Conversations in the Book Trade: Books, art, art-books, and ... authorial movies.
Monday, February 03, 2020
On Authorialness 1
Writing for the Toronto International Festival of Authors blog, Steven Beattie, in an article entitled “Why Writing is not such a Solitary Experience”, describes the contemporary writer’s life as follows:
“It is not groundbreaking to point out that writing is a solitary experience. Publishing is collaborative: a network of relationships between creator and editor, publicist, designer, marketing and sales people, distributors and booksellers. Even reading is a shared endeavour carried out between author and reader; though there is no direct connection between creator and consumer, literature finds its final fulfilment only when a writer’s work is processed through the sensibility of a reader. But writing—the act of creating characters and stories out of words and sentences and paragraphs crafted in such a way as to evoke an emotional response or aesthetic appreciation—that part is done alone. Writers are almost by nature solitary creatures, introverts who spend their days, in the words of Philip Roth’s E.I. Lonoff, turning their sentences.
Perhaps this is one reason the general public maintains a notion of writers as some form of rarified or exotic animal, a species that shares traits in common with others but is nonetheless a bit apart, a bit strange and esoteric. Social media mitigates this, at least to some degree; readers now have direct access to writers in a way that they never did in previous eras. They can reach out and provide feedback with the click of a button or a Facebook like. Any author who has been tagged on a blisteringly negative reader’s review will tell you that this is, at best, a double-edged sword. Or, as Marlon James put it onstage at his TIFA appearance last fall, the worst thing about winning the Man Booker Prize is that now no one believes his Tinder profile.
Social media have inculcated in many readers the expectation that they should have instant access to writers at the very same time as the internet has opened up the means of production, meaning that more people are able to publish than ever before. This also means that what might once have been a tight-knit community has inevitably scattered. New voices are appearing all the time, many of them from remote or previously peripheral locales, which is a net benefit for writers who have long found themselves shut out of the realms of publishing that allow them an audience and for readers who now find themselves with a multiplicity of voices, sensibilities and literary styles from which to choose.”
It’s heartening to see arts journalists acknowledge that writing, as a profession, has changed, and that these changes are in many ways being driven by technology. Nevertheless, the article also raises as many questions as it answers; one has to do with the difference between writing-as-creative-activity versus bookselling. The other has to do with the aspects of literary production that are specific to Canada (which is to say, English, French, First Nations, and the influence of immigrants who are “between languages” (this last phenomenon deserves some analysis of its own because it has a more widespread effect than only on the recently immigrated).