Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cheer Up!

Martin Amis probably feels worse than you do (but not than I):

Amis says he fears "the long read is a dying art" – which isn't a fogeyish complaint, he adds, no doubt fearing another embroidered headline ("Amis: You're all dumbos"). "But there are so many claims on our attention. Very literate people admit they can't read books any more. And just as the literate brain is physically different to the illiterate brain, the digitally savvy brain is different again. It's a physiological change, not just a moral one."

He's still getting plenty of reading done, "more canonical stuff now". The suggestion is of opportunity dwindling. "Even correcting proofs of your novel becomes slightly irksome because, you know, time is finite."

His friend Christopher Hitchens is being treated for cancer in America. Amis and his family will soon move there, in part to be closer to Hitchens, also to the elderly mother of Amis's wife, Isabel Fonseca. "The future is much smaller than the past, now."


David Chute said...

Love to see his source for this):

"...just as the literate brain is physically different to the illiterate brain, the digitally savvy brain is different again. It's a physiological change, not just a moral one."

IOW, I suspect it's B.S. Equivilant to the pseudo-science used to "prove" racial inferiority.

David Chute said...

Christian Lindke said...

One wonders how Amis would account for the continual expanding page count in SF/F as a genre. Compare the SF/F being published in the mid-century with that of today and it parallels obesity in its growth.

Can one imagine a book like ANATHEM being released and read in 1954? I cannot. Heck...even YA fare like I AM NUMBER FOUR come in at over 400 pages of "lite" reading.

Maybe Amis finds correcting proofs of his works irksome while he could be reading the latest blog post about the state of the HALO series of video games, but I'm reading more long form than ever -- and have increased the short form just to fill in the small spaces of free time.

Besides, anyone who thinks that video games are about "short form" entertainment has no concept of the games my wife lovingly calls "very long...with maps." These are games that require -- at minimum -- 60 to 100 hours of investment in order to complete.

It's too bad people like Patrick Rothfuss are banking on peoples' ability to read long texts...when Amis claims they cannot.

David Chute said...

I share a sense that the sorry state of "your brain on digital" is overstated. But the fact that there are excpetions to a trend or norm doesn't invalidate the norm. Or does it? I've never taken a statistics course, which means that I'm putty in their hands.

My problem with very elaborate literary conciets has way more to do with the sense of waning time described by Amis than with any decline of mental faculties. (Don't say it.) I want to know that struggling to follow a fancy-dancy time-re-structured story will actually pay dividends; give me something a more conventional structure couldn't.

Case in point story told by a tutor at St. Johns (Mr. Williamson, for those in the know) about a friend who went to work in a bookstore to support himself so he could spend ten years reading "Finnegan's Wake." Decided at the end that he'd wasted a decade and would have been better off re-reading Aristotle's "Physics."

David Chute said...

Fairly likely to eventually read this, however:

Tulkinghorn said...

In 1982 Amis wrote a book about video games -- "Invasion of the Space Invaders", (introduction by Stephen Spielberg) but may not have kept up with the field. I think David has one of the few remaining copies... Cheapest copy available on Abebooks is $90, going up to $450 for a signed copy.

He also wrote the screenplay for "Saturn 3" at about the same time, which I understand not to be his finest work....

At any rate, however fogyish he's become, he can't claim complete disconnection from the field.

I do wonder about the disconect between the growing attention span deficit and the popularity of huge fantasy novels and expansive games. Obviously something going on here that neither Martin Amis nor I understand...

Tulkinghorn said...

In his early twenties, Amis wrote SF reviews for The Observer under a pseudonym... Interesting piece here:

Unexpectedly, he disdained the Moorcock New Wave types, and championed Asimov and Clarke in terms not unfamiliar to readers of this blog:

Amis insists on the virtue of clarity in the SF he reads. It is "a genre in which intelligibility is all" (16 Jul 1972). He goes a step further, asserting that "SF always tries to be realistic" (June 1972). On these grounds Amis is a conservative, opposed to experimental and avant-garde techniques for their own sake, which would preeningly confer some self-regarding literary prestige. "The SF story, though, must be a perfect miniature, a satisfying realisation of a single idea. Despite SF authors' penchant for tucking away their poetic rhapsodies and full-baked experiments in this form, directness and intelligibility are quite essential, which is why the short story is the heart of the genre" (20 May 1973). It is not surprising that Amis is ready with his praise for Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. .....

For Amis, genre constraints are necessary: SF's subjects are aliens, not social alienation, and "'human interest' is a paltry substitute for the cosmic implications . . . . Vastness is the lord of non-terrestrial SF"

David Chute said...

Not since Vincent Omniaveritas -- though perhaps not as forward-looking.

It would be cool to see if The Observer has an online archive that goes back that far. (Later.)

Tulkinghorn said...

At the age at which I was working as a librarian in Glen Burnie, Md., Amis was writing so many pieces for the Observer that he needed a pseudonym.

It's an old joke but a good one that the shortest book in the English language is "Martin Amis: My Struggle"...

Christian Lindke said...

"But the fact that there are excpetions to a trend or norm doesn't invalidate the norm. Or does it?"

How are books like TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER not the norm? Their readership is in the millions. These aren't works of short fiction. Asimov wrote short fiction, Stephenson writes tomes. The trend in modern SF is for weighty tomes, the short form is dead. The same can largely be said of other literature as well.

"I've never taken a statistics course, which means that I'm putty in their hands."

I've taken several. Where is the data that demonstrates that people cannot read books anymore? Where is the data that video games create minds that want "short bursts of information?" When HALO 3 is a best selling game -- it has a story arc that takes about 40 hours to complete -- kids might want instant gratification in action, but they are willing to watch narrative unfold. As a kid to translate Halo: ODST for you. They can, and that requires imagination and the ability to pick up on subtle well as the ability to follow a disjointed narrative.

The difference between Space Invaders, and games of that era, and the modern video game like Uncharted are the difference between a sentence and the Bible when it comes to narrative content.

Fritz Leiber's THE WANDERER was one of the first truly long SF novels.

Modern video games are designed to encourage deep narrative play. Players often earn "achievements" merely because they are willing to perform tedious time consuming tasks. They do these things willingly. John Shirley said that reading requires a love of boredom, and many video games -- that sell millions -- reward enduring through boredom.

For statistical studies to be valid, it isn't just the number of subjects that matters. The data set needs to be sufficiently random that one can generalize from it, otherwise statistical assumptions are invalid.