and that is the place where I feel we all are today that we even have contempt for our own dreaming that we have contempt for our own silence what we do how we make sacred those areas of silence and how we find those without having to go off to a monastery I mean I live in New York City I like living in New York City I find it a very peaceful quiet place I find it very anonymous and quiet and I get to the country here and it drives me crazy because as too much quiet and and I mean that and how we find those areas of silence within ourselves in which we can respond to all the vibrations of life to all the information that is out there the secret information that life is fighting to give us every moment of the day and that’s what so that’s what I feel about a technology Toby Jenny I want to ask you each a quick question and then we’ll open it up to questions in the audience we can’t have John take all of your turf away and and about American fiction so from your perspective what do you see anything interesting happening in American fiction right now something it doesn’t have to be technologically involved and is there something that that you that it excites you interest you depresses you that you’d like to talk about well one of the 11 one thing that I have noted with with with with a lot of joy as the growth of book clubs and you know you were talking about theater being a communal experience and for me uh literature itself of the I mean the literature of fiction short stories novels is a an experience that I enjoy most not just when I’m reading it but what I’m talking about it without that’s why I keep teaching I’m lucky I stop teaching some years ago but I I don’t know where else i would i would uh where at where I would go to work expected to talk about books with people and I love that and enlivens my sense of my work and and and I and in in noticing

how how people are coming together around fiction to read and talk about it together is that’s a very hard yes you were the first I think still the only 21st century yours was the only 21st century book they entered the new the NES bid read was you know the old school and you visited some of the communities we’re reading your book what was that like well of course it’s very flattering to come into a town where everybody has been reading your book uh and then you begin to wonder what why aren’t they all like that yeah but they had in bellingham washington they have this wonderful program called read and release where they were leaving copies of my book and train stations and park benches and people were supposed to pick it up when they r at it they were supposed to leave it somewhere else and it was this is the way life should be I was thinking and I was i could get used to this but it was wonderful to see obviously to have people engage with something you’ve read in and to be curious about it and adapt probing questions and it gave me up obviously a certain sense of responsibility toward the work as well so enjoyed to some extent i suppose what just what John enjoys in the theater and what Jane enjoys and giving a reading a poetry reading so I was I couldn’t have been happier about it really but the idea again it said that’s a book club writ large a whole community reading a book and I was a wonderful initiative of yours along with the operation homecoming what you God started I thought that was what’s that well this was a idea of Dana’s that I he invited me to participate in and I really love this it was when that veterans were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan a number of us writers visited them in their bases as soon as they got back and organized workshops for them to begin to tell their stories and work with them on the on their writing about their experiences and it wasn’t just the vets it was their families as well the wives and husbands who were left behind because there were a sizable number of women veterans coming back especially from Iraq and I and I thought that was a tremendous way of bringing art into the out of the private at end of the public sphere in some way there was a wonderful anthology actually about this operation homecoming the Random House published Larry bridges made a movie about it called Operation homecoming muse of fire which I highly recommend and there was also another movie made called also called Operation homecoming an Academy Award finalist yeah it was a wonderful it was also a wonderful film it was a great initiative and and and again it’s a way of somehow breaking literature out of a cocoon and a supposition on the part of the public that it is over there somewhere and have no interest in that it doesn’t in any way for their long with their writing therapeutic or aesthetic both I think uh and in different measures in different people not all the right there’s a wonderful story about Robert Frost during the Depression a friend of his you know the works progress administration gave money to poets to teach in schools and and also in prisons and so a friend of his got Robert Frost to come and visit his workshop in prison and as they were going into the prison and going through the sally port and all that he said to frost I’ve got 500 poets in this prison and frosted there haven’t been 500 poets in the world since home and so you know you don’t expect in a large group of anybody that you know that the aesthetic qualities of work especially with people are just beginning are necessarily going to be odd you know deathless literature and and they don’t expect that either but in fact some of the work that was done was was of extraordinary I literally worth I thought and then and and that may or may not have been therapeutic for the writer but but then there was work that was clearly cathartic for the writer that maybe wasn’t trying for a particular aesthetic effect do they write on laptop or by hand I’m serious well some that I think both you know Jane do you want to respond to the same question anything is particularly I’m not to respond to everything I’ve been hearing which is basically a theme that I’ve heard from each of us including in your questions is basically touches on the difference between art and information and that has

to do with an embodied and individual psyche soul self experience the actual depths of human life as it is known not in the generic but in the specific which yet touches others and you know for me you know there will always be a little bit like what you were just saying about about you know the vets there will always be good poets there will always be bad poets one thing I think is really useful for you all to hear because I I hear this come up in various venues is if you don’t like every poem you see in The New Yorker or in poetry neither do I you know just because it’s published in a good place does not mean you have to like it and it does not mean that it is somehow you know an unscalable mountain with the secret which is being hidden from you um if I have to say one day a friend of mine was graduating she’s my age it was nineteen sixty she was graduating from Oxford English English major and at the last meeting you know before they’re all going over to get their degrees her professor that she her beloved professor said now he could you know he said you’re a wonderful it’s ready so I’m just so glad when I read this summer were the one he said I could just confess I hate Dylan Thomas i mean i hate Dylan Thomas and I some had come up in it you said I won’t and she said you mean you’re allowed to hate yelling she felt because it was taught that if she didn’t like it the failure was hers and the relationship with poetry is always individual varies over time and human chain and changes and you are the judge and one reason i myself am not so concerned with you know what’s poetry like now rather than 10 years ago or 30 years ago is because i don’t care too much about fashion I mean look at me it’s really clear um I know already she well thank you yeah Brett row chic but you know I I am just as happy to read Horace and Catullus and Sappho and Wang Wei and tofu as I am to read something for me great poems exist outside of time there is no stronger or more beautiful i’m sorry i don’t have it memorized robert Fitzgerald’s translation of catalysis elegy for his dead brother is it tears open the heart good poems stand outside of time outside of change and they hold secrets that are freshly peeled open each time you read them for me this is the hallmark of art that works is you can never actually hold it in your memory you have to repeat the entire experience it’s like you can’t make a soup because you know the name of it you have to actually cut the onions cut the potatoes chop the celery give it time on the stove and eat it and that is the difference between art and information is it lives in us in the actual moment of our giving ourselves to it on that note let’s open up the soup of the questions we have I think a microphone on either side so we just and introduce yourself you know when you when you start the question I’m Michael conniff and imma imma novelist and I’m actually writing a novel on Facebook and I’m about 16 I about facebook now on facebook with fictional characters and about thirteen thousand words into it I’ve been doing it for about six months and that it’s actually pretty exciting and very challenging try to write something in reverse chronological order for starters but my question is what I just kind of want to get to reaction to that because I did it because I’m writing a story that in in the present day that if those characters were living today looking for each other they’d be looking for each other on Facebook and this is really about traditional litter this panel is about traditional literature but what about taking something like the iPad and using it as a new medium for multimedia four different different forms of expression what are you all thinking but I think how does the medium change the content I think what we’re talking about is what the so many changes the content actually because of the nature of the story as it would unfold on Facebook is far different from the nature of the story i’m an old fart I’ve never opened

facebook I don’t know what I mean I’ve never Dickens right serially published in magazines so it came out over but he wrote linearly and this is not linear is it hyperlinked so people navigate their own way through it people can treat it just like they would any other Facebook page yes but you say it’s written in reverse chronological order that’s Facebook yeah the nature of Facebook well it’s also the nature of some books for example Martin Amos is x 0 but those are kind of is a model that every sentence regreses or Herald in relation to the sentence right that you just read it’s an astonishing book I mean it you know because it treats the treats the experience of Auschwitz and there are these scenes and there are people taking people out of the can out of the ovens the camp’s reverses the whole identity to read it is to experience that phenomenon in a way you never have before but it didn’t need a new technology to do it and again whatever whatever I want to agree with your premise that there will be new art forms which are made possible by the new technologies there’s already you know there’s this thing called the book and the book has text but also you can click on a link and see video or hear a reading and that is different and new and we don’t know what it’s going to become yet because it’s too new and we haven’t seen but I think what you bring it was very fascinating what you bring up is about the new in the way in the deconstructionist world that we live in we no longer want to be the passive reader we want to participate in its creation and one of the maddening one of the matter and an early aspect without is Nabokov Pale Fire where the story is in the footnotes of the story the poem that’s being read that you have to piece together you have to piece together the story from the other clues that Nabokov leaves in his but you know with all these the I’ve been fascinated by this new spate of books like Jane Austen and the zombies pride and prejudice and zombies because people or Abraham Lincoln zombie hunter and wait and they say it’s a way to get young people into literature to say okay we’ll give them Jane Austen boat then we’ll add zombies to orgasm to American history and will show that Lincoln just not didn’t free the slave that’s so yesterday he also fought he fought zombies and I think that it gives it gives a different relationship of the reader into as if they are make some conspirators in the collaboration of the book and I think so I applaud with what you’re doing and I think what you’re going to do is your book will succeed on the on how no matter what the technology is on the uniqueness of your voice the questions we have a question up here microphones coming Tony de Brule I just wondered what do you think the lack of letter writing effect it’s going to have on literature plays poetry there was a cartoon of a New Yorker number of years ago they said they were published the message units of igor stravinsky yes yes so that we’re losing a whole absolutely that is I’ve spent the last several years so is my sister in going through all the family letters which go back to 1845 and they describe events from a personal perspective and it’s not just what you would do on the internet at least it certainly isn’t what i would do on the internet did it you’re absolutely right it’s it’s it’s an archivist nightmare what’s happened the you know to sit down with the letters of Byron I with Flannery O’Connor’s letters the habit of being is Robert Lowell and Elizabeth fishing yes those amazing letters that’s not going to happen again uh it’s over I don’t know any writer who writes really long letters of that kind as recently as 20 years ago 15 years ago I had friends that I have saved the letters from I have a good you know add a lot wonderful correspondents say with Richard Ford for years that’s over we send each other dirty jokes now on the internet and and are you coming back I’ll be back there probably around april fifteenth let’s get together for lunch and it’s and voting the loss the loss of photographs to the way we used to have you know old brownie snapshots and boxes you’re lucky you might have a case against him there it is it’s 12 it’s underaged Tony I do i do think though that there is a possibility you know there is this little Lindisfarne

island that that is my my relationship with the internet the well and the well is archived and kept and that doesn’t mean you know it might get lost at some point but but they are carefully preserving it and people really do have some of the time extended conversations about interesting and moving things and if i think if the hunger for genuine correspondence and genuine conversation returns to us if we go through this period of lean ness and fasting and begin to miss what we have lost it might be that other communities like that will spring up and in that case something’s being preserved more like the cafe conversations of paris on the left bank and and you know so that’s a sort of reverse image of this something which would have been simply spoken and disappeared is now archived are our outgoing poet laureate her her late beloved carol was on the well and at her memorial people read some of the things she had written there and she is one of the finest and fiercest writers who you will probably never have the young world dana or toby i’m aware of it but I don’t yeah well it’s still there many people think it’s gone but it’s it’s it’s still there we have a camel o camel hi Julie Dore schlongs just a question um are there any studies that show there’s a connection of emotion with the brain when you’re physically handwriting versus keyboarding and I think about kids in the classroom because I’m involved in that and they’re taking their pens and pencils away they’re all keyboarding now and I just wondered is there anything is it more creative to rights on an idea versus type it you would know that I’ve never you know I probably know more about this I’ve never seen a study on that you know so it’s it’s you know it’s hard to say there’s a lot of studies about attention span reading you know on screen versus on page I mean what you know one of the one of the studies which seems to have been suppressed actually suggests that most people do not read more than 14 words consecutively on the internet terms of linear reading they tend to it’s a hunter-gatherer medium where you take you know take you know fragments versus versus a you know there’s this screen of a page but I’ve never said you know it’s an interesting thing which is how much how does your physical bodies participation in something it’s harder to doodle on a keyboard Mark Twain was the first writer to write on it use a typewriter to write you know it’s interesting is that the introduction of the typewriter the first generation to be trained of the typewriter was the first generation that began to write free verse but it brought broad scale so there was clearly something about being able to more or less predict the way printed language looked on printing ages verses written language which you know if you go all the way that the Middle Ages tends to be spoken to be articulated so that it does seem to be the service be sort of subtle changes that are only emerged when you have the digital natives reach adulthood Daniel Toby had mentioned earlier before he said that that you that any a had done a study on is the declining readership yes when you could talk about readership the the national demo for the arts conducts the largest arts participation study in the world we’ve had huge sample basis for three decades about seventeen thousand households which is about 10 to 20 times the size of a new york times poll or whatever it’s the year after the census it’s the population perfectly duplicates the US population of that moment so it’s highly reliable data all forms in the current one all forms of arts participation in the united states have declined but reading has been was really quite precipitous this has a happy story and happy ending is that reading had gone for point where the United States was now divided into two camps in terms of adults half didn’t read you know really a you know a book at all in the year and the other half read the non-readers had run by 40 million adults in 20 years the number of readers had stayed the same and for the first time in history just less than half of the american adults read the scary thing was the younger you went the less you read and that college graduates had gone in 20 years from the people in the younger ones from the people who read the most to the people who read the least and in fact about it

you know depends on the number about fourteen percent of college managements were actually functionally illiterate they were below basic literacy and so we had this thing now the good news is that we made an issue of it got millions of people concerned we created the big read and after 28 years of unbroken decline the trend reversed itself which says that cultural problems are solvable if there is you know a large investment of intelligence and resources to doing it and this was the Big Read program that that that Toby was involved in but it is reading is an endangered behavior in America you know because and you know interesting thing is the people that read do everything that the people that don’t redo they there on the internet they watch TV they do radio they do all of these things except they balance them now the other interesting thing is that people who read are more likely to vote or likely to volunteer more likely to exercise in all kinds of positive individuals civic behaviors happen because I think they’ve opened up an internal space and some of thousands really what we’ve been talking about they they can hear themselves they have a sense of their selfhood which doesn’t seem to be as much when you’re just a passive viewer of electronic entertainment lots of questions you know what do we just art on this side this lady in a second row um I go to a lot of panels about digital media and writing and I actually studied in the English department at Stanford about ten years ago it was right around the hump between where we didn’t have computers we didn’t have computers in the classroom at all and I’m thinking your undergrad to have computers and your self selected graduate students who don’t are also partly just on two sides of a divide that happened somewhere in the last ten years but but the point I wanted to make was um when I go to these types of panels and there are people under 30 verses you know people who are a couple generations older there is a there is a common word that’s going through this conversation it happens a lot which is lost there’s this incredible fixation on loss and I think this isn’t going to end in a question mark but I’ll make it short I’ll all I wanted to say is I think it’s kind of possibly as damaging you know the fear of the internet damaging writing is one thing but I think there’s the possibility that you know kids who are who are coming up now hearing you know you’ve lost you don’t have the opportunity to know what it used to be like is not a very empowering way to get kids to feel like they could be the next Hemingway or Junot Diaz or jonathan safran foer those type of people so I just think it’s a good one to be a fool have we been that roof yes yeah actually I think so I do I think that I mean you know I agree I’m not a big Facebook fan i’m not a big user of a lot of those tools and I also worry about the future of I’m a writer and I right you know for print as well and I’m worried about that future but i think it’s it’s a little dangerous or it’s easy not to notice how much we’re focusing on loss listen I mean I’m an old the oldest fart of them all here and all I can do is tell from my experience but I think where Toby says is rock and roll is here to stay and I think it’s what’s interesting is that already there’s a new generation that people the kids who bought harry potter and the Stephenie Meyer’s books which would probably the last books that will be published before their online where the kids had to read mate board millions of books as they weren’t online now the next one will be people who’ll be purely learning from online and now in the classrooms there are kids who are what they call blended learning where textbooks only belong to the teachers who passed mountain classes and everything else is done the kids online the future is something that we can’t predict at all we’re just telling what it’s like from art and I think the future is thrilling to say because we don’t know what it’s gonna I didn’t know that the type running created was involved in free verse I mean but I we don’t know what it’s going to come for all we can do is 12 I don’t think we if we if we fail if we judging the past and saying we had it great and you guys have a role that’s not the thing at all it’s like never in my life deplored to my students the the technology which is so natural to them it would be silly to do that mostly I don’t do it because i hate the sound of myself when I deplore things and it makes me feel even older than I am when I do that and so you know and it’s useless to do that anyway the reason that I have asked my students my 250 freshmen to let go of their computers while I’m lecturing to them is because I want them to look at me and I want to see their faces it really makes a difference the other thing is my teaching assistants told me that who sit

amongst these 250 students professor wolf you should be aware that a lot of these students are doing email and playing online poker and while you’re talking hurt my feelings so this is I thought I would spare myself that indignity by simply removing the means of injury and and so but but their their work definitely improved in sections they had much more to say about the readings after the computers went out I said you can always write if you if there’s a point that you want to record just write it down and put it in your computer later but mainly I want you to just listen in and then I open up for argument and I get much more much more in the way of lively response but i agree with you i would not it’s stupid to say oh this thing should go away because it isn’t the way it was when i was a kid i wouldn’t want the world to be the way it was when i was a kid we have time for one more question you want to you know you know back here can wait wait for the mic technology technology hi my name is Paul so I’m going to ask a question about something I don’t really know very much about but I’m going to put it out there hoping that somebody one of you will know something about it so the late josé Saramago the portuguese writer i guess the last thing the the last work that he produced was actually a blog which I wasn’t able to read because I don’t read Portuguese but and as far as i understand i think it had more of like a political bent and talked a lot about the catholic church and things like that and so first of all i don’t know if any of you know about it or were able to follow it or informational it was him it was his expressing an opinion about it was an information i wasn’t an aesthetic it was not the same voice as the man who wrote blindness in its the personal another voice of saramago the telephone voice of sarah are talking to a friend about deploring deploying a situation deploying a current political situation in portugal as i understand it yeah well the other interesting thing about that i’m not sure if this is true in the United States I live in France and recently they published so a book translated into French of the blog so the blog became a book which I mean usually think about it and happening the other way so so now I’m you know I guess because it was Sarah Mago they figured well you should publish this as a book and make it available to people who don’t read Portuguese so I haven’t ready and I haven’t bought it but it’s I think one of things you’re talking about and this is when people say that the book will go away I think what we’re seeing is essentially a culture with multiple platforms some people will want to Kindle some people want to paperbacks and going to hardbacks people want books on tape you know and so that these things all you know they coexist and I think they reinforce each other rather than eliminate each other I think sarah Magos blog is akin to us reading books of people’s letters but the reason we want to read their letters is because we’ve read what made us become interested in them in the first place and one thing that I like to remember in response to the last question as well as I find it you know so people have been bemoaning what might happen to us with the computer at least and since then Burkert splashed the Gutenberg allergies and I love to remember plato was against the written word you know Plato lived at the pivot point between oral culture and literate culture so it pretty much of exactly the same point we’re at now and he said people will no longer have conversations their memories will degrade this is going to be really bad for civilization and what we have discovered is in one sense he was right memory has definitely degraded and in another sense nothing was lost all of the strengths of oral memory have been retained in poetry and to some extent in film and and certainly in plays and meanwhile a great deal was added that could not be imagined at that point all of the subtlety and nuance that writing made possible and conversation dialogue implied dialogue were not lost Yates said rhetoric is the argument you have with others poetry is the argument you have with yourself as far as i know we are still in conversation with ourselves when we write and so I think I try to say you know don’t worry so much something in 200 or 300 years we will actually know the full effects of this transition we

can’t know them now I hope it will be an addition I hope we will all be here to see it and all we old fogies have been doing is pleading for you know there’s the slow food movement I plead for the slow thought move mumbles I think you could I think I just read what I’d love to read a poem of Jane’s if I may it’s called Vilnius for a long time I keep the guidebooks out on the table in the morning drinking coffee I see the spine st. Petersburg Vilnius Vienna choices pondered but not finally taken behind them sometimes behind thick fog the mountain if you lived higher up on the mountain I find myself thinking what you would see is Oh more of everything else but not the mountain and I think that’s what we’re trying to is how we keep our eye on the mainsail thank you John we’re Thank You Jane hirschfeld Thank You Tobias well we’ll see you all here in 200 years you you