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.