Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

Today Susan Dominus, in her BIG CITY column of the NYT, speaks to a topic never far from the lips of writers lately--the demise of the literary world as we knew it. She wraps her column in Joan Didion's famous essay, "Goodbye to All That," which as "an elegy to the passing of youth," talks to Didion's disenchantment with New York City and the literary culture that was her world. Written in 1967, Dominus writes that the essay still strikes many familiar chords.

Part of what has disappeared, Dominus says, is the "glittering, gluttonous self-indulgence" of the publishing business. It was a comment that struck home to me as I had been privy to the same self-indulgence by Detroit's corporate world back in the mid-eighties. As a florist, I was often hired to perform extravagant botanical feats for the conference and party tables of the executives--feats that often added up to $50 to the per-person tab picked up by stockholders and ordinary citizens. God only knows what the rest of the bill totaled.

It was, and is, the crux of our economic woes. The rampant wanton greed of the people in charge--often at the expense of the people at the opposite end.

Dominus comments that at least "The New York magazine and book-publishing scene is no Detroit." (How unfortunate that Detroit has become the metaphor for abject failure.) But, she goes on to mention the silver lining of all this. "People will keep making cars, only somewhere else; people will keep making literary culture, just not at the same scale, or in the same hallways, or for a living."

In part, I disagree. To the wanton greed I say, with relief, "Goodbye to All That." But unlike Dominus, who concludes that "even the most jaded among our ranks are not ready to say goodbye to all that," I say I am. and I am ready to welcome the era of the internet that will hopefully put more commercial endeavors on an even plane so that the executives and the foot soldiers are equally rewarded. The essence of cars--transportation--will not disappear; and the essence of literary culture will be just fine. People, by their very nature, crave to tell and read stories, to fantasize, to learn and to opine. So while the paper industry and the bookshelf industry might suffer, the new scene--the internet and the electronic media--will enable literature to thrive on an equal, if not larger, scale and it will be possible to make a living providing it. We just won't be able to gorge on the pocketbooks of the general public like we used to.

In November of the same year that Didion published her essay, the Beatles released their hit song, "You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello." Paul McCartney's summary of his lyrics was this: "The answer to everything is simple. It's a song about everything and nothing. If you have black you have to have white. That's the amazing thing about life."

That sums it up better for me. Life goes on and what we are passionate about will survive--might even get better!


Erik Gable said...

I enjoyed this post, which I came across while looking to see what other people thought about "Lament on the Fading Culture of the Printed Word." Have to say I agree completely.

Jacqueline Carney said...

Thanks Erik. It is an expanded version of a letter I sent to the NYT editor. Admittedly, a long shot.