Thursday, May 9

skull and crossbones

I have begun reading Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism. the book got thrown in a pile of copyright-related texts when I was putting together a literature review last fall. I skimmed it then. now that school has almost released me from its clutches, I want to read it in a more leisurely fashion.

(the pile of copyright-related texts is still around, by the way. I have until June 10 when my library books are due to finish reading them all. wish me luck.)

much has changed in the world since I last read (or talked about having read) any Helprin. for one thing, the author's website has been redesigned. for another thing, I'm about to graduate from this place called Tech, and I almost feel like a completely different person. different? new? more enlightened? more free?

some stuff, though perhaps not much, hasn't changed.

2 + 2 still seems to make 4.

Mark Helprin can, as ever, write smooth and evocative stories.

Digital Barbarism is gorgeously written. it also sounds pretty crazy in a lot of ways. Helprin manages to come across as a very articulate and composed but thoroughly angry, sickened older gentleman sitting on a fancy veranda somewhere, grumbling beautiful insults at the hooligans of the internet. I haven't finished the book yet, so I won't attempt to sum its message into any small handful of sentences. over here you can read what the author (or his publicists, whoever) and a few reviewers have to say about it. a "passionate defense of author’s rights," one says. another compares copyright to a trampoline.

in the essay I just wrote and rewrote and rewrote for Dr. Rice about the cultural shifts among so many readers and writers and digital natives when it comes to the ownership and authority of intellectual properties, I go back to the 60s and quote this Roland Gérard Barthes fellow:
"We shall never know, for the good reason that writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. No doubt it has always been that way. As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but intransitively, that is to say, finally outside of any function other than that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins."
         - Roland Barthes
you can read some Barthes for yourself if you want. he's one of those French literary theorists there seem to be so many of.

Thomas Jefferson is not French, nor known as a theorist, but he was at one point the US Minister to France. so there is a connection. Barthes's above musings on the death of the author reminded me of this, a quote that Libertarians and copyleft enthusiasts throw around all the time in defense of the freedom of ideas:
"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation."
          - Thomas Jefferson
has anyone put these two quotes together before?

some day I will have more to say about them both.

today I have to finish two essays and a small mountain of grading.

No comments: