Links: Research and Development

Nicholas Carr unearths a 1984 essay by Thomas Pynchon from the New York Times Book Review about the virtues of being a luddite. “If our world survives,” writes Pynchon, “the next great challenge to watch out for will come—you heard it here first—when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge. Oboy. It will be amazing and unpredictable, and even the biggest of brass, let us devoutly hope, are going to be caught flat-footed. It is certainly something for all good Luddites to look forward to if, God willing, we should live so long.”

Coincidentally, a recent Pynchon symposium at Swarthmore discussed the author and his feelings about the Web: “Later, Pynchon became more paranoid about the connectedness of the Internet, even going so far as comparing it to peering into others’ lives when they are not expecting it.”

So, then, how well does literature adapt to changing technology?

Walking through Holden Caulfield’s New York.

“Recent Jewish fiction has hit on the ability to describe exactly what it feels like to be that mythic creature: a modern American.”

Angela Jackson discusses her debut novel, Where I Must Go, which is about a young black student at an overwhelmingly white, Northwestern-ish university in the late 60s.

Greil Marcus discusses criticism as “the individual’s desire to get it right, to say exactly what he or she means, to capture the feeling that impelled you to write about this particular thing in the first place and not betray it. To live up to the song, the movie, the political speech, the horrendous disaster on the other side of the world or next door.”

Did Mark Twain ever camp on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe? Why did the effort to save his home in New York City fall apart? How did his work become so influential around the world?

Toni Morrison‘s Song of Solomon has been pulled from a classroom again by an outraged school-board member.

[Victor] LaValle was asked if he’d drawn from any myths or legends in developing his literary style and he mentioned how he had read the Bible all the way through—a volume, he said, drawn from so many previous ancient sources that if functions like an anthology.”

At a recent panel, London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers “praised blogs as being more relevant than newspapers because of their brevity and the diversity of opinions,” according to a New York Press report. “This point was undercut by her own admission that the only blog she reads regularly is the one written by The London Review of Books.”

On a somewhat related note, I’ve started a series at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, in which I toss a few questions to people who run literary Web sites (i.e. sites that have a strong focus on books and run reviews from a variety of contributors). The first Q&A, with the Rumpus, is up now; a second is in the can and will be online soon. I love to hear your recommendations of sites that ought to be featured, either in the comments or via e-mail.

7 thoughts on “Links: Research and Development

  1. Great idea! I would definitely interview Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading and The Quarterly Conversation for this series.

  2. Pynchon’s Luddite essay was written to mark, as I recall, the 25th anniversary of C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” speech, which discussed the divergence between the scientific and cultural communities.

    Now, Snow – there’s a case study in the decline and fall of a literary reputation. Back in the ’50s and ’60s he sometimes was bracketed with Anthony Powell – mainly because both were English and writing novels in a multivolume series covering a wide swath of British life. But at the time, Snow was certainly more widely read than Powell, at least in the US (as the bestseller lists at Time magazine and the NY Times online testify), and was thought for quite a while to figure on the Swedish Academy’s shortlist for the Nobel. But even before his death his reputation had started to dip, and his novels are kept in print only by an obscure small press.

  3. @RJH The Quarterly Conversation is definitely on my short list.

    @Reed I’m a big fan of Patrick Kurp’s blog—in fact, I’m working with him and D.G. Myers on a project that I’ll talk more about soon. But the NBCC series is designed to focus on sites that have a mix of reviewers, and that try to cover books and literature in a manner similar to that of newspaper book sections (or at least newspaper book sections as they existed 10, 20 years ago).

  4. Back in the mid-80s I got the three-column omnibus of Snow’s Strangers and Brothers from the Book of the Month Club. I ploughed through a couple, but finally gave up. Powell’s prose is much livelier.

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