That's Not Writing, It's Typing

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You're no rock n' roll fun
like a party that's over
before it's begun

Jim DeRogatis takes a swipe at solipsism, self-indulgence, and navel-gazing, inspired by... wait for it... Jack Kerouac! Naturally, it's all the Internet's fault.

Reading those words, I can’t help wondering what Kerouac would have thought of this new age of boundless self-promotion and banal solipsism, as typified by the endless proliferation of Tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts that pretty much say absolutely nothing beyond “Hey, look at me!”

It's a leading question, but he'd probably think the same thing I think when I read Kerouac—like "that time I spent reading Dharma Bums is time I'll never get back" or "the only thing more insufferable than someone telling you about a dream they had is someone telling you about a bender." YMMV; if we're cherry-picking midcentury American writers, I'd be more interested in what William Gaddis thought. (Meanwhile, someone at @WBEZ is busy Twittering DeRo's content, which is so beneath him; the business of actually getting people to read published content being for the little people.)

Kerouac, of course, was a prolific letter-writer:

The letters from the ’40s were often philosophical and meandering. From the ’50s onward, they wrote about their discovery of Buddhism, their frustration with potential publishers and the downside of fame. But whenever they wrote, they were sure to update travel plans and the status of friends and fellow artists — William Burroughs (author of “Naked Lunch”), poet Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady (who eventually joined Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters), among others.

So maybe he would have taken to publicly sharing his interstitial thoughts:

No, I was kidding about 1943 biog.—also about Nixon—making old argumentative scenes on couch, see—tell them. I not goin vote but would for Kennedy—everybody should simply make a vow of kindness and let it go at that, try to stay sober too—start new party Vow of Kindness party.

Maybe on Facebook, where that would fit right in.

Public to DeRogatis and his Luddite fellows: you don't have to do Twitter or Facebook or blogging (and if you don't want to, don't do it, because you won't be good at it), but you do have to consider why other people would—including the people at your organizations who are tasked with doing so in order to reach an audience. (My grandfather was a pressman, so I tend to look askance at those who scoff at the means of production and distribution as they evolve.)

I hate empty, self-centered communiqués that say absolutely nothing at all. Pro tip: stop reading them, then. I'm always surprised, though I shouldn't be, that these plaintive wails never cite anything to make their point. Where are all these empty, self-centered communiqués? LiveJournal? MySpace? Maybe there's your problem. Try Rortybomb or something.

I think the main problem is the fallacy of nostalgia, which keeps many a writer busy with "is [insert here] dead?" think pieces. Every medium always seems worse than it used to be, because that which sucked ends up in the dustbin of history. Kerouac survives because he (allegedly) wrote great works; the insufferable logorrhea the Beats inspired biodegrades in niche bookstores because, sensibly, nobody reads it. The Web makes things worse only in the sense that it democratically preserves the crap alongside the genius. Even more so than libraries!

One more thing in defense of the Twitter and the blogs and whatnot: some people find them fine media in which to communicate. Those of us who are old Internet hands will probably recall instances of new sub-media perpetually giving either personal or public voice to those who had none in the old—chat rooms, IRC, newsgroups, MMORPGs, newsletters. Which is a tale as old as time, or at least as old as some of this century's media heroes, like the great self-publishers Bill James and I.F. Stone. Surely carbon paper and the Xerox machine created chaff—ever really lingered in the zine aisles at Quimby's?—but they also gave a forum to necessary underground voices.

So it's not just that DeRogatis premises his argument on a hoary cliche, and it is one, things moving very fast in Internet time. It's also snide, ahistorical, and anti-democratic, standing athwart history yelling "Shut up!" That's no rock 'n' roll fun.

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