"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Friday, 9 January 2009

Can Bloggers Save the Literary Planet?

There's an interesting double-page spread in today's Independent books section by literary editor Boyd Tonkin about how the current recession will affect writing. He interviews several writers and publishers including Tom McCarthy who delivers a crisp judgement that the recession will "accelerate an already well-established pattern: mainstream publishers will concentrate on promoting non-fiction by television presenters and commercial fiction by creative-writing graduates (which should never have been confused with literature in the first place)." This fits with an earlier post of mine (see below, 23 December) predicting lean times ahead for serious writing. But these critics also see a positive side, a kind of shaking out of the commercial dross and a return by writers to their real roots as solitary innovators unhooked from market trends. Tonkin then asks if the net is the answer whereby future literary greats "can bypass the sluggish routine of print entirely". The trouble with this theory, he says, is that: "the critical jury on e-literature still has very little solid evidence to consider." McCarthy says something similar: "The internet has produced some excellent criticism and debate around literature, but I've yet to see any good "primary" writing on there.

This seems to me to be the challenge. The internet has the potential to become a free space of literary creation but so far most of what we get in the literary blogosphere is just more commentary (like this!). There are some online literary magazines but will there ever be (leaving aside all the issues about writers earning their crust) a situation where major new creative work is launched on readers for the first time in this way? Can it ever replace the primacy of print publication even by small press or limited editions? In spite of everything, do we even want it to?

I don't know the answers to those questions but clearly Something Needs to be Done if worthwhile writing is to survive.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

Tonkind writes: "The current bloggers' passion for Paul Griffiths's Let Me Tell You – a novella composed solely of the words that Ophelia speaks in Hamlet – shows the current state of play."

What? Where is this passion? I've seen one post (on RSB) quoting from two reviews. Do you know of any other? One of this reviews was mine but I haven't mentioned it on my blog. Perhaps it's liked because it's an interesting diversion from the mainstream tripe that appears in the mainstream press.

"Do virtual arbiters still prefer the whiff of paper?"

No, we prefer literature wherever it appears. And aren't the paid arbiters the first to sneer at vanity publishing? For them, it's all about the aura of commerce.

Nicholas Murray said...

Steve, I did see your TLS review and confess that I too have seen no others. I think what I am trying to say here is that, given the failure of mainstream publishing to seek out and publish good literature (original, innovative, intelligent, adventurous) one has to look to other ways. I think the internet can help but as a tiny poetry publisher myself I have not found that it delivers miracles, just helps a bit to promote things. There seems to substitute for "proper" publishing because we still prefer real books but the "traditional literature versus net literature" divide that this article seemed to endorse is, as you rightly say, irrelevant. What we want is good original writers and the chance to read them.

Nature Concern said...

We've got to be united to save earth! Earth Hour is practised at large scale in all developed and developing countries but there has been more publicity and awareness this year, as well as participation from large corporations like http://www.commit21.com/ which is a good sign - that there is still hope and that people still care!

Let's all do this, no matter where you are! Saturday, 28 March 2009. Lights off from 8.30pm to 9.30pm!

Nature Concern

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Nicholas Murray said...

I am glad you enjoyed reading. It reassures me that I am not just talking to myself!!!! Thanks.