Some Miserabilisms I Made Earlier

Fiction has more stylish ways of dealing with the stuff of  jeremiads. Early book cover of George Orwell’s famous dystopian society novel ‘1984’. (Pic courtesy of photographer and artist David Dunnico at www.1984lookslikethis.wordpress.com)

George Orwell’s famous dystopian society novel ‘1984’ shows that fiction has some stylish ways in dealing with the stuff of jeremiads. (Pic courtesy of http://www.1984lookslikethis.wordpress.com)

I learnt two new words today: ‘Jeremiad’ and ‘Miserabilism’ courtesy of Darran Anderson, my go-to for intellectual tough when it all gets a bit woolly out there in blogland. So a jeremiad (named after the dismal prophet Jeremiah) is a moralistic text lamenting society’s ills and possibly its doom. Miserabilism is what it is. Anderson tells us that Eliot known for his modernism wrote a jeremiad about modernity (interesting contradiction), read it here. Seems that a decent jeremiad is like a good debate with a dose of fear added. Fear of change. Fear of the future.

Dr Seuss’s ravaged society in ‘The Lorax’ was brought about by the invention of the uselessly useful ‘thneed’, but Dr Seuss is no miserabilist. The ‘Unless’ moment is one of the best narration opportunities you can get when it comes to variation of delivery. (Pic courtesy of www.pastemagazine.com)

Dr Seuss’s ravaged society in ‘The Lorax’ was brought about by the invention of the uselessly useful ‘thneed’, but Dr Seuss is no miserabilist. The ‘Unless’ moment is one of the best narration opportunities you can get when it comes to variation on delivery. (Pic courtesy of http://www.pastemagazine.com)

Eliot in his jeremiad says ‘When electrical ingenuity has made it possible for every child to hear its bed-time stories through a wireless receiver attached to both ears…it will not be surprising if the population of the entire civilized world rapidly follows the fate of the Melanesians.’*  My inner Jeremiah eyed this sentence prophetically in conjunction with a study referred to here. In this study a group of 20 kids were found to have stronger text focusing abilities when read to by recorded narration with highlighted words than they did when a parent or a caregiver narrated the same story to them on the same device. I had to ask myself was I a bit of a miserabilist by limiting my kids’ access to recorded narrations of their favourite stories such as ‘The Lorax’ or ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’? The answer was no. There’s no ominous depth to the reasoning. I’m just too vain to let an iPad steal my legacy. I want my kids to remember me as the person who tucked them in and read to them in funny voices and put up with the irritating interruptions and inane questions. That’s the shallow extent of my miserabilism there.

Futurist David Houle sees opportunity behind the disruption of the last five years. He believes we have already left the information age behind and have entered the shift age. The book itself is an example of agile publishing embodying the points he makes that we are undergoing a collapse of legacy thinking'

Futurist David Houle sees opportunity in change. The book itself is an example of agile publishing proving the collapse of legacy thinking in the shift age.

The literary world has its fair share of miserabilists. Writers tend to be gloomy and publishing is the last of the entertainment media to go through the digital transformation. It’s understandable and quite pleasing that publishing/writing types will always have a mental armchair planted in the halcyon days of cigars, brandy and leather-bound books, but to genuinely live in that ideal is crazy. Here we are bang in the centre of what the futurist David Houle calls ‘the shift age’ – the most fascinating time in publishing since the Guttenberg Bible and there are still people in the book world, be they writers, agents or publishers who think that ebooks will go away, that Amazon is evil (or even more evil than any other corporate global) and that reading isn’t real reading if it’s not done on paper with folios and running heads. The worst lament of all is that the existence of ebooks negates the existence of print books. See? The tendency towards doom. It comes naturally to book people. As someone who writes in an industry littered with the last of the mega miserabilists here’s a coping mechanism that works for me: Make up some miserabilisms of your own so you can compete, jeremiad scale with the whingers if needs be.

Here are two I made earlier:

Miserabilism No. 1) Facebook is Orwellian and will lead to a dystopian society based on the ‘liking’ of really boring pics of cats/babies of people you hardly know. You will also find yourself being ‘friends’ with an ex you still have nightmares about and spent years trying to getting rid of diplomatically. Civilisation will descend into a pyramid selling/chain-lettering creepy nagging hell where you will sit all day with your finger on a keyboard ‘liking’ what Facebook Police tell you to like before you’ve even thought of what it is you like.

Miserabilism No. 2) Parenting will be superseded by the iPad/Kindle and civilization will get so bored off their nuts with the homogenous offspring raised by iPads/Kindles that human beings will stop fancying each other and stop having sex and a dying generation of white haired half-bald pre-native digitalists will sit around reminiscing about the good ole days when they fancied a real human being for their quirks and strange accents and for the times when they had to work out what a person meant when they said ‘Throw us over that buke there!’ Great grandkids, if such a phenomenon exists in the flagging libido of the ‘Tablet’ race, will be allowed to have only one of two possible names on their birth certs: Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos thus honoring the fathers of The United Devices.

* I figured out after some confusion that the ‘fate of the Melanesians’ was not an ominous reference to their blond afros. I was wondering. The bit in Eliot’s jeremiad about the Melanesians was in ref. to an essay by psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers who explored the idea that the Melanesians c. 1922 were being depopulated because they were bored to death by the merits of civilization. (Pic courtesy of www.permedtonatural.com)

* I figured out after some confusion that the ‘fate of the Melanesians’ was not some ominous reference to blonde afros. I was wondering. The bit in Eliot’s jeremiad about the Melanesians was in reference to an essay by psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers who explored the idea that the Melanesians c. 1922 were being depopulated because they were being bored to death by the merits of civilization. (Pic courtesy of http://www.permedtonatural.com)

Why does an ebook have to be a book anyway?

Great author/editor collaboration, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Who would Eliot have trusted as a digital collaborator had be forseen his legacy? (pic courtesy of www.wrensnest.org)

Great author/editor collaboration, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Who would Eliot have trusted as a digital collaborator had be forseen his legacy? (pic courtesy of http://www.wrensnest.org)

The whole enhanced ebook issue is on my mind. Neil Leyden from the IDSC suggested some time ago that the ebook hasn’t gone far enough regarding interactivity and that the publishers could be arm-twisted to do more. But I always get a bit uneasy when publishers are named as the baddies when it comes to the perceived digital shortfall in this area. Surely the rest of the industry, not least the retailers and distributers, have yet to agree on what the epub3 standard actually is?

What about the writers? What are they doing about their workflow to include digital concepts when pitching manuscript to agents and publishers? Or maybe it doesn’t matter for now? It seems the jury is still out among book people regarding how much enhancement text-centric trade titles (fiction, non-fiction, memoir, etc) need. Now there’s even talk of a ‘lite’ version of epub3 that scales back the dimensions of interactivity as if the magnitude of the digital epic is starting to resonate? But my hope is that digital in its full glory will become the norm or at least an option (Amazon’s MatchBook gives a nod here to help print readers make the shift). If publishers are arm-tied with the technology and resources then maybe writers could future-proof their own content, if only in concept, to cater for an e-readership that that will make the shift in time to the enhanced experience? Shouldn’t a writer’s digital outlook be as important a decision to them as the ending of their story, the voice of their narrator or even the genre they are writing for? I mean, what if T.S. Eliot, who credited his editor Ezra Pound as ‘Il miglior fabbro’ (the better craftsman) hated what Faber did with ‘The Wasteland’ app? I’m sure he would have loved the app as most of us do, but at the same time Eliot seems to be the type who’d have chosen his craftsman as wisely when it came to digital as he did for print.

Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 ‘Museum of Innocence’ displays an enhanced sensibility in the form of his actual Museum in Istanbul where the narrator’s nutty passions take on an authentic quality (pic courtesy of ethnotraveler.com)

Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 ‘Museum of Innocence’ displays an enhanced sensibility in the form of his actual Museum in Istanbul where the narrator’s nutty passions take on an authentic quality (pic courtesy of ethnotraveler.com)

Isn’t enhanced digital a load more work for everyone? Yes. But potentially more market too if content can reach bigger audiences given that fused media is becoming more democratic these days than straightforward text. If I were an enhanced ebook publisher with a load of money (the tools may well be democratized but the money to pay for these tools and the resources to put them into production, for the most part, is not) I’d try to make every ebook have something in it to grab the most reluctant reader and non-reader too be it via film, animation, gaming, music, social networking etc so that the story could be enjoyed on expanded levels. But commissioning editors still have traditional workflows, they are not digital commissioning editors yet, a job that should require  technical, creative, editorial and producing skills and who knows what else. Actually, it’s a job that doesn’t exist fully yet. Writers are supposedly creative thinkers. Can’t they push the agenda? Look at Melissa Diem’s ‘The One About The Bird’. Diem’s poetry film may well be a literary shot in the vein but equally non-readers are not excluded, may even be encouraged to stray into a territory readership-wise they may never have discovered if it wasn’t for digital. Some writers are naturally geared for enhanced ebook. There’s much you could do with Kevin Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’, for example and Barry’s own reading skills (he performs like a pro) would be an asset. Or take Orhan Pamuk’s eerie self-referential work of obsession ‘The Museum of Innocence’ published in 2008. If the book had been published now or any time soon the actual museum Pamuk created in Istanbul with his prize money might have been an enhanced ebook (or similar) that displayed his narrator Kemal’s nutty passions globally so that anyone could stare at one of Fusun’s lipstick coated cig butts for hours if that’s what they wanted to do (I hear the enhanced ebook will be made eventually).

All this enhancement! A book doing it all for you? For shame! Isn’t that for lazy people who can’t read anymore? If there was truth in that, so what? True book lovers are not book snobs, nor should writers or publishers be. If that’s what readers are becoming, fine, or more to the point, if enhanced products will encourage lapsed readers and non-readers to love what used to be books? Fine.

Some writers are naturally geared for enhanced ebook, Kevin Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’ would make great ebooking

Some writers are naturally geared for enhanced ebook, Kevin Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’ would make great ebooking

The tactile is important to me, I adore the smell of ink,  I’d sit for hours with a print book and never leave the house but in another mood I’d watch/listen to Melissa Diem reading her work and feel the text just as much. It’s a different kind of tactile. It’s about choice and informality. It’s about leisure time and how you want to spend it. It’s about loving content as opposed to loving ‘the book’ and unless writers are just writing for themselves (which many do) then maybe they could add another turn to their already twisted arms and carve the industry out a bit here. Think of the alternative? Some well-meaning but completely misguided digi-editor miscalculating your characters’ assets in the future? Surely Pamuk, for example, can be the only true authority on the woman who flipped his narrator Kemal’s heart into obsession? Things like…what  would she actually sound like… or what her theme tune would be…or if she had a blog what on earth would she blog about?

[And the disclaimer; without prejudice, all views my own!]