Tim Carmody at Snarkmarket wrote a thoughtful essay on reviewing books, movies, and other works in the new-media environment. In a nutshell, he points out how swarms of reviews posted at Amazon (for example) can have competing objectives, centering on what he labels immanence versus transcendence.1
The “thingy-ness” of an artwork, its physical form as we experience it. Examples: As digital media proliferate, a book might be experienced as a weighty hardcover, a Kindle file, a set of Google Books snippets, or a misquoted excerpt encountered in someone’s blog.
The “ideal, imagined, almost Platonic form” of a work of art that transcends all our particular experiences of it in various forms. Example: The Godfather is recognizable as The Godfather, whether we encounter as a signed first edition of Mario Puzo’s novel, a much-abused paperback in a movie tie-in edition, or the first disc in the Blu-Ray release of The Godfather Trilogy. Unless we’re focused on the history of the immanent forms themselves (the novel, the paperback, the movie on DVD), we usually treat them all as versions of the same work.
The difference between these helps explain a gap between traditional newspaper reviews, which emphasize the value of the transcendent work, and consumer reviews at Amazon and countless other sites, which are more likely to focus on the particular experience with one (immanent) form of the work. Continue reading →
I was recently directed to yet another complaint about the decline of literacy, the corrosive intellect-leaching power of digital technology, and our collective guilt for letting Western civilization subside into a mire of tweets, blogs, and gaming.
iPhones Have Consequences, by Sally Thomas, is a witty, engaging essay on the subject, supported by memorable anecdotes. I believe it delves deeper into the question than most such efforts, and it’s well worth reading.
I feel I must address her argument that the present college generation is dumber than we forty-somethings, seeing as I’ve argued exactly the opposite. It’s my view that the forty-somethings are the dumbest generation currently on offer, and the so-called “twixters” or “tweens” are more curious than we, and have read more and thought about more than we had at their age. Continue reading →
This is one of those Facebook memes: a list of 15 books that matter to me, written down in the order I thought of them, without reflection or editing. I scribbled it down last year, felt satisfied, and forgot to post it. So here it is for whatever it may be worth. Continue reading →
The question has become commonplace in published interviews with authors and other bookish people. I think I just read the best answer yet given to that question:
Book that changed your life:
Introduction to Computer Data Processing, Third Edition, 1984. If this textbook had not so clearly described how god-awfully boring a career in information technology was, I may have made some early career decisions that were even worse than the ones I did make.
Today I took a break from other things to spruce up the first article. The John Harvard Library is now fifty years old and is getting a facelift, according to this item at the Harvard press’s P.R. blog. Where the series started out with a heavy emphasis on colonial documents, nowadays it is casting a wider net, taking in the sectional crisis, the Civil War, and the Progressive Era.
The series has just gotten a uniform graphic design, with new author portraits drawn by Robert Carter and posted at his website, crackedhat.com. Quite a change from the old covers, done up in staid Enlightenment-era typefaces.
I like the portraits, but unfortunately can’t give you a direct link to them, as the website is done up entirely in unfriendly Flash. So here are some snapshots.
Frederick Douglass. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Stephen Crane.
Harriet Jacobs. The Federalists (John Jay, Alec Hamilton, Jemmy Madison). Jim Crow.
Looking over Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch, a 2005 exposé on the decline of the middle class, I found descriptions of the following three alternatives for the downsized corporate manager.
Franchising, also known as “buying yourself a job,” is the purchase of the right to operate a local franchise of a major corporation. Most of these businesses fail, apparently at an even higher rate than other small businesses. A 2002 study found that franchisees had a success rate of about 25 percent and an annual income averaging less than $30,000. Those “be your own boss” sales pitches don’t tell the whole story.
Commission-only sales employs many millions in what are often pyamid marketing schemes — so rewards depend on recruiting new people to fill in the lower reaches of the pyramid. Commercials and promotional literature for these schemes typically imply that you can make $30,000 a month or more without lifting a finger. In fact these jobs offer few or no benefits, with high start-up costs (e.g., purchasing a supply of the product, attending mandatory meetings, or paying fees to an organization). Usually there is no guarantee that your “employer” will not insert competing sales reps into your territory. Five years ago, about half of these direct-sales jobs made less than $10,000 a year, and only 8 percent — the tip of the pyramid — earned $50,000 or more.
Real estate, the traditional fall-back career, looks less promising than ever with the collapse of the housing market. But even in its salad days, when we all believed home values would rise forever, only about 14 percent of those who obtained a real estate license actually stuck with the profession for more than one year. Of those, only 30 percent made more than $30,000 a year.
What all these jobs have in common is that the employer has successfully shifted the risk of taking on a new hire, along with the expense of health care, insurance, and retirement benefits, to the employee.
Ehrenreich also found that a sizable proportion of unemployed managers and professionals end up in “survival jobs” — temp jobs or entry-level positions at places like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Home Depot. These people are not officially classed as “underemployed” as long as they are able to work full time. As far as the Bureau of Labor Statistics is concerned, a move from a corner office to unemployment, and from there to a job grooming dogs at PetSmart, is a successfully concluded job search.
Source: Barbara Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2005 (ISBN 978-0-8050-8124-4), pp. 181-186, 189-190, 205-210.