I usually skip the Notebook, that essay that begins each issue of Harper’s, particularly when Lapham writes it. I don’t know why this is. I also usually avoid history. I’ve for so long distrusted its usefulness with respect to the present. And so imagine my surprise to read the following conclusion to what seems to be the last Notebook essay and to come out of it wishing I could read more. More Notebooks. More history:
The more interesting questions [than those regarding what’s lost with new reading technologies] are epistemological. How do we know what we think we know? Why is it that the more information we collect the less likely we are to grasp what it means? Possibly because a montage is not a narrative, the ear is not the eye, a pattern recognition is not a figure or a form of speech. The surfeit of new and newer news comes so quickly to hand that within the wind tunnels of the “innovative delivery strategies” the data blow away and shred. The time is always now, and what gets lost is all thought of what happened yesterday, last week, three months or three years ago. Unlike moths and fruit flies, human beings bereft of memory, even as poor a memory as Montaigne’s or my own, tend to be disoriented and confused. I know no other way out of what is both the maze of the eternal present and the prison of the self except with a string of words.
That’s Lapham. Wish I could link to the full essay but it’s not online, suspiciously. One has to love a use of image in the thick of polemic that would make Orwell gleeful.
Here’s to decreased attention paid to news items linked on friends’ Facebook walls!
It’s in the Nov 09 Harper’s (pictured, right). The pizzicato paragraph structure, the prose itself, the density of its Bay Area history. It’s incredible:
In the nineteenth-century newspaper, the relationship between observer and observed was reciprocal: the newspaper described the city; the newspaper, in turn, was sustained by readers who were curious about the strangers that circumstance has placed proximate to them. So, I suppose, it is incomplete to notice that the San Francisco Chronicle has become remiss in its obituary department. Of four friends of mine who died recently in San Francisco, not one wanted a published obituary or any other public notice taken of his absence. This seems to me a serious abrogation of the responsibility of living in a city and as good an explanation as any of why newspapers are dying. All four of my friends requested cremation; three wanted their ashes consigned to the obscurity of Nature. Perhaps the cemetery is as doomed in America as the newspaper, and for the same reason: we do not imagine death as a city.
The essay’s relentlessly bleak, completely disinterested in pointing out what might come in place of the daily morning newspaper to act as an improvement on the earlier model. (Did folks fret this much when the evening newspaper died back in the middle of the last century? Has anyone missed it?) But I do appreciate Rodriguez’s linking the newspaper’s decline not to “The Internet” but rather to the decline of the importance of place in our lives. I appreciate it as a fresh contribution to an otherwise rank and bloated conversation.
Continue reading Richard Rodriguez on Newspapers Dying