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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

White noise of the mind

I've been reading David Lipsky's incredible book-length interview with DFW, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, and there was a lengthy passage in which DFW and Lipsky discuss their supposed TV addictions, and it got me thinking about television and its effects on writers.

When I was in college I didn't even own a TV, let alone watch much of it, so I don't have much to compare my current experience to, but in the last year or so I've noticed that I'm watching a lot more TV than I used to. I long ago figured out I can't read or write while the TV's on because it's too much like trying to focus while someone is talking to you. I always find my eyes drifting to the screen, or find myself losing my place or thoughts. But beyond that, I've begun feeling increasingly like my head is filled with white noise, and individual lines of thought are more and more difficult to discern, even when the TV is off.

In Lipsky's book, both DFW and Lipsky feel extremely uneasy about the effect TV has on their writing abilities, and given my own experience, it really has me wondering whether the attention-span-crippling effects of television do in fact hack away at the set of skills necessary to write, or comprehend, extended pieces of fiction.

This dovetails well with Alan Stewart Carl's recent blog about atrophy, in which he worries about whether writing ability can wither the way that muscles do if not used enough. And of course there is this great post by my buddy at Alternative 1985 about junk irony and our spazz culture*. With these two posts, combined with DFW's magnum opus of speculation "E Unibus Pluram" and Don Delillo's White Noise and Chris Batchelder's Bear vs Shark, one begins to suspect that the literary world is enormously uneasy about TV and its long, sneaky, snaky arms.

So then, what are we to do, we who have pledged to protect the sacred art of using words to explore the depths of human experience? Can we simply turn off the TV? Can we fall back into a Ludditic netherworld of books and conversation, and ignore the millions and millions of people who are very much addicted to TV and the internet and social networking? Is it possible to walk the razor wire strung over the abyss, in order to get a closer look at the blackness at the heart of modernity, without falling in? Or is it impossible to divorce oneself from one's moment in time?

These are some of the integral questions this generation of writers must face. Either by tackling them or rejecting them, these questions will guide the future of literature. They are the collective elephant in the room, growing larger and larger, and crowding out all other explorations.

But perhaps there aren't really answers to any of these questions, and the white noise filling my head is natural, the clutter that comes with mortgages and families and full-time jobs and an obsessive "hobby?" Or maybe this is what being a writer is all about, diving headlong into the static and sorting out what really matters and then transmitting the findings out of the void and to the rest of humanity? Maybe being a writer is about sitting in the fog, alone and surrounded by confusion, and shining your light so that others might steer by, never really certain of whether anyone else can even see you?

How does this relate to TV...? I dunno, really. It probably doesn't, but certainly there is no enemy to literature greater than TV, it is one of the biggest factors in the alienation of the western world, and it has come to dominate culture so thoroughly that no other artistic media can avoid its bulk. Literature is but a gnat on the back of this bohemoth and must either bite or avoid; there is no ignoring. Not only is literature under attack by TV from without** but also from within, as authors themselves are forced to contend with the clutter and white noise of TV and spazz culture in their own lives.

It is an enormous challenge, but one that I'm sure the newest generation of authors is up to. Just check out online journals like Word Riot, The Foundling Review, or Kill Author*** and you'll see hundreds, if not thousands, of light houses deep in the fog, shining there lights, and doing there best to guide the foundering ship of humanity to safety.

*Actually our spazz culture, especially the ridiculous insincerity of advertising, is one of Alt85's fave dead horses.
**I.e. the narcotizing effect that TV has on humans. It's hard to spend a lot of time reading when you are spending six hours a day watching TV.
***This is by no means an exhaustive list. Here are some other great online journals: Necessary Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Knee Jerk, Spork, JMWW.


theotherfeminist said...

Great interview Charles. I am so happy that your literary endeavors are taking off. Now I can say I know a famous author.

Mister Booze said...

I don't watch TV anymore. I've come to hate it. It is very stressful. The programs are full of conflict. It is basically fighting and people yelling at me. Life is stressful enough.

The McCorveys said...

Ugh, I agree. Right now, I was trying to read your post but got caught up watching something on tv. Such white noise! I need to watch less fo' sure.

Tres Crow said...

I would say that I agree with you, Mister Booze and McCorvey, but I already said that in the blog post, so I'll just say that I have started actually just walking into a different room where the tv isn't on, and reading instead.

Still there's my iPhone, the computer, music, radio, trying to read 6 books at one time, rewriting a novel, and working on the beginnings of another, etc., etc. It can get hectic and white noisey.