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Litblog Roundup

Litblog Roundup

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Do writers get picky about music? Are E-books sufficiently advanced? What’s up with the new line of books coming out? All this and more in a new installment of the Litblog Roundup, a bi-weekly overview of topics, trends and highlights from the literary Internet.

What Do Writers Listen to While Writing?

As I write this, I’m listening to the new Beach House album. This is not because I like the new Beach House album (although I do), or because it gives me the chance to say so, thus making me sound slightly cooler (although it might, in a desperate sort of way) or because I’m plugging the record (although it is great, if you enjoy the band’s drunk-on-a-beanbag effect). I’m listening to it because I’m writing

Jacob Lambert writes for the Millions recently about the various music preferences that writers have. Do they listen to anything while writing or to nothing at all? If they do have music while writing, what music is it? While accounting for personal taste there is a whole lot of room to weigh in on the subject.

Monopoly Has Discouraged Innovation for E-Books

As a consumer of digital books I feel delighted, but as a reader, I feel crestfallen. All of the consumption parts of the Kindle experience are pitch-perfect: a boundless catalogue, instant distribution, reasonable prices (perhaps once too reasonable, now less so with recently updated contracts). It’s easy to forget that Amazon doesn’t just frustrate publishers, it also powers a huge chunk of the internet – hosting files and providing servers for many of the largest companies in the world. That business alone accounts for nearly $2 billion of their bottom line. So it’s no surprise that Amazon has built seamless, efficient plumbing for digital books. But after a book has made its way through the plumbing and onto the devices, the once-fresh experience now feels neglected.

Craig Mod has written at length about the future of the book. Naturally, he’s an aficionado of electronic books. Rather, he was. Now, he says that an essential monopoly on the e-book market has created a lack of innovation. He adds that the closed systems for the production of e-books are not sufficient for a fair market to be able to make improvements. It’s no surprise that Amazon, with it’s very old-looking website for example, is not inclined to innovate any more than it must, but it is a bit shocking that their ebooks can’t even be hyphenated as well as a word processing document.

Something’s Wrong with Something Borrowed

The debate about Kenneth Goldsmith continues. One one side of the recent round of dialogue, there’s Alec Wilkinson’s article in the New Yorker that analyzes Goldsmith’s work, his career, the reception to his work in general and the controversy surrounding his recent, problematic, appropriation of the autopsy of Michael Brown.

People who don’t like Goldsmith’s poems tend to think that using another writer’s words, coherently or not, and arranging how they look on the page, are gestures that have no emotional power. They think that poetry involves one person addressing another person, or an object or a deity, and that cutting and pasting can’t do that persuasively, since it is essentially aloof, and the aura of the artificial adheres to it. In addition, they feel that arranging letters and words in patterns isn’t sufficient to produce poetry. A poem must also address a deep subject. Furthermore, the point of being a poet is to establish an “idiosyncratic lyric practice that can’t be assimilated into the practice of others,” a critic told me, adding that poetry derives from a writer’s consideration of his own “sensual, moral, intellectual, aesthetic” concerns.

Lyric poets tend to be allergic to conceptual poetry. The poet C. K. Williams once stood up at a talk that Goldsmith gave at Princeton and said that hearing Goldsmith’s version of poetry made his heart sink. Williams, who died last week of cancer, told me that he objected to the word “poetry” “being used to characterize such silliness.” He said, “It’s removing expression and feeling from writing, but it’s also removing beauty.” The poet Charles Simic told me that he regarded conceptual poetry as being “like a violin played by a hair dryer. It could be fun, but neither Bartók nor Ashbery has anything to worry about.” The poet and critic Dan Chiasson, who writes for the New York Review of Books as well as for this magazine, said that most of Goldsmith’s work struck him as “dreary, overliteral pranks. I associate him with a certain kind of avant-garde spectacle. He dresses like a jester, and he shows up on ‘Colbert,’ but I find him amusing more than surprising.”

[…]

People who don’t like Goldsmith’s poems tend to think that using another writer’s words, coherently or not, and arranging how they look on the page, are gestures that have no emotional power. They think that poetry involves one person addressing another person, or an object or a deity, and that cutting and pasting can’t do that persuasively, since it is essentially aloof, and the aura of the artificial adheres to it. In addition, they feel that arranging letters and words in patterns isn’t sufficient to produce poetry. A poem must also address a deep subject. Furthermore, the point of being a poet is to establish an “idiosyncratic lyric practice that can’t be assimilated into the practice of others,” a critic told me, adding that poetry derives from a writer’s consideration of his own “sensual, moral, intellectual, aesthetic” concerns.

Lyric poets tend to be allergic to conceptual poetry.

On the other side of the debate, is an Open Letter to the New Yorker in response, by Brian Kim Stefans, a poet and Associate Professor of English at UCLA.

… my concern isn’t with Kenny, to whom I wish the best. I’ve known him personally for some time, even contributing material to ubu.com back in the day, though I withdrew from any communication with him years ago (largely because of his insufferable ego and terrible ideas about art). I’d like to say that the author of “Something Borrowed,” Alec Wilkinson, was well intentioned – but I can’t. Wilkinson, better known (I believe) as a music critic, has no doubt been an admirer of Kenny since Kenny’s days as a music critic for the New York Press back in the 90s – “bromance” is written all over this article.

No Seymour Hirsch, Wilkinson seems willing to publish whatever garbage Kenny fed him, including inventing a new origin myth, necessary for any proper hagiography, revolving around some clandestine meeting in a bar in Buffalo, which is pure horseshit (I was there, and know all the actors well). I’m also sure that it was Wilkinson who, clever man, threaded his article with such subtle, but clearly potent, racism to frame Kenny’s catastrophe in the best light. Wilkinson’s list of barbarians eventually grows to include CA Conrad (who if anyone could expose Kenny’s claims to be an “outlaw” as pure narcissism), Ken Chen (Asian American!) and the self-styled Mongrel Coalition (no fans of mine, by the way), quoting from one of their scattershot tracts. These poets are depicted as unfortunate victims of their own misunderstanding of the purity of Kenny’s desire to “provoke” in the name of the “avant-garde,” of the obsolescence of the discourse on ethnic identity, and of a narrow conception of poetic form, human creativity and the ubiquity of algorithmic culture (lyricists “allergic” to procedural poetics).

This ongoing debate is a confusing one, because, with each new chapter, it further conflates a discussion of the ethics of the writer with a discussion of the aesthetics of the work, but the debate may also be an example of how the two are inseparable. Are the two insperable?

(What) Does Everybody Want to Read?

I decided to engage in an experiment: to take the temperature of the book market by looking at every single book published on a particular day. And not just any day, but this coming Thursday, October 8. This is “Super Thursday”, the busiest and most important date in the publishing calendar, when the big firms and big names launch their assault on the Christmas market, accompanied by a three-day promotional blitz under the banner “Books Are My Bag”.

That means the hardbacks published on Thursday – 383 of them, according to data compiled by Nielsen BookScan – represent the publishing industry’s best guess at what we actually want to find under our Christmas trees. In short, they tell us what kind of readers we are.

Is the publishing industry telling us something by way of its offering, this year? Is it saying that its comprised of old, white, men who publish what old, white men want to read? Is it telling us that it thinks the only people who want to read books anymore are old, whit men? Both? The telegraph’s Robert Colvile has conducted an experimental overview of the new books this year, and has come to a similar conclusion. We readers can reverse this trend, if there is one, by supporting independent publishers of diverse writings.

Dylan Kinnett

Dylan Kinnett is the founding editor of Infinity's Kitchen. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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About The Author

Dylan Kinnett

Dylan Kinnett is the founding editor of Infinity's Kitchen. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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