December 1, 2008 - 4:17 PM
Hi, again. We're back for a second chat in The Paragraph Factory, starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Hope you'll join us when the "live chat" window below opens.
In the meantime, Bob Pohl sent Charity a couple of observations after reading the transcript of the last session (thanks, by the way, to all of you who posted on that session's blog as well):
1.) In your story on Jodi Johnston, salient use of detail early in the piece, especially regarding the handbag and the BMW, did convey something essential about her "accessory" consciousness and the contrast between her private life and her high profile broadcasting career. It was good writing.
I understand, though, how some readers might mistake it for an implicit criticism of her lifestyle ... women are subject to a level of scrutiny of their personal appearance, style, and even their parenting skills that men in their professions do not face, which may have been your critical reader's point If someone was doing a piece on a successful male anchor, would mention of "accessory detail" drawn such a response? This issue came up again and again during coverage of the Clinton and Palin campaigns this past year.
2.) With respect to the point your Dad made about the emphasis on "storytelling" in contemporary newspaper writing, I'm all for it, but would point out that the way critical reading and creative writing skills are being taught today at the college and university level does not portend well for the "soft lede" in journalism. As I'm sure you know, there is a powerful ongoing critique of traditional, "linear" narrative and a corresponding suspicion of its lack of transparency.
The critique maintains that traditional narrative assumes the trustworthiness and reliability of the narrator and the intrinsic capacity of language to represent the world unambiguously. It does not hold that narrative writing is obsolete, only that it's "artifice" be acknowledged, and in some instances, foregrounded.
Take a look at the boom in "Flash Fiction," in college and graduate level writing, for instance. Here we have an intentional movement toward writing "across category"--mixing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir and personal essay--together without distinction in a fragmented, collage-like form. It's influence is pervasive, which is why we see so many "fake memoirs" in the mainstream publishing world, and acclaimed critical studies by Anne Carson and Susan Howe that are at least part memoir.
It's as if the structure of experience and knowledge itself is changing. Reading flash fiction assumes a different sense of time, a different quality of attention from the fictional worlds created by Dickens, Tolstoy, or Jane Austen. It assumes a world where the reader's attention span is limited; and there is no single "reality," but a plurality of hyperlinked "realities," an infinite parallelism of experience.
The so-called "blogosphere," with all it's partisanship, rumors, unsourced information, and worse is the news gathering world's first response to the parallel crisis in journalism. I'm not saying that the future of journalism is The Huffington Post, but it is likely to look and operate on a business model that is much, much different than anything we are reading today.
OK, that's food for thought -- and maybe for discussion. Talk to you soon!
- Mike Vogel