Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Blogs ... are all the rage in some quarters. We're told that blogs will evolve into a unique source of information and are sure to become the future of journalism. Well, hardly. Two things are happening to prevent such a future: The first is wholesale abandonment of blog sites, and the second is the casual co-opting of the blog universe by Big Media.

Let's start with abandoned blogs. In a white paper released by Perseus Development Corp., the company reveals details of the blogging phenomenon that indicate its foothold in popular culture may already be slipping.... According to the survey of bloggers, over half of them are not updating any more. And more than 25 percent of all new blogs are what the researchers call "one-day wonders." Meanwhile, the abandonment rate appears to be eating into well-established blogs: Over 132,000 blogs are abandoned after a year of constant updating.

Perseus thinks it had a statistical handle on over 4 million blogs, in a universe of perhaps 5 million. Luckily for the blogging community, there is still evidence that the growth rate is faster than the abandonment rate. But growth eventually stops.

The most obvious reason for abandonment is simple boredom. Writing is tiresome. Why anyone would do it voluntarily on a blog mystifies a lot of professional writers. This is compounded by a lack of feedback, positive or otherwise. Perseus thinks that most blogs have an audience of about 12 readers.... Some people must feel the futility.

-- From a short essay on "the beginning of the end for blogging" by John C. Dvorak, in PC Magazine (via Keks--I don't read PC Magazine & would never have noticed this otherwise).

This is as good a time as any to note that this blog reached its first anniversary about a month and a half ago--which I didn't think worth mentioning before. Let's say I was feeling the futility.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

As a part of his week-long residency at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Colin Channer on Tuesday presented a public lecture titled "The Most Important Thing You Need to Know About Writing Novels, Plays or Movies From a Guy Who Should Know". Channer proved to be as long-winded as the title, and quite lacking in substance....

During the lecture he declared: "Depth is something that eluded me... I'm very happy to exist very close to the surface." In keeping with this ideology, Channer bobbed happily at the surface of the art of storytelling."

-- From an anonymous & pleasingly snarky article in today's Gleaner.
In a 1988 review of A Sinking Island: The Modern English Writers, the critic Richard Eder wrote in The Los Angeles Times: "Kenner doesn't write about literature; he jumps in, armed and thrashing. He crashes it, like a party-goer who refuses to hover near the door but goes right up to the guest of honor, plumps himself down, sniffs at the guest's dinner, eats some and begins a one-to-one discussion. You could not say whether his talking or his listening is done with greater intensity."

R.I.P. Hugh Kenner, author of The Pound Era, one of my favourite works of literary criticism.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Bravo, Hari Kunzru.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

In the eyes of many civil rights activists, especially white liberals, it was Carmichael more than anyone who contributed to the dissolution of the grand alliance--civil rights Negroes, labor, church, liberals and the Democratic Party--that sent the movement crashing into Black Power, thereby provoking white backlash. But for others, like Carmichael himself and many blacks of that era, it was time for "black liberation" and not token integration.

For better or for worse, Carmichael's legacy is primarily associated with that Molotov cocktail phrase....

Born in 1941 to working-class, West Indian parents (father a carpenter, mother a seamstress) who hailed from Trinidad and moved to New York, Carmichael was a nonnative American citizen, an outsider in his adoptive home. Yet as a son of the African diaspora he was also a part of a tradition to which Afro-Caribbeans had contributed mightily, the tradition of black radicalism that also numbered men like Marcus Garvey, C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Martinique's Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, Puerto Rico's Arturo Schomburg and women like Malcolm X's mother, who was also a West Indian. Unlike segregated African-Americans, Caribbeans like Carmichael's parents had grown up in majority-black countries where they hadn't been totally indoctrinated into accepting a subservient position. Although most of the British Caribbean world would not be decolonized until the 1960s, Afro-Caribbeans, as British subjects, were used to running at least some aspects of their own show. They had had, in other words, a taste of power.

-- From Norman Kelley's review, in the December 8 Nation, of Ready for Revolution, the just-published autobiography of the late Stokely Carmichael, a.k.a. Kwame Ture.
The great and enduring strength of the United States is that it is an immigrant society subject to continual waves of replenishment from outside. Such is the desire to participate that one person every day is killed trying to enter the country. These "new" people bring with them new narratives, which grow and flourish in the very heart and bosom of the society, narratives that find expression in music, theatre, dance, film, and literature. These "new" people are not only vital to the economic health of the country, they are also the keepers of the cultural and artistic flame. However, after September 11, it is precisely these people who are being hounded and persecuted by the government, and their fealty to the country is being questioned. Their desire to construct narratives has not been stilled, but their new tales are counter-narratives, which seek to explain their situation.

The urge to tell a story is the oldest of human impulses, for it clarifies and orders the relationship between the private and the public, our inner and outer worlds, and it records the dissonance between these two spheres of existence. This being the case, storytelling has always been a logical form for the migrant to utilise to try to capture the conundrum of his own, often precarious, situation in the world. While I remain dismayed by the domestic and foreign chaos that the United States continues to unleash upon its own people, and millions of foreign citizens, I am comforted by the knowledge that her folly will be recorded and exposed by the narratives of those whose private and public lives have been thrown into turmoil by the iniquities of White House policies.

-- From Caryl Phillips's essay "A Beacon in Dark Times", published in this weekend's Guardian Review.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The 2003 National Book Awards were announced last night. Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire's memoir of a privileged childhood ended by the Cuban Revolution, won the non-fiction award. (The other "Caribbean" book in the list of NBA nominees was Louis Simpson's collected poems, The Owner of the House. Simpson was born in Jamaica in 1923 and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 17.)

Update: read my short review of Waiting for Snow in Havana, originally published in Caribbean Beat, here.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

It is not enough for me to succeed, as Gore Vidal has said; my friends must fail. And Lane, though not exactly a friend, has let me down badly in this respect. Having this slab of a book by my bed has been exquisitely painful for me--although I found that it wasn't so bad once I had Tippexed out the quote from Martin Amis on the front.

-- From Nicholas Lezard's short Anthony Lane rave in this weekend's Guardian Review.
Pundits have fretted for years that mobile phones are making us ruder. In June, Nokia released some evidence that may actually prove it. A survey found that 71 percent of mobile-phone users admit they are now consistently late for social events. Why? Because they can send a flurry of text-messages explaining where they are, how fast they're moving and precisely when they'll arrive, down to the minute. "You sort of feel you've got more play, because you're in this incredibly close contact," says Robbie Blinkoff, the principal anthropologist at Context-Based Research Group, which has found similar trends in its studies.

Indeed, this sort of "micro coordination" is a form of behavior made uniquely possible by those tiny S.M.S. ("short messaging service") bursts of text. Phoning someone six times an hour just to relay your location would seem outright insane. But text messages are far less obtrusive, so mobile users--particularly teenagers--think nothing of sending dozens of messages a day to a single friend, keeping them in almost telepathic contact with each other. Ito calls this "persistent but lightweight co-presence": in Japan, she has found that partners who do not live together may trade up to 100 text messages a day. "They're expected to be in constant contact. But it's not as if they're asking for a face-to-face intense conversation. It's like you're in the room, and you just sort of share a sigh or a facial expression," she says. "And they'll flag moments of disconnection. They'll say: 'I'm going to take a bath now! I won't be texting.'" This isn't the Borg-like hive-mind that digital prophets have long predicted humanity would evolve into; nobody's doing any deep thinking in S.M.S. messages. It's more like the behavior of ants, leaving chemical traces to figure out where their colleagues are. Studies have found that the single most commonly sent text message is "Where are you?"

-- From an article on the evolution of the mobile phone by Clive Thompson in tomorrow's NY Times. (I don't own a mobile & have no plans to acquire one.)

Friday, November 14, 2003, after twenty-three novels and over forty years, we arrive at The Mask of the Beggar. The text of the book is preceded by a note in which Harris presents an uncharacteristically direct statement about his ideas and how they are to be understood in his work. The note, as well as the novel that follows, comprise a summation: in Harris's end is his beginning, and it encompasses the entire range of his quantum Imagination, to borrow two of his favorite words. Here are passages that contain Harris's enduring fascination with Amerindian myths, his belief in "visionary Time"--time that is fugitive and trapped, fluid and stagnant--in which Cortez and Quetzalcoatl reappear, and passages in which he defines the peculiar aesthetics of his art, with its cross-cultural references rooted in the dark depths of human consciousness, distinguishing this art from the journalistic representation of a superficial reality commonly practiced by his contemporaries.

-- From Zulfikar Ghose's short essay on The Mask of the Beggar in CONTEXT No. 14. Ghose notes that Harris considers his 24 novels, written over a period of 43 years, as movements in a single "long work", finally at an "end" (Harris's quotation marks).

Saturday, November 01, 2003

E.M. Forster's A Room With a View was my first intimation of the possibilities of fiction: how wholly one might feel for it and through it, how much it could do to you. I felt it was very good and that the reading of it had done me some good. I loved it. I was too young, at 11, to realise serious people don't speak of novels this way.

-- Zadie Smith, a young contemporary writer I am fond of, writes in this weekend's Guardian Review about E.M. Forster, an old dead writer I am exceedingly fond of, pulling in Keats (a young dead writer I am head over heels in love with) along the way.