Friday, May 05, 2006

Internet vs. Books

k: this wasn’t what i had in mind when i told you i had an idea, but it’s a fine something something to talk about (and it does actually correlate with everything else, so i’ll bounce back to it a few times). my basic feelings are this; the internet is an amazing tool for all mediums, poetry benefits, as an entity, from internet. where would we be without our blogs? i certainly wouldn’t be planning a trip to philly for the weekend, would i? i am rather found of peer-editing in forums and similar poetry venues. the internet is a marvelous place for amateur and blossoming poets to learn, grow, develop and expand—especially if there is no community of poets surrounding them in the real world.

i love for their sound clips. i’m greedy and want more. though, overall, on published and easy-to-find-at-borders poetry, i don’t see why it ought be published online as well. in the case of tender buttons, wessex poems, howl, and i’m sure tons others, these poetry collections are so easy to find in book stores, and other than wessex poems, they are cheap (less than $10). why then, make them available online for free? gertrude stein does not need publicity. while it was nice that i could cut and paste that poem in an email, having found ALL of tender buttons online was heartbreaking for the mere fact that someone who doesn’t own it is going to read online and never purchase a copy, never expand the real-world-based poetry universe.

this all comes from my love of material goods (=books). i must remember to bring my darling wessex poems with me at the weekend. if you’re really good i’ll let you hold it J

there are some rather marvelous things about books that you cannot do with web pages. you can’t say “this collection, page ##” to a friend who’s clever and end up having a four-poem-long conversation. sure, i could have sent you links, and you could have done the same, but there wouldn’t have been the excitement of flipping through the book to get to the right page.

websites don’t have pretty covers; books do. also, you can read a book during take off and landing, whereas all lap tops must be turned off.

the argument for aesthetics goes on and on, doesn’t it? and we all know it. some people don’t think books have to worry. but i say they must. publishers don’t produce books like this one on my desk, from 1898. the pages are thick, the binding is strong, the pages are sewn with precision and care. the cover is sturdy, embossed and rugged. i have hard covered books from a mere 10 years ago that are falling to pieces; this is over 100 years old and is aging a bit at the edges, but is overall in much better shape that more recent books.

books have a smell, a charm, you can carry them around and feel really cool. also, i like to pencil in the margins of some poetry and some poetics (the stuff that’s a bit more dense and takes a bit more thinking). i find it rather difficult to get the same effect on a computer screen.

a: As sympathetic as I was to the case you made for books (or perhaps because I am that sympathetic to the case you made), it feels to me that in a way you stated the obvious. You made the aesthetic/sensual case for book, a case that I find very valid, but I would like to push the argument beyond "why books are great". I think that the threat that the internet and soft media poses to books and hard media is at the same time very real and overrated. As seductive as the argument you made is, and as seductive as books are, I don't think that is enough to carry them through, to stop the bleeding or decline of the medium, so to speak. I can imagine that any small bookseller can attest to this pain. On the other hand, I do not believe that the soft media will ever eradicate the hard media. I think they will make them painfully secondary, but never eradicate them. Part of the argument is the fragility of soft media: the Library of Congress still uses resin to store its most valuable audio; CDs are too fickle. (This argument was made in that Wired article I sent you the link to.) The other parts you have already covered, I think: those of convenience (I still print your longer emails and articles and then read them) and the sensual/aesthetic experience. Another thing that you alluded to is the objectness of hard media and therefore the idea of possession: to own a book because you value it (and the book format lends materiality to what is otherwise abstract, ethereal). And I think that is precisely why the Internet feels so threatening and is so pervasive: because in a way it is bringing words back closer to their abstract immaterial nature: it makes words (and music) paradoxically more difficult to possess (as objects) and easier to possess (by making it easier to disseminate). Ultimately, I think digital media are here to stay; technological progress doesn't (and shouldn't, I think) be undone. It just needs to be regulated, at best, and even that is often approached too naively. The argument that I keep making to Wojtek (and that I believe I have already mentioned to you) is not to be nostalgic about older media to the point that it limits one's appreciation of the new, which would be ultimately to one's own detriment. I am not advocating either the complete abandonment of the old and blind embracing of the new. I guess all I am trying to say is, know what each can do well so you can use them well. A book is not necessarily better than a movie, or a magazine better than a TV show, etc. So, I can understand your unhappiness about your beloved texts being available online, but I don't really think it's a one-to-one equation here: that people would go and read things online instead of buying them. If I wanted to read a whole book, even if its available online, I wouldn't do that. I don't think I'd even print it and then read it. I think I'd go and buy it: one, because I would like that and, two, because I can afford it. Now, if I couldn't afford it, I wouldn't, even if I wanted, but it would still be available to me, which is how I think it should be. And I don't think I am any more ethical than the average person. When I used Kazaa I used it mostly to get Arabic and European stuff I cannot find easily here (or that is way overpriced here because of lack of demand on it); but if I wanted a Madonna CD that is available at every other drugstore, I would just go and buy it because I love cover art and I think it is more convenient (put a copy on my iPod for work, a copy for the car, etc.) Similarly, the digital book allowed you to easily search for a certain passage and copy it, which is a great thing! So, I think it is a tad simplistic to argue the "downfall" of books on digital media: we still love them, and many else do, yet I would never wish the Internet away! (And I know that in a way I am preaching to the converted here, as I think you are the queen of digital poetry!).

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