Sunday, November 09, 2014

Dana Gioia and the State of Poetry

While researching poetry on the internet last night it was my good fortune to come across a fascinating essay that was published 23 years ago. A lot of water has flown into the sea since then, but "Can Poetry Matter?", written by eminent man-of-letters Dana Gioia, has a lot to say that we can still learn from today.

He discusses the erosion of poetry's influence over the last century, in American poetry specifically, but broadly applicable. His key observation is that poetry has receded from public life to an insular poetry subculture. In particular, this subculture has been fed by the influx of creative writing programs in academic institutions. At that time this had a number of consequences.

To begin with, quantity of poetic output had become more important than quality. For a career to progress it must be seen to have produced. The importance of being published in journals and of being cited by others takes precedence over actual quality. Gioia notes that the  

"proliferation of literary journals and presses over the past thirty years has been a response less to an increased appetite for poetry among the public than to the desperate need of writing teachers for professional validation."

These are the demands of the job.

A second consequence was that the majority of readers of new poetry were either poets themselves or the students of poets (in their capacity as creative writing teachers). In short most readers were from academic institutions. It goes without saying that the imagination and response of a reader from an academic institution is very different from the imagination of a social worker, a banker, a lawyer, a member of parliament, a doctor, a homeless bohemian. Yet in olden times, many layers of society took note of poetry. It was a natural vehicle for thought.

A third consequence was that, if most of the readers had become other poets from academic institutions, the concomitant reality was that most poets were those very same readers and teachers from academic institutions. As Gioia observes

"The problem is not that poets teach. The campus is not a bad place for a poet to work. It's just a bad place for all poets to work." (my emphasis)

If The Waste Land is the most important and influential poem of the 20th century, it is perhaps also a marker of the coming academification of poetry. Its complex cultural references shows poetry turning inward to a vast territory of intertextuality, and it takes a certain level of erudition to absorb, let alone imitate or take further in its implications. Has culture become so complex that an academic approach is inevitable, or have poets lost the appetite - and the confidence - to address topical matters in society?

Gioia's essay leaves the reader with much food for thought. Although his focus is on the academic environment of which he was a part, it can equally apply to the online and printed journals in circulation today. It just so happens that the internet has widened the gyre of poets and readers - a good thing - but it often still feels fairly insular.

When Gioia says that "the poetry subculture no longer assumes that all published poems will be read", I am less surprised at the reality, than at the implication that it was ever different. Yet there was a time when newspapers published new poetry and, even more importantly, discussed and critiqued what was published. New poetry now rarely appears outside the abovementioned insular subcultural journals and magazines, and its appeal to a wider audience is almost non-existent: "over the past half century, as American poetry's specialist audience has steadily expanded, its general readership has declined."

There is no doubt that a lot of energy is still being spent in the act of writing poetry, as well as in the corresponding editing and curation of journals, the hosting of competitions, and the creation of chapbooks and zines, but unfortunately the overall quality is very uneven. The damaging outcome is that even those who are interested in discovering good new poetry don't believe anything truly great is getting written. Lots of average, a fair amount of good, occasionally great, but nothing truly great. They simply don't know where to find it.

"The divorce of poetry from the educated reader has had another, more pernicious result. Seeing so much mediocre verse not only published but praised, slogging through so many dull anthologies and small magazines, most readers--even sophisticated ones like Joseph Epstein--now assume that no significant new poetry is being written. This public skepticism represents the final isolation of verse as an art form in contemporary society."

The problem is not that there is a lack of talent. Not at all. It's that talented poets' influence and - even more importantly - their potential influence is so limited that it dents their confidence to "speak up" and try to "make a difference" via their poetry. Some of the more successful poets of recent decades - Gioia mentions Adrienne Rich (feminism) and Robert Bly (anti-war) - used political agendas to inform their work and raise their profile.

Poetry seems to suffer, to some extent, from the same problem as philosophy, namely that practitioners have  been driven into the confining demands of professional academic activity. In poetry, however, the situation is worse. The low barrier to entry and the myriad of online publishing channels ensure that the subculture at large is highly fractured and drenched with mediocre poetry. Individuals themselves have to become the primary arbiters of taste, which is no bad thing in itself, but there are increasingly few benchmarks other than the acknowledged masterpieces of the past.

Then there is the disconnect between writers and the publications themselves. Do poets actually read the publications where their poem is going to get published? I confess that on many, many occasions have I taken the time to read through a competition or publication's submissions criteria, only to balk and abort at the proposed turnaround time for feedback (2 months, 4 months, etc.) and huge submission fees (anything from $5 to $50). I struggle to imagine how a bohemian poet could afford to submit and wait that long, but I digress. If, on occasion, my confidence is high enough not to stop here, it almost always drops at the final hurdle: "please look through our current issue to familiarise yourself with the kind of work we are looking for".

Bang! It's all backwards. Is there a struggling author who would spend $25 to read the most recent issue of a publication he or she wants to submit to, but would not read otherwise? What are the chances, therefore, of attracting an authentic poet from the fringes of society?

It is difficult to blame the competition hosts or magazine editors. These demands are necessary to limit time-wasting and cover overheads and perhaps provide a minor compensation. Poetry circulation has dwindled and fractured, and so has its remaining readership. If it is so hard for me to even get to know the publication in question, what are the chances that a general reader - who I hope will be the reader of my poem - will ever read my poem? The answer, I believe, hovers just above zero.

Yet there is no clear alternative for exposure and prestige. This goes back to poetry's loss of the general reader, those people  "who support the arts--who buy classical and jazz records; who attend foreign films and serious theater, opera, symphony, and dance; who read quality fiction and biographies; who listen to public radio and subscribe to the best journals."

In my role as editor and founder of Poetry WTF?!, I've had the privilege of corresponding with a variety of poets, many of whom do not fit Gioia's description of the academic poet. But Poetry WTF?! does not publish typical poetry, and therefore does not attract the typical poet. That is by design. There are other publications in the field, too, like Found Poetry Review who appeal to more adventurous poets who are less tied to tradition.

On the other hand, my experience so far is still that the readership is mainly other poets and a few observers of the avant-garde rather than the informed general reader Gioia wants to attract.

Poetry needs to continue to reinvent itself to reach that wider audience, and to put the fun and excitement back into creation as well as reading. The internet has made it possible to share and enjoy poetry on a scale that would make Alexander Pope's eyes pop. We can't return to the past, but we can reclaim our future.

There is certainly more cause for optimism now than back in 1991. Austin Kleon's blackout poetry is a versatile technique with the time boxed appeal of a crossword puzzle: try a new one every day. It now has a large following on the internet. Purists may object that blackout poetry's barrier to entry is too low and that it is limited to fairly short pieces of work, but it has certainly broadened the appeal while staying true to the spirit of poetry.

A more intellectual approach is exemplified by Christian Bök's Oulipo-inspired Eunoia, which sold well in many countries, and listed in The Times top 10 in 2002. Constraints poetry in general seems to be coming into its own in the internet era.

Attempts to frame search engine results, popular comments, and tweets into poetic structures, for instance Darren Wershler and Bill Kennedy's Apostrophe Engine and Andrei Gheorge's The Longest Poem in the World are more conceptual but do make for amusing reading. Purists could object that theirs is no longer a craft of the text, but of the rules and processes that create the text. But a counter-argument runs that the poet's toolbox needs expanding, and that there is every reason to leverage the insights that data processing science affords the craftsperson.

Between these poles a website like The Poetry Foundation strikes a balance between wide coverage , intellectual stimulation and popular poetry. It publishes the works of past masters as well as contemporary pieces on topics and issues that we recognise. It provides discussion and translations into English from a variety of languages, recognising the universal language of poetry across borders. The translation of a poem by Liu Xia and corresponding background notes is typical. With nearly  a hundred thousand Twitter followers it appeals to the general reader that Gioia envisaged. 

In conclusion, Dana Gioia suggests six ways in which the influence of poetry can be expanded, and I want to mention two. The first is,

"When poets give public readings, they should spend part of every program reciting other people's work--preferably poems they admire by writers they do not know personally. Readings should be celebrations of poetry in general, not merely of the featured author's work."

We need to be reminded of the highest exemplars, even on a night of new poetry. There is no doubt that self-promotion is necessary, but we all stand on the shoulders of giants. A bit of humility and homage is in order. If the poet's work is good, it will hopefully compare not unfavourably with the work of other poets whom he or she admires. Either way, there will be more for the audience to enjoy, and they'll be more likely to come again.

The second take-away is that "poets who compile anthologies--or even reading lists--should be scrupulously honest in including only poems they genuinely admire. Anthologies are poetry's gateway to the general culture. They should not be used as pork barrels for the creative-writing trade."

I would like to extend this appeal to the editors of zines, online journals and websites. There is nothing more disheartening than discovering a new website of poetry, only to find that it lacks any standards. Another symptom, even more corrosive, is the conscious decision to praise or include poetry because of personal or professional ties rather than merit: whether it be that of a colleague, a friend or someone who could procure a favour. The temptation is totally understandable, but it should be remembered that in government or business such behaviour would be labelled favouritism, or worse, cronyism or corruption. Readers lose faith and poetry as a whole suffers.

Conversely, there can never be enough closely knit groups to help new types of poetry to gain a foothold and flourish. Every artistic industry relies on talented communities and friends who set trends where others follow. They attract, focus, and direct energy. Even the great romantics, individualists par excellence, are famed for the sets in which they moved: Wordsworth and Coleridge, the Shelleys and Byron, Goethe and Schiller.

In the final instance it is worth remembering that, as with wine, the best exemplars take time. When we try to turn poetry writing into a profession or a conveyer belt for consumption, we deprive it of the conditions it needs to be truly great. Gioia observes how "Wallace Stevens was forty-three when his first book appeared. Robert Frost was thirty-nine. Today these sluggards would be unemployable." To imagine a careful craftsman like Leonard Cohen working in a modern office environment is to imagine a tragedy.

I always liked it slow:
I never liked it fast
With you it's got to go:
With me it's got to last


- Slow, by Leonard Cohen
& Patrick Leonard

I'm always interested in hearing about people's ideas for the future of literature and poetry. So please ping me on @thundercomb or leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What is Mutated Poetry?

Poetry exists because of, and not in spite of, its cultural contexts. But those contexts are fragile. What happens when they change?

Mutated Poetry is an attempt to find out by transforming poetry in an imaginative context. It is neither science fiction, nor science fact, but a speculative linguistic reality. Just as biological mutation has no inherent purpose - not even survival - so a mutated poem may only incidentally have aesthetic value. But if it has, it may survive.

In the context of plays, West Side Story is a mutation of Romeo and Juliet. We can trace its lineage because it retains the central myth of Shakespeare's original.

But what happens when even that myth is removed? Is the DNA of the original destroyed?

Can Shakespeare's Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day survive without the subject of his affection - or are their destinies bound together, like star crossed lovers?

These and other not so serious questions are being asked, and occasionally answered, at Poetry WTF?! So if you think you know such stuff as dreams are made of, why not grow a little culture in the petri dish?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shakespeare Sonnet 18 Google Translated

Following a roundtrip Google Translation of the Fresh Prince, I decided to give a certain famous Shakespeare sonnet the same treatment. The results, I am happy to say, sound almost nothing like the original.

The following is "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" translated from English into Finnish, Yoruba, Arabic, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, Latin, Greek, Korean, and then back to English.

Compare Rates Summer
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
May the wind to shake the bud of love
And the temperature is less than the first one.
Heat in the southern sky;
Pale skin, golden,
And the fair and equitable
Perhaps the essence of the song changes
Eternal Summer, do not fade,
Announced on ow'st O
Are you proud of your field is killed by Wand'rest
The edge of the immortal five Xiangrong. 
One person can breathe or eyes can see, as though 
Maybe you offer.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

"Mississippi by Mark Twain" as Situationist Dérive

The sculpture poem "Mississippi by Mark Twain" by Mark Staniforth explores new territory in what is still a fledgling genre.  Whereas it recalls Lewis Carroll's "The Mouse's Tale" and Apollinaire's "Calligrammes" in its literal composition, its heart lies with the Situationists and their notions of drift (dérive) and rerouting (détournement).

The original text is still detectable as an eroded background. It tells of the narrator and his friends' boyhood ambitions while living in a village on the West bank of the Mississippi river. Their enduring ambition was to grow up to become steamboatmen:

"When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman."

In Staniforth's version, the original narrator and his boyhood ambitions are not mentioned. Instead, primacy is given to the circus clowns and their hopes. Yet in the original, they are but an aside:

"We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained." (my italics)

What we are given in Staniforth's version therefore is a hidden possibility of the text, a kind of alternative reality. We may think of it as a dérive through the text, tracing a branch of its psychogeography.

This drift also hints that things do not necessarily proceed in the same order as before: "of" follows "wavelets" as the Mississippi meanders backwards before slinking forward once more, whereas in the original it is the other way around.

"Mississippi by Mark Twain" demonstrates the versatility of existing text as raw material, and the unique potential of poetry to engage with the many mysteries of meaning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What is Poetry WTF?!

Poetry WTF?! is a website dedicated to the kind of poetry I've been discussing recently here at The Combed Thunderclap. It views existing texts as material to be used for new literary works.

Take Remixed Poetry for instance. Existing poems are remixed with the language of other cultural artefacts, whether they be poems, famous speeches, adverts, or indeed anything apprehendable through text.

Then there is Sculpture Poetry. These poems' essence is distilled through a process of subtraction from the originals. However the process does not need to stop there. Subtraction could mean altering the original beyond recognition, as it becomes a different text with a different meaning altogether. The sculpture emerges by chipping away.

Poetry WTF?! moves away from traditional poetry by viewing language and cultural artefacts as raw material, and the novelty of expression is realised  through the different methods applied.

 

Friday, May 02, 2014

Winterslaap

Vir 'n bietjie pret het ek twee ikoniese Afrikaanse gedigte vermeng tot iets minder. Die reel was om van iedere gedig, lyn vir lyn, ietsie te neem, saam te plaas, en niks by te voeg nie (behalwe punktuasie).

Hier is Winternag (Eugene Marais) en Slaap (D.F. Malherbe) soos nog nooit vantevore gesien nie ...

Winterslaap


O koud is die slaap 'n wondersoete ding!
En sag blink haar bloue oë dof-lig en vaak,
so wyd as die Heer diep waterkuile raak
le die droom in sterlig en skemering.
Vir laas beef haar lippe hoog in die rande.
Ek merk hoe langsaam versprei in die brande
die grassaad aan roere, my lieweling
en sluit so my oe soos winkende hande.

O treurig van wilde woeling die wysie
my stille drome op die ooswind se maat,
en deur duisternisse die lied van ‘n meisie
sluit so my oë as haar liefde verlaat.
In die gras slaap 'n wondersoete ding!
Blink op haar bloue oë ‘n druppel van dou,
en soos maneskyn vinnig verbleek dit
tot ryp in die silwer skemering.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why you should read: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

I have Robert McCrum's article to thank for reminding me about Edgar Allan Poe's only novel. When I consider how many times I've read some of his shorter fiction, it's a wonder that I haven't attempted this novel sooner. But then most compendiums, including the volume of "nearly-complete" works of EAP I keep on my bookshelf, exclude The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket altogether. This is a shame, because Mr. Poe's debut novel not only shows clear signs of the interesting novelist he might have become, had it received better reviews, but is also a clever and hugely imaginative work in its own right.

Readers of Poe's short stories will recognise some of his favourite themes such as horror and the incredible. His psychological insight and uncompromising style render a vivid portrayal of the protagonist's experiences, and the circumstance and context - adventure on the high seas - make it easy to discern the novel's influence on authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Herman Melville and Jules Verne.

Yet if we only saw it as adventure and horror combined into a longer narrative we might be forgiven for thinking that it is no more than a particularly long instance of his shorter fiction. This would be a mistake, and a quick explanation will hopefully illustrate why. The "Introductory Note" is signed off "A.G. Pym", and in it Mr. Pym refers to his recent travels and their fictionalisation by a writer, a certain "Mr. Poe". This conceit is very clever and raises unexpected questions about authorship and authenticity. In this Introductory Note, Mr. Pym says:

"This exposé being made, it will be seen at once how much of what follows I claim to be my own writing; and it will also be understood that no fact is misrepresented in the first few pages which were written by Mr. Poe. Even to those readers who have not seen the "Messenger," it will be unnecessary to point out where his portion ends and my own commences; the difference in point of style will be readily perceived."

Poe was no stranger to playing with readers' expectations, such as in the Balloon-Hoax a few years later, but this conceit is subtly different. The "Editor's Note" offered at the end of the novel to account for the abrupt end to the narrative reveals that, although we are offered the present story as fact, written by Mr. Pym rather than by Mr. Poe, Mr. Poe (the writer) doubts its authenticity - particularly in the latter parts.

"The gentleman [Mr. Poe] whose name is mentioned in the preface, and who, from the statement there made, might be supposed able to fill the vacuum, has declined the task - this, for satisfactory reasons connected with the general inaccuracy of the details afforded him, and his disbelief in the entire truth of the latter portions of the narration."

We are not told exactly which latter parts, but they would most certainly include the parts of the adventure where the protagonist had drifted into uncharted waters. In other words, the parts that are more clearly "fictionalised".

This instability in the text raises questions about narration, authenticity, and also the nature of experience. Did Mr. Pym really experience all that was related? If he hadn't, how could he still write so cogently about his deeply remembered feelings of terror and danger? Is the outside world merely a catalyst and stimulant for our inner worlds?

The novel's genre is difficult to pin down, because it exhibits elements of horror, adventure, and science fantasy. By adding questions about authorship to the mix, Edgar Allan Poe's only completed novel rises further above the level of genre-writing and mere narrative.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Love of Prufrock

- from raw material by T.S. Eliot

 Let us go then, you and I,
 When the evening is            against the sky
 Like a patient           upon a table;
 Let us go, through         half-deserted streets,
 The muttering
 Of          nights in           cheap hotels
 And sawdust             with oyster-shells:
 Streets that        like a tedious
           intent
    lead        an overwhelming question ...
                 "What is it?"
                    our visit.

             the women
         of Michelangelo.

 The yellow fog                         the window-panes,
 The yellow smoke                         the window-panes,
 Licked its tongue into                the evening,
 Lingered                           in drains,
 Let fall               the soot            from chimneys,
 Slipped by                   a sudden leap,
                 it was a soft October night,
 Curled                       and fell asleep.

 And indeed
     the yellow smoke             along the street,
                       the window-panes;
 There will be       there will be
            a face to meet the faces
 There will be         murder and
          for all the                   hands
 That          drop a                  plate;
      for you and      for me,
 And      yet for           indecisions,
     for           visions and revisions,
            taking      toast and tea.

 In the room
         of Michelangelo.

     indeed there will be
            "Do I dare?" and
         turn back              the stair,
      a      spot in               my hair--
                      his hair
 My         coat, my                               chin,
 My necktie                                  a simple pin--
                          his arms          are thin!
      dare
         the universe
 In a minute
                                            will reverse.

 For I have known                 , known them all:
            the evenings,           afternoons,
 I have              my life with coffee spoons;
 I know the                           fall
                   from a farther room.
   So how should I
       have known the eyes          known
 The eyes
                           sprawling on a pin,
           pinned               on the wall,
      how should I
    spit out                      my days
   And how should I

       have known the arms          known them all--
                              white and bare
                               with light brown hair!
 Is it              a dress
 That makes me    digress?
 Arms that lie along          or wrap about
   And should I             ?
   And how should I      ?

           *         *         *         *

              I have gone at dusk
 And watched the smoke
 Of lonely men

 I should have                       claws
 Scuttling across the floors

           *         *         *         *

     the afternoon               sleeps
 Smoothed by      fingers,
 Asleep                  it malingers,
 Stretched                       beside you
 Should I, after                   ices,
                      force                         its crisis?
            I have wept and         wept and
               seen my head
 I am no                        great matter;
 I have seen                     greatness flicker,
 And             the eternal Footman                   snicker,
 And           I was afraid.

 And would it                            after all,
 After                          the tea,
 Among the porcelain                         and me,
 Would it have
                                                a smile,
 To have squeezed              into a ball
                   some                         question,
 To say: "I
                                             shall tell you all”
 If                           her head,
   Should say: "That is not what I meant
                   at all."

 And would it have been
                    worth while,
       the sunsets                                the           streets,
       the novels,                                 the skirts

           and         more?--
                               what I mean
                           threw               patterns on a screen:
                         worth while
 If one, settling                          a shawl,
 And turning                    should say:
   "That is not
               what I meant, at all."

           *         *         *         *

              Prince Hamlet      was meant to be
                           that will do
    swell a progress,       a scene or two,
                    no                tool,
              glad to be
 Politic            and meticulous
 Full of         sentence
                   almost ridiculous--
 Almost

 I grow old
 I       wear                my trousers rolled.

 Shall I part my hair       ? Do I dare               ?
 I shall                                       upon the beach
              the mermaids               each to each.

   do not            they      sing to me.

             them riding                  waves
 Combing                         waves
          wind blows the water
 We      lingered in                 the sea
 By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed
 Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Roland and the Dark Tower: An Inverted Oedipus Complex

Introduction


Stephen King does both horror and sympathy exceedingly well. For those who know him better for his reputation as "America's Shlockmeister" it is worth pointing out his uncanny ability to sympathise with and inhabit the worlds of his characters. This is seen and felt very clearly in some of his famous non-horror stories, such as Rita and the Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (if I had a pound for every time I mentioned that Stephen King wrote the story for The Shawshank Redemption, and people responded: "Really?!" then I could probably feed Hackney's homeless for a day), and also his early work Blaze (a re-discovered "trunk novel" published in 2007).

In this respect the type of stories King writes, both of the horror and the non-horror kind, actually fits quite well with the legacy of Romantic fiction in America. It is in spirit akin to Poe, and shares his deep sympathy of the soul. Whereas I'd noticed these traits before, and Bag of Bones in particular is a remarkable blend of the romantic and the supernatural, it was after reading Wizard and Glass that I felt compelled to make a few observations in this regard. Whereas Wizard and Glass compelled me to start writing this, it was The Wind Through the Keyhole that allowed me to complete it. So at this point, anybody who hasn't read The Dark Tower up to The Wind Through the Keyhole, or Salem's Lot, and don't want any PLOT SPOILERS, do stop reading now.

Roland and Ben, they walk away


A part of the plot line in Salem's Lot, Stephen King's 1975 vampire novel set in the small town of Jerusalem's Lot, involves Ben Mears' relationship with Susan Norton. Susan, unfortunately, falls prey to Barlow, the resident vampire overlord of Jerusalem's Lot. As a result she dies - first as the human Susan at the fangs of said vampire, and again later, as vampire, at the hands of Ben Mears. There's a memorable moment in the film version where Ben heads away from the burning mansion and mutters something like "sorry Susan" before leaving the cursed town behind.

There is something similar at work in Wizard and Glass, and this got me thinking a little bit. In this case it is Roland of Gilead who, lured by the Dark Tower, walks away from Susan. She is captured and dies at the hands of the town folk due to her association with Roland. It is interesting, if not necessarily intentional, that both Susan Norton and Susan son of Pat share the same name.

We know that, due to what the orb revealed to him after Roland takes it from Eldred Jonas, Roland saw that Susan is not in his future. As a result he became less concerned with her as the love of his life, and more and more pre-occupied - nay, consumed - by the Dark Tower. He later speaks to his friends of a choice he was offered. There were two alternatives: family life with Susan on the one hand, and pursuit of the Dark Tower on the other. He reasons - or rationalises - that he and Susan would have had no future if the Dark Tower was not saved, so he chose the pursuit of the Dark Tower. This choice, brought on by the glimpse offered by the orb, coincides with him losing Susan to death. He had underestimated the orb and Rhea, and by focusing his attention on the Dark Tower the orb had led him away from protecting the one he loved. 

 

Roland's Guilt


Now we skip forward a bit. It is revealed that Roland unintentionally killed his own mother. Roland is consumed with guilt. Roland, naturally, thinks he is responsible for his mother's death, even though it was probably a trick played on him by the orb. The irony, of course, is that it happens exactly when Roland goes to beseech his mother to "change her ways". On the other hand it may have been predestined. "Ka," as Eddie remarked. "Ka like a wind."

In both cases, his mother's and Susan's, Roland suffers because he believes he had a hand in the victim's death. In the case of Jake, again, he has the option of saving Jake or pursuing the Dark Tower. He chooses the latter, and suffers for it as Jake dies. He suffers terribly ... and so does Jake.

An Inverted Oedipus Complex


Roland's story is a partial inversion of the ancient Oedipal archetype. Recall that King Oedipus runs away from Corinth to escape his foretold destiny (he believed his parents in Corinth to be his real parents) and inadvertently kills his father on the way back to Thebes, his real home. After solving the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus is entitled to marry the queen - who actually turns out to be his own mother. Much later he realises his true identity, and therefore that he murdered his own father and is sleeping with his mother, and is so consumed by guilt that he pokes out his own eyes.

Roland's story goes the opposite way. Firstly, it is not his father who is killed by his hand, but his mother. In addition Susan Delgado, his love, also dies due to a choice he makes (when he chooses to pursue the Dark Tower). In the Oedipus complex, destiny brings Oedipus closer to his mother (who also becomes his lover), whereas Roland's destiny takes him further away from both his mother and his lover.

The Evolution of Consciousness

 

1. The Uroboros


In the history of world mythology there are recurring patterns and mythical images, which Erich Neumann (a student of Carl Jung) correlates with the evolution of consciousness. Western civilisation as an evolving consciousness, he argues, started with the Uroboros, the self-contained circle that encapsulates both masculine and feminine opposites. It is the self-begetting circular snake that bites its own tail. This early state is what Neumann calls in his work The Origins and History of Consciousness the "dawn state, showing the infancy both of mankind and of the child" (p. 11). Compared to the world as it became once it had "moved on", Roland's time in Gilead seems idyllic and self-contained, like the Uroboros.

2. The Great Mother


The next stage of the feminine is the Great Mother, also called the Terrible Mother because she overpowers men and literally drives them mad. Both personality and body are dissolved. In early cultures the Great Mother was attended by eunuchs with weak egos. But the Great Mother is also a powerful sorceress who "transforms men into animals" (p. 61). Rhea is an echo of the Terrible Mother, and is in a sense Roland's nemesis in Wizard and Glass (in contrast to Maerlyn, who turns out to be a rather tame obstacle). According to the logic of the evolution of consciousness, she is the unconscious aspect of the Great Mother, who has been split out into the Good Mother (Roland's own mother at the point of her death, when she wanted to appease) and the Terrible Mother, which is relegated to the unconscious. It is therefore apt that Roland's mother's image in the glass orb shows up as Rhea. They are two sides of the same coin. (One could argue that Roland's mother's unfaithfulness is a dark side he cannot accept, and therefore would prefer to repress. Yet it surfaces just as Rhea appears, which provokes his own violent unconscious urges and results in his mother's death.)

3. The Hero


It is only much later in the evolution of consciousness that the heroic figure comes to pass. The hero signifies a progression in consciousness as the male principle is split away from the female, and femininity becomes suppressed in culture. The rise of the hero corresponds with the domestication of the female (suppression of femininity) and the subsequent relinquishing of female goddess worship in favour of male god worship. 

As Neumann says: "The individual has in his own life to follow the road that humanity has trod before him." Roland can be construed as a heroic figure who must live through various unconscious phases. We've already seen that he enacts a curious mirror image of the Oedipus myth (by killing his own mother), but there is more: he is also a harbinger of awareness. He himself is more intuitive than intellectual, more romantic than rational. But his eyes, set on the Dark Tower - and a tower has ever been a symbol for human aspiration, achievement, intellect and also folly (think of the tower of Babel) - is a journey towards awareness. We may therefore say that Roland chooses consciousness over the alternative, which could be called the domestication of his own passions and unconscious, but according to him also the very destruction of reality. This decision results, not in domestication and repression of the feminine, but in death for his mother and for Susan. Potentially also resurrection, just as in the myth of Osiris, who after he is murdered by his brother Set, is resurrected by Isis. But about that we will have to wait and see...

The Myth of Osiris


The Osiris myth is also instructive in other ways. In the myth, Osiris is murdered by Set. Isis then resurrects Osiris and conceives a son with him, a boy called Horus. Horus is now in direct competition with Set for the throne. Here we find further parallels with Roland's story (as well as deviations). We see hints of Horus in Roland, of Osiris in Gabrielle, and of Set in Marten Broadcloak. In particular, Marten knows that the young Roland is a threat to him, and provokes him to try to earn his guns prematurely. This strategy backfires, as Roland succeeds. At this point in the story, Roland is not yet the hero figure, but still a struggling consciousness that is only beginning to emerge from opposing forces.

Roland's family drama also deviates from the Osiris myth in that Marten Broadcloak seduces Gabrielle, rather than trying to kill Steven Deschain directly. Roland's father Steven is emasculated psychologically just as Isis was emasculated physically (in the myth, Isis' penis is the only part of him that Osiris could not recover), even though Steven Deschain remains an important part of his life and a wise mentor. The seduction poses questions about Gabrielle. In the Osiris myth, Isis' role is unequivocally on the side of Horus. Yet Gabrielle has allied with the "enemy", even if unwittingly, and this complicates things. Whereas most characters in the Dark Tower are clearly delineated as good or evil, Gabrielle's role puts her in an ambiguous position. It also leaves a residue of consciousness that is a wildcard in Roland's quest for the tower.

Reconciliation


Nevertheless, the revelation at the end of The Wind Through the Keyhole resolves this potential anomaly more or less elegantly. SPOILER WARNING! Gabrielle Deschain, it turns out, was foretold the fate of Gilead, and also her own ("you die at your brat's hand") by Marten Broadcloak during a much earlier stay at Serenity. She wrote what she heard in a message to be kept safe by Everlynne, to be given to Roland one day when ka finally brings him to Serenity (an event that is effectively the main story of The Wind Through the Keyhole).

All of the letter is significant, but the final words are the most important:

"I forgive you everything. Can you forgive me?"

Gabrielle foresaw Roland's torment, and knew that he had to reconcile his guilt in order to fulfill his own destiny. Yet it also required great moral courage from him, because it asks him to forgive her in turn. Indeed, it requires compassion.
 
Once Roland reveals the words to his ka-tet, Susannah asks Roland: "And could you, Roland? Did you?" To which he answers unequivocally: yes.

As if to emphasise the great importance of this act of forgiveness, Stephen King treats readers to a short afterword, which we must read as the very last word on the Dark Tower if we consider the chronology in which the Dark Tower books were written. These final words of the afterword are:

"The two most beautiful words in any language are: I forgive"

We are left in no doubt as to their importance.

Reconciliation through forgiveness would clear Roland's mind of the cobwebs of guilt and confusion, and focus his mind on the true task at hand, which is to reach the Dark Tower. In the letter Gabrielle reveals she was also warned by Marten not to return to Gilead. Yet her intuition told her it was ka to go back to Gilead. So she did, a fact that restores Roland's mother's dignity. It reveals her to be someone who acted according to her own convictions. She was therefore not just a helpless pawn of history, even though she could not change her own destiny. (Bear in mind that it would probably have been a great convenience to Marten Broadcloak if Gabrielle had stayed on in Serenity.)

Most of all forgiveness, and therefore compassion, hints at the unity of consciousness that is an increasing feature of Roland's world. It binds the ka-tet, and also connects characters across the various worlds.

Conclusion


It is perhaps apt that this post should end where it began. I observed that Susan Norton's  relationship to Ben Mears in Salem's Lot, and her subsequent fate,  was an interesting precursor to Susan Delgado's relationship to Roland (and her subsequent fate).

I was therefore more than a little surprised to find Father Callahan, also from 'Salem's Lot, making his return in Wolves of the Calla (which I recently started reading). Not only that, but Father Callahan's retelling of the story of Jerusalem's Lot has Eddie, Roland and Susannah finding parallels with their own ka-tet. In a sense, the world of The Dark Tower is also Stephen King's metaphor for the connections and parallels between his own various fictional creations.

To conclude, I wondered what - if anything - it means that Roland's relationship to Gabrielle and Susan inverts the old Oedipus complex. The Oedipus Complex (a proposal by Freud) concerns desire for the parent of the opposite sex and competition with the parent of the same sex, and we likewise see Roland desiring Susan and competing with Marten Broadcloak. The Dark Tower represents Roland's search for the truth about the state of the world (and to fix it), but his real evolution of consciousness happens while he becomes more compassionate and draws his ka-tet around him (the Dark Tower novels don't actually reveal all that much about what is really happening to Roland's world, and in fact are much more about the various people and their stories).

If it is suggestive of anything, perhaps it is that Freud's (now often considered defunct) proposal harks back to an earlier stage of Anglo-European civilisation wherein the intellect dominated. In Roland's world intuition and surprising synchronicities are more the order of the day than empirical and analytical certainties. In this perspective, The Dark Tower is a story about that stage of civilisation entering its last days. The Oedipus complex is replaced by a different family interaction that reflects the need for compassion and intuition over intellectual and technological achievement.

And now I can't wait to read the rest ...!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Onyaidzams by The Combed Thunderclap

Why would anyone bother to rewrite Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias as a case of typoglycemia? Other than for the hell of it, maybe none. But the exercise revealed a few interesting things.

Firstly, with an eye on the slow reading counter-trend, this is a playful way of letting the reader "discover" the original words by paying a little more attention than usual.

Secondly, as not all the words are easy to unscramble, a reader who does not have the original clearly in mind may have some trouble and even discover a slightly different text, owing to the associations that arise en route to a settled word or meaning.

Thirdly, it raises the question about what a text is. Is it the words on the page, or an "original" in the reader's mind? Relatedly, can a mere re-arrangement of the letters of some words be considered a sufficient gesture to constitute new authorship? Read and decide for yourself.

Onyaidzams by The Combed Thunderclap


I met a traelvelr form an ainutqe lnad
Who siad: 'Two vsat and turnklses legs of snote
Satnd in the dreset. Naer tehm, on the snad,
Hlaf snuk, a srttaeehd vgiase lies, wohse fworn,
And wnelirkd lip, and sener of clod cmnomad,
Tlel taht its spulcotr well thsoe psnaoiss raed
Whcih yet survvie, sptmead on thsee lfielses tghnis,
The hnad that meokcd tehm and the haert taht fed.
And on the pedastel tehse wrods appaer --
"My nmae is Onyaidzams, knig of kgnis:
Look on my wrkos, ye Mghtiy, and desaipr!"
Nnohtig beidse rnaeims. Rnoud the daecy
Of taht coosslal wreck, blunesods and brae
The lone and leevl sdans stcerth far aawy.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Kenneth Goldsmith and Uncreative Writing part 2

This is a follow-up post to my first encounter with Kenneth Goldsmith's Uncreative Writing.  In the present post I would like to highlight, as much for my own benefit as others', some of the influences from whom he suggests we, as new writers of the digital age, can learn.

To recap, Goldsmith advocates the use of text as material, rather than as expression. He rephrases Douglas Hueber, saying "The world is full of texts, more or less interestimg; I do not wish to add any more". 

Writing, Goldsmith believes, is at the juncture that painting was when photography arrived. As a result

"writing's response [to the internet] - taking its cues more from photography than painting - could be mimetic and replicative, primarily involving methods of distribution, while proposing new platforms of receivership and readership. Words very well might not only be written to be read but rather to be shared, moved, and manipulated, sometimes by humans, more often by machines".  (p. 15)
The internet is a vast archive that's ripe for literary exploitation, to be used as material.

What he leaves unstated, perhaps because it is out of scope for his thesis, is that text will increasingly be processed by computers for commercial and business purposes.  Big Data methods will look at the same text the new writer looks at when he or she searches for raw material, but instead use it to learn about the online habits of users in order to monetise their interests and desires. The textual territory is therefore no virgin wilderness, but a problematised space in the service of commercial and other influential interests. The flipside is that the writer-artist is no more privileged than any other user to distinguish between "authentic" text and text inserted specifically to serve commercial and business interests. This includes marketing material camouflaged to look like casual commentary, and other tricks of the trade.

However, this does not invalidate Goldsmith's suggestion. If anything, it suggests we may have to look even deeper into the workings of the medium to see beyond the inevitable onslaught of digital politics, commerce and ideology. This would be a continuation or parallel development to the situationists' critique of capitalism and consumption. Understanding the medium (the technical side of information and technology) and its stakeholders (commerce, politics, consumers) will become of paramount importance to the new writer. That, however, would have to be explored in greater detail, and may eventually form the topic of a future post.
 
Without further ado, let us look at the influences Goldsmith recommends. My approach has been to leave out unnecessary explanation, and where possible to link to an authoritative resource. Headings are those in the book.


Introduction
  

Chapter 1: Revenge of the Text


Chapter 2: Language as Material

  • Materiality as primary goals: concrete poetry and situationists
Situationists, 1950s:
Concrete poetry:

Chapter 3: Anticipating Instability


Chapter 4: Towards a Poetics of Hyperrealism

 
Chapter 5 : Why appropriation?



Chapter 6: Infallible Processes


Chapter 7: Retyping On the Road

 
Chapter 8: Parsing the New Illegibility


 
Chapter 9: Seeding the Data Cloud



Chapter 10: The Inventory and the Ambient


Chapter 11: Uncreative Writing in the Classroom


  • The Hitler Downfall Meme
  • Retype 5 pages
  • Transcribe a Short Piece of Audio
  • Transcribing Project Runway: transcribe TV show in chatroom with other classmates
  • Retro graffiti: take old political slogans and graffiti non-permanently in public space
  • Screenplays: take a film or video that has no screenplay and make one for it

Chapter 12 Provisional Language
  • Words are cheap, language is the new frontier

Afterword

Monday, March 24, 2014

Shall I Compare Memes to a Summer's Day by William Bobby Shakespeare

Shall I compare memes to a summer's day?
Thou love to party and got tiger blood:
Rough winds do shake the rainbow, all the way,
And summer's double rainbow. Oh my God.
Sometime too hot the numa numa shines,
And often that's racist complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair over 9000,
By chance or nature's changing oh my dayum!
But thy eternal turtles shall not fade
Nor lose your base that are belong to us;
Nor Boxxy brag thou trawll'st in his shade,
When epic winning trololo to time thou growest:
So long as Charlie bit me eyes can see,
So long lives this and this now back at me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The idea behind Cillit Bang by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Cillit Bang by Percy Bysshe Shelley takes inspiration from various sources. In spirit it is closest to the kind of remixed media found on Youtube. In this respect it is patchwriting and also a form of intertextual copypasta. Yet it also resembles an Oulipo piece, because there is at least one fixed constraint imposed on the writing process. While it uses Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias as its basic material, the text is altered by mixing in words and phrases from the Cillit Bang ads.  The constraint is that the inserted text be actual words and phrases from the ads, rather than words and phrases that could be from the ads. That is not to say they need to be complete sentences or entirely meaningful.

The rest of the guidelines are indeed no more than guidelines, and allow  some flexibility. They are: to keep to the original meter as much as possible, and to maintain rhyme where practical. The spirit of the ad now infuses the romantic spirit of the original, and the two cohabit the same space. Whereas Ozymandias' rigid structure more or less keeps the house together, the invasion of latter day sales talk occasionally spills out the door, marking its novelty.

In a sense there is a struggle for the identity of the poem, and both sides are changed in the process.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cillit Bang by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met Barry Scott here from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and toughest toilet stains
Look at this blockage. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered limescale, rust, whose shine
And ground-in dirt, and sneer of Cillit Bang,
Tell that one bottle well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these pongy drains,
The hand that sparkles, and the dirt is gone;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"I'm Barry Scott and I'm here with Jill
Look on my works, what do you think? Well Barry ..."
Nothing beside remains. Cleaning is a doddle
with that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
flowing free and smelling fresh stretch far away.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Promising the Waste Land

My previous post outlined how poetry can reclaim an influential place in the internet era. To illustrate a way of actioning the idea, I have created this new genre's * first ever poem.

First, a bit of background. Two years ago I walked down the neighbourhood high street with my companion. An old shop space, recently boarded up, sported bright big letters on the outside that said: "Exciting new gallery space! Coming soon". My companion was surprisingly enthused by it, whereas I couldn't muster any excitement at all. The area is full of artists and studios, and such a blatant commercial statement seemed a little heavy-handed. Sure enough, a year later the banners, now a little worse for wear, were still there. As yet there was no sign of the "exciting new gallery space".

Naturally, I was amused.

It was a reminder that commerce, and consumerism in particular, often interacts with human desire through a hall of mirrors to project value where none may be. It is also an indication that commerce relies on, and may succeed, through its ability to occupy space - even when the space itself is vacant or infertile. Its ability to occupy space lends credibility to its promise.

The poem I created takes inspiration from this idea. It is called "Promising the Waste Land". As explained, it lets the domain speak its name, and is therefore located at www.promisingthewasteland.com.

By promising The Waste Land, arguably the single most influential poem of the 20th century, it is promising the extraordinary and improbable. Yet by offering a waste land, namely an empty site, it delivers on its promise.

But there is a second, more meaningful sense in which it promises The Waste Land. By claiming a space it mirrors the emerging commercial and political interests of the internet. In other words, it is a signal of intent. It suggests no less than an ambition to refresh poetry for the internet era.

Go forth and conquer!

* We may call this new genre web poetry in the true sense of the word, because it uses (at least in part) the fabric of the internet to manifest itself.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Towards a Manifesto for Poetry in the Internet Era

Poetry, not to mention writing in general, is ripe for a shake-up. The internet is a territory. The territory is vast. Poetry, impotent, is little more than data in this ever expanding structure. Impotent, it can not affect the structure.

Or can it?

I would like to propose a different approach to poetry, to writing: poetry as action. Poetry as structure. To do so, we may need to let go of traditional ideas of literature and poetry, before we can rediscover it for the internet era.

Forget Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. Contrary to what you may have heard, they are not the new voice of poetry. They are content. Text. Images. Mere data. Poetry was never just content. It is not the spirit of poetry. Once it became content, it became passive, an invalid.

If the territory is the internet, how can poetry reclaim its space?

I propose, to start with, a little experiment. Publish your poem as a domain. Don't let it disappear as content on a page on a website somewhere. Give it an identity. Do you remember the milliondollarhomepage.com sensation? If it hadn't its own domain, would you have remembered it? Enough said.

Make the domain the title of the poem. Did you ever think of the possibilities? Poetry enters the internet by name, no longer as footnote. The title of the poem on the page becomes unnecessary. The poem itself can shine. Let me repeat: The name of the website is the name of the poem. Simple as.

A signature isn't needed. Not everyone is interested in the poet anyway. In an era where, following Barthes, the author is redundant, incognito is just as appropriate. A whois lookup may reveal a subtler gesture. Or nothing.

Liberated, the poem is allowed to shine.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Kenneth Goldsmith and Uncreative Writing

Kenneth Goldsmith teaches Uncreative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, and it sounds like heaps of fun. Traditional writing courses seem awfully traditional compared to Goldsmith's methods. For instance, he instructs students to take old slogans and write them as graffiti in public spaces; or at other times to take a film and transcribe it onto the page as a screenplay. The results are often unexpected. In the latter case, one student transcribed a porn film, altering the reader's  engagement with the source material and highlighting the mediating qualities of language and imagination.

Kenneth Goldsmith's 2011 book "Uncreative Writing" opens up this brave new literary orientation and traces its roots to the situationists of the 50s, the Dadaists, and various cultural movements of the 20th century and late 19th century. Central to his thesis is the observation that, where the arts are concerned, the literary arts are behind .... waaaay behind; behind the visual arts, which has practiced decontextualisation even before Marcel Duchamp's seminal toilet fountain; behind the musical arts, which embraces sampling (hip-hop), remixing (dance and pop) and chance collaborations with the environment (John Cage); and, frankly, behind the only medium that is truly evolving: the internet and the digital. Let's repeat that: writing, and literature in particular, is decades behind every other art form. Decades. Kenneth Goldsmith quotes Time magazine on heiress Ruth Lilly's philanthropic gift of $200 million to the Poetry Foundation:

"nothing, not even money, can get people to enjoy something against their will. What poetry really needs is a writer who can do for it what Andy Warhol did for avant-garde visual art: make it sexy and cool and accessible without making it stupid or patronizing. When that writer arrives, cultural change will come swiftly, and relatively effortlessly." (p. 93)

Note that it is not poetry's lack of "coolness" that is lamented, but rather its lack of change. Poetry, like "Literature" in general, simply hasn't kept up with the times. As he notes elsewhere:

"I'm sensing that literature - infinite in its potential of ranges and expressions - is in a rut, tending to hit the same note again and again, confining itself to the narrowest of spectrums, resulting in a practice that has fallen out of step and unable to take part in arguably the most vital and exciting discourses of our time. I find this to be a profoundly sad moment - and a great lost opportunity for literary creativity to revitalize itself in ways it hasn't imagined." (p. 7)

One only has to look at the novels gracing the bestseller lists or even the major prizegiving short lists (the Booker, the Pullitzer). Whereas no one doubts that many of these books are well written, by and large they still employ writing techniques that date from the era when the novel was born.

But is that so bad? we might ask. Perhaps it is not that bad, and perhaps it really is a perfectly appropriate approach for us as humans. After all, who does not still look with wonder and appreciation at the expressiveness and beauty of a Turner, Titian, or Constable, and conversely feel a bit faint when looking at a Maurizio Bolognini? In case that sounded like a rhetorical question, the answer is perhaps: those with a primarily postmodern sensibility.

Lest we forget, it was photography that produced the radical shift in the visual arts. Until the internet, literature was not perturbed in any comparable way. Their was no medium or method of textual communication that radically challenged the hegemony of print and linear reading. As Goldsmith notes,

"While traditional notions of writing are primarily focused on 'originality' and 'creativity', the digital environment fosters new skill sets that include 'manipulation' and 'management' of the heaps of already existent and ever-increasing language." (p. 15)

So what would this new type of writer do? In a sense, postmodernism and even post-postmodernism is already passe. The notion that meaning is somehow attached to words, and then that meaning is or has become unstable, and that shifting signs are disrupting our understanding all the time; are notions that rely on words' primary attachment to humans. But there is already more text than we can ever hope to read, and texts that no one ever will read, including many texts, not written by humans, that have "died" without a single human reader.

What of them? What do they "mean"? The construction of texts by machines are occuring at an ever-increasing pace. We can safely assume that theirswill exceed human production sooner rather than later. And let's not be arrogant and think that "human literary works will always be better". Because that is foolish. There are no guarantees, and given the pace of technological trends, it is safer to assume the opposite, uncomfortable as the thought may be.

So what is left for the "writer" in this new landscape? In some respects the role of the writer itself is in question. Goldsmith points out that the way creative writing is taught generally relies on outdated notions of creativity and originality. The old concept of genius, generally considered a hangover from romanticism, is that of a solitary individual expressing their thoughts and emotions in imaginative, startling ways. An uncreative writer, on the other hand, uses the existing surplus of language as material to manipulate and rearrange, rather than as a vehicle for expression.

Rather than attempting to "be original" by "expressing themselves" and inadvertently adding to the cacophony of voices, the uncreative writer "constantly cruises the Web for new language" and comes to resemble "more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualising, constructing, executing and maintaining a writing machine" (p. 1-2)

Indeed, this is the single most important distinction that Kenneth Goldsmith draws between the traditional writer and the new avant-garde: the difference in how they view language: language as a vehicle for expression, vs. language as raw material.

This topic is rich with material, and in a follow-up post I will look at some of the forerunners of uncreative writing, as well as contemporary examples of the emerging genre.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

News Roundup

The advent of the web as a mainstream medium of communication and transmission is changing the rules of literature irrevocably. For those who have, for some time already, felt that literature and the word is in decline there is news: the online world has seen an absolute explosion of words. All the crap that people used to talk in private, with no one to record for posterity, has now become publicly recorded in new formats en masse. Blogs, Twitter feeds, Youtube videos, to mention just a few, collect words in unbelievable volumes.

Without a doubt this is rich material for scavengers of literary material, but today I want to focus on another aspect of these phenomena: the change in the nature of news. If news once was reportage of "events that happen in the real world", we may now recognise that the status of news has changed. Whereas we still read and watch news - perhaps more than ever before - it has become almost primarily a source of entertainment. News as a way of finding out about events that affect us (wars, elections, new policies) have for many consumers become relegated to the weather report. Instead, news is sought out for its spectacle, drama, and entertainment value.

In the age of the web everyone has become newsworthy, and the playing field has levelled. Why should news about a potential cure for a rare form of cancer be more important than the real and present anger a Youtube user feels when his pop hero has been insulted by other Youtube users?

These and other ponderable questions may be provoked by the News Roundup, a look at the online world today.

Welcome to today's Roundup!