Monday, June 22, 2009

And I eat men like air.

Dear Don,

Wonder if you've seen this piece from the current New York Times Book Review, about the 232-page book Mark Helprin wrote partly as a response to abusive website comment field people.

It's a strange article, as is the podcast discussion its author has about it, linked on the review page. It makes the common sense statement that the kind of speech that happens in website comment fields is not worth engaging, and goes on to say that Helprin himself has caught some of the comment field delirium in taking the time to write and publish an entire book that refutes empty and anonymous spite. This connects back to my last e-mail to you on this subject, how the conditions of the internet medium change the rules of communication. The comments against Helprin that prompted his book numbered in the hundreds of thousands. It bothers me that we should expect someone to ignore with a high mind such a volume of hostility (hostility that doesn't vanish like a shallow spoken insult but accumulates quickly and stays around to be read), and that the power, or, more appropriately here, influence of speech can be written off as harmless and ignorable.

I agree that writing books as responses to website dummy speak is probably vain, but what's a good way to handle it? I dunno. I'd like to start with the recognition that free speech is a civil right because of its power, and that it is disingenuous to regard a source of power as if it did not have the potential to harm.


Stephen Sturgeon, Editor
Fulcrum: an Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics

A "visual letter" from Kim Addonizio in response to Joel Brouwer's Poetry magazine review of William Logan's Our Savage Art. The caption of the photo is "And I eat men like air." Reproduced by permission of the author.


E. M. Selinger said...

The Helprin book sounds like a waste of my time, but anything that puts that KA photo into circulation gets a pat on the back from me.

Michael Robbins said...

Helprin's book is actually a very dangerous, very reactionary screed in defense of absolutist copyright law - or would be, if it weren't pitched at the level of AM talk radio. The idiocy of his attacks on anonymous commenters is to the point only insofar as it uproariously reveals how out of touch with internet culture he is. (Ignore, ignore: this is not that hard!) Against the shrewd sanity of Larry Lessig, Helprin argues that copyright should be extended, not restricted; it is, quite simply, a capitalist manifesto, a defense of property the breadth of which is mind-boggling in its moral & aesthetic consequences. Fortunately, Helprin's hysterical shrieking locates him firmly toward the Limbaugh-Coulter end of the spectrum of political discourse. One may safely dismiss him as a crank.

Jordan said...

Matt said...

i still want to read that book about the horse