Sorry, Schumpeter, Ivan Doig could not have been a great literary mage and an ‘authorpreneur’

for Ivan Doig -- postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

for Ivan, who as a small boy tagged along after his father to ‘hire on haying crews’ in saloons
— postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

The Economist should have credited the Australian author Hazel Edwards for her neologism, ‘authorpreneurship,’ in her book published three years ago advising mere scribblers on the importance of turning themselves into scribbler-salesmen to save their skins in the post-Gutenberg transition. In its Schumpeter column on 14 February, the magazine made exactly the same point:

Publishers are increasingly focusing their efforts on a few titles they think will make a splash, neglecting less well-known authors and less popular themes …

Authors must court an expanding variety of “influencers”—people whose opinions can determine a book’s success. … a host of bloggers and social-media pundits …

The trouble with many budding writers is that they are not cut out for this new world. They are often introverts, preferring solitude to salesmanship …

Three years ago, this blog made the identical observation about the mismatch between temperament and the shallow new conventional wisdom about requiring writers to start leading an intensely social existence on digital media. Not, however, about ‘budding’ scribes, but some of the greatest of the great, including Beckett, Wittgenstein and Kafka — at any stage of their careers.

It is surely not beyond the wit of Schumpeter at The Economist and clever-clogs elsewhere, handing out the same prescription — that inwardly-oriented writers must hurry up and turn themselves inside-out — to devise alternatives to it. Alternatives that use the flexibility of digital technology and the net to let the mountain come to Mohammed. That is, adapt the medium for the idiosyncrasies of this category of user.

People leave footballers to be as dim as they wish, never mind how great a leap it would be for humanity if — for instance — David Beckham himself, and not a team of Japanese mechanical engineering experts, had been able to tell us that when he kicks the ball, he is ‘carry[ing] out a multi-variable physics calculation in his head to compute the exact kick trajectory required, and then execute it perfectly,’ or that his brain ‘must be computing some very detailed trajectory calculations in a few seconds purely from instinct and practice’.

Why shouldn’t writers be allowed the incapacities that, for so many, come with doing what they can do?

In its affectionate obituary ten days ago, the Great Falls Tribune — a Montana newspaper of record roughly a hundred miles from his birthplace in White Sulphur Springs, in ranch country — quoted an acquaintance of the literary mage Ivan Doig explaining that he ‘preferred “old school” technology over the instantaneous communications of the Internet age.’

It is impossible to imagine this sublimely modest man, who described himself as an introvert reared among the ‘lariat proletariat,’ writing as he did between tweets and Facebook updates. When not actually writing, in the years that shaped his unique style, he spent hours and days talking to his father and grandmother in variants of a Scots dialect that crossed the Atlantic with their ancestors — conversations that were crucial to bringing richly alive on the page the extraordinary existence they had led together, in his childhood.

What delighted him in 1977, when his breakout book earned him the critical acclaim he deserved, was not the flattering adjectives it collected but what should matter most to a writer — reviewers paying closest attention to his poetic, clear-eyed, all-seeing prose in reviews dominated by ‘long, miraculous patches of pure quotation from This House of Sky’.

This is how that book opens:

Soon after daybreak on my sixth birthday, my mother’s breathing wheezed more raggedly than ever, then quieted. And then stopped.

The remembering begins out of that new silence. Through the time since, I reach back along my father’s telling and around the urgings which would have me face and forget, to feel into these oldest shadows for the first sudden edge of it all.

It starts, early in the mountain summer, far back among the high spilling slopes of the Bridger Range of southwestern Montana. The single sound is hidden water — the south fork of Sixteenmile Creek diving down its willow-masked gulch. The stream flees north through this secret and peopleless land until, under the fir-dark flanks of Hatfield Mountain, a bow of meadow makes the riffled water curl wide to the west. At this interruption, a low rumple of the mountain knolls itself up watchfully, and atop it, like a sentry box over the frontier beneath the sly creek and the prodding meadow, perches our single-room herding cabin.

Alone here on our abrupt tiny shelf, the three of us eased through May and the first twenty-six days of June secure as hawks with wind under our wings. Once a week, the camptender from the home ranch would come the dozen miles of trail to us. The blaze-faced sorrel he rode and the packhorse haltered behind would plod in from the shadows which pooled in our valley under the shouldering slopes, until at last the rider stepped off from his stirrups into the cabin clearing and unknotted from the packsaddle the provision boxes, dark-weathered in their coverings of rawhide, which carried our groceries and mail …

… This post originally stopped at the end of the extract. Then this blog’s most essential reader complained, understandably, about feeling abruptly abandoned by the blogger. But who would interrupt magic, unfolding? Slipping away on tip-toe seemed right …

Can the rap king Jay Z make cooperatives cool — for the tipping point creators need to restore livelihoods hollowed out by the net?

 

Jay Z and Eminem perform ‘Renegade’ in New York -- adapted screenshots: postgutenberg[ at ] gmail.com

Jay Z and Eminem perform ‘Renegade’ in New York
— adapted screenshots: postgutenberg[ at ] gmail.com

Jay Z explaining what is obvious, in our view -- that rap is poetry  Jay Z explaining on Youtube what should be obvious, in our view -- that rap is poetry

Jay Z explaining on Youtube what should be obvious, in our view — that rap is poetry

 

Quotation highlighted in the print edition of a venerable newspaper last Sunday:

‘The content creator should be compensated. It’s only fair.’

Jay Z … whose subscription streaming service, called Tidal, will be majority-owned by artists …

‘The Chatter,’ The New York Times, 5 April 2015

Bravo! Jay Z, for exceeding fine sentiment. Five days earlier, the NYT reported, beneath ‘Jay Z Enters Streaming Music With Artist-Owned Service’:

On Monday, Jay Z, the rap star and entertainment mogul, announced his plans for Tidal, a subscription streaming service he recently bought for $56 million. Facing competition from Spotify, Google and other companies that will soon include Apple, Tidal will be fashioned as a home for high-fidelity audio and exclusive content.

But perhaps the most notable part of Jay Z’s strategy is that a majority of the company will be owned by artists. The move may bring financial benefits for those involved, but it is also powerfully symbolic in a business where musicians have seldom had direct control over how their work is consumed.

“This is a platform that’s owned by artists,” Jay Z said in an interview last week as he prepared for the news conference announcing the service. “We are treating these people that really care about the music with the utmost respect.”

On that same last day of March, Charlie Hebdo staff members bent on turning their weekly into a cooperative were conspicuously running up their rebel flag again – in an opinion piece about the paper’s future published in Le Monde — France’s closest equivalent of The New York Times.

Extract (a free translation, of which post-Gutenberg will gratefully accept correction and refinement):

Charlie must go on, … and stay true to the values ​​in its DNA, and the spirit of its founders … [retain] complete political and financial independence, with shareholding restricted to employees of the newspaper, to the exclusion of outside investors and advertising influence, defending an alternative economic model …

What would best guarantee Charlie’s continued freedom of thought and expression?

A flat organisational structure (architecture). By using a form of cooperative society that we have discussed internally for years — directly in line with the social economy Charlie has always advocated — the newspaper must give up its status as a commercial enterprise. By giving each of us the right to take part collectively in decisions affecting the newspaper, … and to be involved in rebuilding what is so much more than a mere employer, to us.

… We have heard that a new ownership structure is being designed, excluding us.

… We refuse to let our newspaper become tempting prey, or be made the object of political and/or financial manipulation, we refuse to allow a few individuals to take partial or complete control of it, with absolute contempt for those who produce and support it.

So, is this zeitgeist, genuinely the spirit of a new era, on display — at a French satirical magazine, and in New York, in the words of one of the most successful popular musicians alive — or a mere coincidence?

As noted in our last post, in sympathy with the would-be Charlie Hebdo reformers, we love the idea of a staff-owned or, in the case of Tidal, musician-owned cooperative — but would be even more delighted by a structure that allowed readers and audience members to become shareholders and co-owners.

A cooperative owned only by creators risks becoming like the medieval craftsmen’s guilds, of which the Cambridge historian Sheilagh Ogilvie has written:

Half the population was inherently excluded, since very few guilds allowed female members … Most guilds also excluded Jews, bastards, migrants, laborers, farmers, propertiless men, former serfs and slaves, gypsies, members of other guilds, adherents of minority religions, men of “impure” ethnicity, and those who couldn’t afford the admission fees. As one nineteenth-century Spaniard put it, those without funds “called in vain at the door of the guild, for it was opened only with a silver key”.

Guild membership was reserved to a privileged minority, even in towns.

Originally, guilds helped skilled artisans to earn respect, liberating them to different degrees from feudal lords and serfdom — but then they themselves became too powerful and exclusionary.

Let us hope that Jay Z – who launched himself, producing and promoting his own music after he was rejected by the gatekeepers of corporate recorded music — can stay true to his mission, as in this re-affirmation and blast at accusations that he has sold out and given up on revolution:

Motherfuckers say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels

Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it? …

… Just read a magazine that fucked up my day

How you rate music that thugs with nothing relate to it

I help them see they way through it, not you

Can’t step in my pants, can’t walk in my shoes

Bet everything you’re worth, you’ll lose your tie and your shirt …

— ‘Renegade’, Jay Z and Eminem, 2001

 

Will Charlie Hebdo lead the way to media’s still misty, co-owned future?

 

DSC00476

– postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

[ Late addition: support for an impression of growing disenchantment with hierarchy as a form of organisation came from a surprising source, yesterday. Never mind if it only amounts to a single ‘data point’ — in a short essay by a pilot-turned-architect reflecting on the Germanwings plane intentionally crashed in the Alps earlier this week. See footnote. ]

If ever arguing about a proposal seemed superfluous – because a kindergartener could convince the child on the next play stool of its merits – that would be true of the insistence, by staff members who survived the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, that they deserve ownership stakes in the agent provocateur newspaper, as they risk their lives by carrying on after the bloodbath. An item in The Wall Street Journal last week said:

Some staff members live under round-the-clock police protection, with armored policemen wielding automatic weapons stationed in front of their homes.

Making a paper’s workers co-owners is going only halfway towards what post-Gutenberg sees as a necessary bow to the egalitarian spirit of net-centred life – rejecting hierarchies in favour of structures that value every contribution to the welfare of the enterprise.

Including readers and commenters as co-owners would be even better — certainly do more for economic stability and growth — if enough thought and care were put into adapting the rules and culture of organisations to make sure that efficiency was preserved.

But at Charlie Hebdo, even politically radical major shareholders have, so far, declined to let staffers share the tidal wave of cash flowing into the paper’s coffers – nearly £22 million, since the jihadist attacks on 7 January.

That is, … as far as we can tell. Updates on the dispute are hard to come by because the most famous names in journalism tilting left have been ignoring it altogether. Nothing in The New York Times or Guardian whatsoever, so far, unless we have been typing the wrong terms into search boxes. All the big brand-name papers on the political right have run reports, including three of Rupert Murdoch’s stars — The Times in the U.K., The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., and in his homeland, The Australian — as well as the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

We are guessing that behind their straightforward news stories on the subject, right-wing editors are sniggering discreetly about idealistic leftie journalists at the French satirical weekly quarrelling about filthy lucre — while co-ownership is an awkward subject for their counterparts on the left, who know that it makes perfect sense, but cannot bring themselves to make any significant move towards it.

The Telegraph report last week said, in part:

Eleven staff members have called for all employees to become equal shareholders in the magazine, setting them up for a battle with the current management.

Charlie Hebdo is currently 40 percent owned by the parents of Charb, the former director of the magazine who was killed in the January 7 attacks, 40 percent by cartoonist Riss, who is recovering in hospital from shoulder wounds and 20 percent by joint manager Eric Portheault.

But one of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, Laurent Leger, stunned the editorial conference on Wednesday by announcing the creation of a group to open talks on an equal division of the magazine’s capital.

[…]

…[H]e said in [a] letter that a more equal division of the funds would allow more “transparency”.

“The wider the control, the more decisions will be taken collectively and that’s better for everyone,” … **

There was an echo of Leger’s words in a post on the website of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab — ‘In media companies, the editorial staff shouldn’t be kept in the dark about finances’ — by Celeste Lecompte, a senior manager at Gigaom, an online American publisher specialising in blogging about technology, which abruptly went out of business earlier this month:

Our industry is undergoing incredible changes, and finding a way to thrive amid the new economic and technology context is critical …. Managers with direct budget responsibility tend to focus on meeting goals and targets in the short term. But when other employees have access to this information, they can contribute to the conversation in different ways, supporting and critiquing strategic efforts.**

If a co-owned Charlie Hebdo emerges from horror of eleven staff members murdered in plain sight, that will be at the top of the class of unlikely geneses – just right for now, with T. S. Eliot’s cruellest month getting ready to breed, from land seemingly beyond resurrection, its improbable lilacs …

Something else in that category, and in the realm of publishing — only a long time ago, in 16th-century Venice, is the life of a co-inventor of italic type. At post-Gutenberg, we find the typeface useful, but would list, at the top of reasons why we have never much liked it, that it is irritatingly spidery and insubstantial and dainty-bordering-on-effete. So. Who collaborated, dear reader, with Aldus Manutius – an early printer, in the Gutenberg hall of fame — in the creation of italics? The answer, a small feast of the bizarre — in a review of an exhibition devoted to Aldus in the NY Times last month — is that he was …

… the type cutter Francesco Griffo, a shadowy fellow who broke with Aldus acrimoniously and then slugged a man to death with an iron bar before reputedly meeting his own demise at the end of a hangman’s rope. Italics, which were intended to mimic the humanist handwriting of the day, first appeared in a modest five words in a 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine …

Yes, … italics.

** After we posted this entry, we read an essay by Andrew McGee in The New York Times that — incidentally — made the same point as Laurent Leger and Celeste Lecompte in another sphere – airline safety:

In the 1960s and ’70s, several crashes were judged primarily a result of pilot error, some stemming from the hierarchical relationship between the captain and the co-pilot. Co-pilots were often afraid to challenge the captain’s decisions, and the results could be disastrous. In training, they played us a cockpit voice recording of a co-pilot timidly telling the captain they were running out of fuel; he didn’t mention it again before the engines flamed out.

Daffy spring doggerel break: from a treasured comments archive on the net, and a beloved doggerelist

Daffodils: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

daffy cornucopia 2

An experience of helpless laughter … one of the most memorable in that category, ever?

Blame a doggerelist’s contributions to a discussion of William Wordsworth’s best-known poem in a 2007 thread on The Guardian’s books blog, one with no shortage of literary scholars weighing in. It comes to mind every spring — with heartache. We miss the doggerelist, @cynicalsteve — a scientist with a fine Cambridge pedigree and excellent taste in literature; a dearly cherished, cherishing, invisible, net friend snatched before his time by the Reaper.

The tone for the most impish reactions in that comments section was set by an irreverent post by Sam Jordison:

Terrible poet – great museum

Wordsworth’s appalling ‘Daffodils’ seems to me a terrible advertisement for the Lakes. But the Grasmere museum is just terrific.

Before we reproduce a few choice extracts – not necessarily in the right chronological order: please quote this thread whenever you have to suffer yet another blinkered enemy of commenters claiming that virtually all web comments are the work of evil trolls.

Finally, research is supporting those of us insisting for about a decade that comment sections are often friendly and enlightening places. The New York Times reported last month that

Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, a psychology professor at Skidmore College […] and her co-authors Aneta K. Molenda and Charlotte R. Cramer analyzed comments from three sources (The New York Times, the Discover magazine science blog and a Facebook group for science buffs) … They found some encouraging signs: Positive comments were more common than negative ones.

And here’s proof … although anyone appalled by English schoolboy wit gone off-leash will please stop reading after the second comment by @freepoland:

cynicalsteve 25 Apr 2007 1:35

I thought it was only me that thought the daffodil poem was a piece of third rate doggerel. It’s main drawback is the schoolboy-like monotonous rhythm of the piece – “I WANdered LONEly AS a CLOUD…”

Anyhow, it’s much improved in the real schoolboy version:

I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high oer hill and dale When all at once I saw a pub And went in for a pint of ale.

liberaldogooder 25 Apr 2007 2:22

Seems just a little unfair to slag off a great writer by more or less sole reference to perceptions of their most popular work, which by its nature isn’t normally going to be their most challenging. (with Wordsworth ‘The Preludes’ already been mentioned, but then you have ‘Immortality’, ‘Tintern Abbey’, ‘The Leech Gatherer’, etc, where tons of stuff are going on under the hood). By these standards Dickens is a writer of sentimental childrens’ tales, Chaucer a teller of dirty stories and TS Eliot a dyed-in-the-wool registered cat fetishist.

But having said that it’s a great way to cause controversy – I think you should put up a thread entitled ‘Shakespeare was shit’, and then we can play ‘The Ride of the Valkryes’, as the ranters come down on you like a wolf on the fold.

Henuttawy 25 Apr 2007 4:08

Well I blame anthologies for endlessly re-printing “Daffodils”. It appears so often, we are led to think that it’s great verse. But I personally think it comes so perilously near to doggerel that I wonder if Wordsworth was actually being a bit tongue-in-cheek when he wrote it.

Still, I wouldn’t say that he’s the best of the Romantics anyway – not by a long, long way. Keats was much better. And Byron, of course.

freepoland 25 Apr 2007 4:16

Nobody has improved on J.K.Stephen’s commentary on Wordsworth:

Two voices are there: one is of the deep; It learns the storm-cloud’s thunderous melody, Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea, Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep: And one is of an old half-witted sheep Which bleats articulate monotony, And indicates that two and one are three, That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep And, Wordsworth, both are thine. […]

israelvisitor 25 Apr 2007 4:20

I like “Daffodils”; I even knew it by heart once. Not maybe one to be put to a class of ten-year-old boys, though, who would instinctively vie to be the most openly unimpressed by it.

The rhyme of “gay” with “company” could quite easily be seen as bold and innovative, for what it’s worth.

The wild daffodils beside Ullswater – were they the ones that inspired Wordsworth? – certainly impressed me, when I saw them in 1980: they are not your garden King Alfreds, but delicate little wild ones that do flutter in the breeze, and are present in seemingly illimitable numbers along the shore. (In this way they contrast with WW’s solitude – and I am sure that even in the pluvial Lake District, solitary clouds are to be seen.)

[…]

No, I don’t think “Daffodils” is a crap poem. I think it’s nice. But I’m aware that many would say that means the same thing…

freepoland 25 Apr 2007 5:39

… Wordsworth and money were a curious combination. Raisley Calvert’s legacy enabled him to live out an idyll at Dove Cottage, where it is usually said he did his best work. Later, he took Lord Lonsdale’s shilling and the post of controller of Stamps for Westmorland. Poets shouldnt be wealthy. His career trajectory was rather modern, and his ideals probably suffered, but it is difficult to locate a socialist poet in the period 1800-1850. Ideals were a good deal more cerebral than fifty years later. Above, I suggested he was not perhaps worthy of the title of 3rd best poet, but at least he had a crack at the epic, and The Prelude has some good things in it. A useful comparison is with Tennyson, whose command of the technicalities of language were as good as WW’s, but who reads Idylls of the King now? Undergraduates are still subjected to the Prelude, and usually come out with something worthwhile. My favourite is Michael, and if you stroll up Helvellyn out of Grasmere and sit down there to read it, you get a real feel for what Wordsworth thought of as the rustic life and its disappointments.

cynicalsteve 26 Apr 2007 4:51

I wandered, desperate for a piss Whilst walking by the Canyon Grand Dare I let fly o’er the abyss? Or should I use a rubber band….

bouquet black backdrop

daffy long Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 00.47.37