Awhile back I jokingly suggested on twitter that we should replace the phrase “Luddite” with “Franzen.” Sure enough, Franzen serves as the metaphor for the “great writer who has no truck with technology” in the opening of this piece, in today’s New York Times, “A New, Noisier Way of Writing”
The article caused me to roll my eyes at the newspaper. This might be because my essay from last month, “Why Authors Tweet,” makes the opposite argument. I disagree with much of the piece, but this line best sums up its misunderstanding of history and writing:
“But if the writing world becomes just another segment of the market economy, with writers compelled, as they increasingly are, to be entrepreneurs and marketers, its essential character will change.”
What essential character would that be? One that is “outside the market economy”? Okay right now you are thinking: Emily Dickinson! To which I reply, “Yes, yes but is she not always cited, because she is the exception to the rule?”
Writing is of the world. Always has been. So too are writers. Chances are, if you have read a piece of writing, it has been part of the market. Authors eat and shit and, yes, waste time on the internet (or watch too much tv or drink too much or whichever daily struggle you imagine), just like the rest of us. It is the world that writers need, else of what would they write?
The idea of solitude is one born of the noisy world; you cannot have one without the other. The noise is what writers make signals out of. Coelho and Naipaul and Franzen–the writers cited in the piece? Their books are their intellectual property, for which they have signed contracts, exchanged grubby dollars.
Read literary history and try to find that writer secluded from the market, the author who didn’t have to promote himself. Yes, even before the age of twitter, the space apart, the mind unfettered, the silence of pure art– myths every one.
Hating commerce and the business of life is a very worldly stance, anyway: you can’t have one without the other. And speaking of which, see this very noisy and hilarious post, Things Jonathan Franzen Says Are Bad For Society”