Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known for his comic book series The Sandman, but he has a prolific body of work that includes one of my favorite novels, American Gods. To best describe Neil Gaiman’s writing style, I would probably equate him with DB blog guest Jerry Williams, except without the supernatural machinations. Gaiman, in American Gods, and Williams in his DB entries are quintessential Guy’s Guys. But I digress. The real reason I bring up American Gods is because of the book’s central premise: the relevance of tradition.
Tradition has never had a good track record with posterity. It’s a given that each successive generation will want to forge its own set of values, its own identity. It’s also a paradoxical given that these generations will want to preserve those ways for the future even with the awareness of their impermanence. In Gaiman’s novel, the Old World gods migrated to America hell-bent on asserting their place in the future. The thematic overtone is obvious: no one wants to be forgotten. Also: we all came from somewhere.
In a time of contraction, what worries me the most is that all the old ways will be clumped together as a single scapegoat. It’s true that our elected leaders failed us and that businesses merrily shirked their providence over the public trust. But a broken system shouldn’t penalize the decline of print media, for example. Newspapers constitute a very unassuming scapegoat: the elephant in the room that’s also a dinosaur. Everyone who reads the news reads it online now, right? And as for books, who wants to carry several cumbersomely thick books when you can fit hundreds into your e-reader? In fact, e-readers and digital media as a whole, although they are certainly important measures of progress, are tenuous salves for societal ills. We hail the Kindle and the iPad as keystones of the future even as economic chasms gape ever wider, shoving societal boundaries against one another like so many commuters on a crowded city bus until a final, rotten contraction that results in empty suburbs, shuttered businesses, and a public so toxically cynical that everyone is a candidate for the Communist Next Door. At our insolence, the gods of the Old World tremble with laughter. We have made progress with our innovations, but we have not earned that progress.
In 2003, DB was a pioneer that sought to bridge tradition and progress. At that point, we were already on our fifth issue. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lisa Russ Spaar called to mind DB’s basic premise: the “provocative juxtaposition [of] emerging and established voices, traditional forms of representation and works of art endemic to the Web, and international and domestic artists”. DB’s mission certainly painted broad strokes, but as Ravi, our Founding Editor, said in Ms. Spaar’s article, what makes the Web so much better than its predecessor is precisely that access to broader, more diverse audiences. Said Ravi in the article: “Even the most salable print literary journal has perhaps a print run of 5,000. That’s how many hits we sometimes get in a week (emphasis Ms. Spaar’s).”
The written word has always had a tenuous relationship with pragmatism. As discussed in a recent edition of Talk of the Nation, if it doesn’t have crossover appeal, then the written word has very little monetary, if not practical, value. Consequently, poetry is the literary art form that gets the shirt shrift. Novels can be turned into movies, and lyricists differ from poets because the lyricists has musical talent to inspire a catchy — and marketable — tune. In contrast, poetry is more esoteric, the domain of laureates and coffee houses.
In her article, Ms. Spaar, who has had work published in DB, wrote that she began discussing “the fate of poetry in the electronic age” as early as 1993. At that time, the nascent cyberspace culture was gradually but doggedly taking shape from the humble beginnings of Bulletin Board Systems and “legacy” services such as GEnie, Delphi, and an embryonic entity known as America Online. As largely local phenomenon, bulletin board systems and dial-up providers naturally and necessarily brought together small community pockets that were much less anonymous than today’s cyberspace culture. It was a novel idea to quickly and easily post a short story or a poem to your online friends, but in terms of forging a literary career, it was more of a hobby. Legitimacy belonged to the old guard. You still needed to see your work bound by a strong spine. You needed to a dotted line to sign, a blurb, an advance… As poetry becomes more accessible because of a publication like DB, its scrutiny is heightened as well. You certainly have a larger forum to air artful grievances — the eight years of George W. Bush as President constituted one exciting field day for anyone who wanted to use verse to complain about the world. At the same time, debate about poetry’s esoteric nature is further magnified. Poets may now have access to a wider audience and technological bells and whistles like hyperlinks and Flash animation, but what does it ultimately mean in terms of empathy and relevance? There will always be a pull between the old and new, between the sacred values of family and the demands of a larger, unpredictable world. There is no easy bridge to connect such opposing forces. Like evolution, our culture, humanity itself, will experience fits and starts. Our growing pains will seem endless and endlessly agonizing. No one knows what the final product will look like.
In this time of contraction, there are many who justifiably believe that Barack Obama’s election has resulted in more of the same. Instead of revolution, we got saddled with the Same Shit, Different Day. Full disclosure: this writer is a registered Democrat, but now I look with wary and weary eyes at all politicians from all parties. It’s 2010, the second decade of the twenty-first century, yet teachers are being fired left and right. The engineers, construction workers, and bus drivers who fuel and maintain our infrastructure are revered about as highly as asphalt. The boundaries that distinguish respect, celebrity, and credibility are demolished. Who wants to build roads and teach kids when you can scream the loudest on a reality TV show? Hope fades. Our future is uncertain. This is not meant to be a pep talk or offer empty campaign promises. The new (or the new-old?) buzzword should be authenticity: are you true to yourself? To others?
By Joe Ramelo, Social Media Assistant.
They say that March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. Although they, technically, refers to roots in astronomy, for me, they refers to my first set of teachers from pre-school up until at least mid-elementary school. (By the fifth grade, you would probably be too grown up to recite such cute little proverbs.) Ah, how I miss those innocent days! The proverb still holds some truth even now in adulthood, except for the fact that, at the start of 2010, the lion had already arrived long before March.
The second decade of the 21st century found the nation mired in coast-to-coast snow, while Hawaii, the only state not to experience the wintry precipitation, was threatened by a tsunami (which fortunately did not come to pass) and very recently suffered a minor earthquake. These things happened after the disasters in Haiti, Chile, and there was even a threat to Illinois — the last place most of us think about when we think of earthquakes. This apocalyptic spread dared to silence, if only momentarily, the Christopher Hitchens in all of us.
2010’s assault on humanity makes Peter Yumi’s lung infection piece all the more affecting. According to his blog, lung infection is part of a video series called ‘COLD’. For astute listeners who happen to have an ear for Hank Williams, the first thing you will notice in lung infection is “Cold, Cold Heart” as you have never heard it before. Had Mr. Williams survived into our times, perhaps he would have found it appropriate for “Cold, Cold Heart” to be covered in the manner of a broken man’s dying breath, set to a string of images that evoke a sort of X-ray storyboard.
Mr. Yumi says that ‘COLD’ is about “men and their self destructive behavior”, and the X-ray visuals set to Hank Williams might convey the worst kind of romantic heartache. (Think Jerry Williams — no relation to Hank, at least not traditionally.) But if a heartbroken man’s self destructive behavior also applies to all of humanity, then lung infection beautifully captures our world as it goes up in a kind of bloody smoke (recurring in the video, but quite effective in 3:37 – 3:54). Indulgence leads to incurable infection (:25 – 1:05). The end of lung infection implies that the cycle will continue, thus affirming our self destructive nature.
No one wants to admit that our gloom, unless we make some radical changes, is going to result in permanent doom. If we’re not placing blame on someone else (Tea Baggers versus the government, Tom Delay and Jim Bunning against the American people, and on and on…), then we’re trying to spin the truth: all you have to do is listen to the constant stream of conflicting unemployment reports. Jobs are up, jobs are down. Unemployment rate remains at an all-time high, but hey, things are going to get better soon, at least statistically speaking…! And if you’ve been keeping up with the ongoing saga that is the vast Toyota recalls, you might get the feeling that, rather than taking responsibility, Toyota seems more focused on saving face and covering its ass. The common line of thinking might look something like: thank you for the cute commercials, but how do they help my sidelined Camry get me to the minimum wage job I had to take after I got laid off from my startup that went bust and now I’ve got no healthcare for myself or my family?
Once again, the Real World proves that Truth is the exclusive enterprise of Art and Literature. Mr Yumi’s series conveys raw truth and emotion that rarely has anyone in a position of power been capable of conveying. In addition to his series, you might also want to check out this piece by Scott T. Starbuck, which is a man-on-the-street account you might never get from our trusty media. And here is Laura Kaufman’s Weight of the World. In a time of contraction, where earnings are inflated and credit card interest rates skyrocket as salaries go down, the weight of the world seems to be the only right number in the whole universe — at least, hopefully until April. With our last lingering threads of hope, let us protect the surviving lamb.
By Joe Ramelo, Social Media Assistant.
Registration deadline: $75 deposit must be submitted ASAP to reserve your place. $850 base tuition. Deposit will be applied to total cost of fees (see below).
Conference dates: June 17-21. A one-day festival (registration required, $225) will be held on June 19 for participants who cannot attend the full conference.
Genres included: novel, short story, poetry, journalism, documentary and family history, biography, translation and short- and long- form nonfiction
Manuscript deadline for on-site consults: May 10
Scholarship and fellowship application deadline: April 2
Click here for fee schedule and additional information about registration, scholarships, and fellowships
Main conference site with full details:
Award-winning writers Amy Bloom, Andre Aciman, Roxana Robinson, Michael Dirda, and Peter Gizzi will join more than 20 writers, editors, and agents at the 54th annual Wesleyan Writers Conference, June 17th-21st, 2010 at Wesleyan University. In addition to the five-day program, a one-day festival will be held on June 19.
The conference offers advice for writers at every stage of their career, featuring classes, workshops, guest speakers, readings, publishing advice and talks with editors and agents. It welcomes new writers, experienced writers, and everyone interested in the writer’s craft. Manuscript consultations are available.
Dr. Mara Berkley says, “Attending the conference gave me incredible confidence. I met wonderful people, every class was excellent, and I found a long-term mentor.” Journalist Tom Hallman says he owes his Pulitzer Prize to what he learned at the Wesleyan Writers Conference. Attending the conference helps participants to get their work into print, find a community of writers, and connect with mentors and other experts.
For more than a decade, Wesleyan¹s conference participants have been selected to appear in the prominent national anthology, Best New American Voices, and other publications. Topics at the 2010 conference include novel, short story, poetry, journalism, documentary and family history, biography, translation and short- and long- form nonfiction.
The one-day festival on June 19 welcomes everyone who cannot attend the full-week program. The schedule includes a sampling of classes, a chance to attend all the talks and panels about publishing, and the keynote talk by novelist Amy Bloom. Scholarships and teaching fellowships are awarded: visit the web site for details.
Contact: Anne Greene, Director, Wesleyan Writers Conference
Fiction submissions close March 15th. We’re still accepting for our flash fiction folio. For more info: http://bit.ly/4t7KAh
DB is looking for new interns to work closely with our editors on the production of our 12th issue, which will launch this summer. If you, your friends, students, or (very literate) gerbil are interested in gaining top-notch experience in literary publishing, please email email@example.com to find out more.