Digital Barbarism

June 24, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno

Last week the New York Times posted the following review of Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto. In 2007, Helprin wrote an Op-Ed for the Times (online) arguing for the continuing extension of copyright, that the rights to a novel or poem should be “passed down not only to the author’s children, but to his children’s children’s children as well.” Because this is a kind of extreme and already outdated argument, people commented on his essay. Because it’s the internet, most of the comments were probably poorly written and not very thought-out. But instead of just not reading the comments, or posting his own comments and closing them all with the argument winning “PWNED!”, he wrote a book. This book.

This is my favorite paragraph of the review: “One could write a Talmud,” Helprin notes at one point, “in reaction to the oceans of material supplied by commentators who either deliberately or otherwise (probably otherwise) cannot grasp the meaning of a simple sentence.” True — but this does not mean that one should. In particular, one should never, ever write a book that includes, in its footnotes, “Posting No. 12” from thelede.blogs.nytimes.com, or “Posting 3:41” from missnemesis.blogspot.com — or comments by “Peep,” “Constantine” and “Anon,” from Matthew Yglesias’s blog. Helprin acknowledges the peculiarity of arguing with anonymous commenters rather than training his fire on more intellectually serious targets. “Why talk to the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room?” he wonders, quoting Churchill; the answer, he explains, is that in this case only the monkeys really matter.

Read the rest of the review, as well as a pretty sensible solution to the whole copyright thing, here.

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