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Old 04-27-2010, 06:53 PM   #31
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To see why, let's think a moment here about other kinds of content on the Internet. I'd be prepared to bet that any time you do a search on Google, well over 90% of the hits you retrieve are worthless. Even if they weren't, how would you ever find time to read through all of them? So clearly the junk to gems ratio on the Internet is extremely high - and yet no one wants or needs Internet gatekeepers, because we can decide what links we follow for ourselves. The same is true for books. Ultimately, the free market is perfectly able to decide what is and is not a good book without a gatekeeper to make that decision for us.
Google acts as a gatekeeper via its ranking system, as do all the search engines. It is just a different type of gatekeeping. Google tells us that the most relevant hits are likely to be in the first page or 2 of returns. How is that not gatekeeping?
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Old 04-27-2010, 07:04 PM   #32
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You know how they say that if you get 50,000 monkeys with keyboards and let them type that they eventually will write Shakespeare's complete works.....> Well, the internet proved them wrong.
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Old 04-27-2010, 07:06 PM   #33
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Google acts as a gatekeeper via its ranking system, as do all the search engines. It is just a different type of gatekeeping. Google tells us that the most relevant hits are likely to be in the first page or 2 of returns. How is that not gatekeeping?
Google ranks sites by the number of people who link to them (ie recommend them). So it is the people recommending them that ultimately determines the order, not Google.
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Old 04-27-2010, 08:04 PM   #34
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There is no question that anyone who wants to write and publish should be free to do so IF we have a way to build a consensus as to what newly published work is great literature.
There is no IF about it.

Anyone who wants to write and publish should be free to do so. Assuming, of course, they have the means -- freedom of the press has always applied to the man who owns a press. The advantage of ebooks is that anyone who has the use of a computer has that means.

I can see someone in Gutenberg's day decrying the loss of monks' control over what was once the domain of the abbey's scriptorium, and saying that writers should only be free to use this new technology if there was some way to decide which of it was worthwhile (in whose opinion?).

It turns out that history, and the opinions of readers throughout that history, have done a fine job of determining what was great literature. I have no reason to believe this will change just because more books are being published. It may be instructive, also, to remember how much of what we consider "great" was met with disdain (or the bonfire) when it was first written. Even novels themselves were decried as "trash" that distracted people from what they should be reading -- mostly the Greek classics, apparently. It has been neither publishers nor editors who have determined on our behalf that "Tom Sawyer" is a great book while "Tom Sawyer, Detective" is better forgotten. We have determined it -- we, the readers, the writers, the academics, the people with opinions good and bad. That will not change.

There is value to publishers' imprints as a brand name -- see the mention of Baen earlier. If you buy something from Baen, you're getting a known standard of quality. This is something that Web users are becoming accustomed to in many ways. For example, if you read game review websites, you differentiate between those that just reprint the publisher's media packet and those that have their own opinions and aren't afraid to say that some hyped new game is a waste of money. So that aspect will sort itself out over time. If the market (remember that "free market" thing?) sees a value in a publisher's approval of a book, the publisher will have a purpose. If people outside the current corporate publishing system provide an equal or better means for the prospective buyer to evaluate books, then there may indeed be no future for publishers. So it would behoove the publishers, I think, to start working very, very hard on their brand image. Not shoveling un-proofread crap into a PDF and dumping it out the door would be a good first step.
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Old 04-27-2010, 08:05 PM   #35
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You know how they say that if you get 50,000 monkeys with keyboards and let them type that they eventually will write Shakespeare's complete works.....> Well, the internet proved them wrong.

One of the monkeys escaped though. He wandered into a big publishing house where he was taken, strategically shaved, forced to watch the Indiana Jones movies over and over again (even the horrible fourth one), and then placed in front of a typewriter with a single banana as his only reward for completing a chapter.

They gave this unfortunate creature a name. A name that will now live forever in the nightmares of readers.... and that name was....

Dan Brown.
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Old 04-27-2010, 10:10 PM   #36
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Indeed.....

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One of the monkeys escaped though. He wandered into a big publishing house where he was taken, strategically shaved, forced to watch the Indiana Jones movies over and over again (even the horrible fourth one), and then placed in front of a typewriter with a single banana as his only reward for completing a chapter.

They gave this unfortunate creature a name. A name that will now live forever in the nightmares of readers.... and that name was....

Dan Brown.
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:37 AM   #37
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It's impossible for anyone to help build a consensus about something they do not know exists. The problem with twitter and the internet in general is that it tends toward fragmentation and multiple non-intersecting communities rather than a single whole.
There never was a single whole. That is ridiculous. In the 1950s did people in Australia care what Americans were doing? No. And vice versa. Sports journalists weren't chatting daily with Middle English poetry readers.

Further, makes no logical sense either. Now there are far more people talking directly to each other - even internationally - about this sort of thing than there ever were in the past. In real time, even. No carrier pigeons, sea mail or exorbitant (or impossible) international telephony needed.

Also, there are far more people, period. So it is far easier to get to whatever the mythical 'consensus' number of the past that people are in fear of.
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:41 AM   #38
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No, what I am implying is that a group of 20 people who read Joe Schmoe's autobiography and thought it was the greatest piece of writing ever written aren't enough to form a consensus.

The Internet has fragmented reading and readers greatly, making it harder to build a consensus on what is great literature and what is dreck.
So, what number of people is enough?

Fragmented how? You mean fewer people are reading 1950s mundane novels because that is all that was available, and people can find more of what they like more easily?

How is it the Internet's fault that publishers now produce books in orders of magnitude higher numbers? That clearly is going to split readership so generally speaking any publication will have a lower per capita share. That is completely on them, not some nebulous Internet concept.
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Old 04-28-2010, 07:21 AM   #39
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There has never been a consensus about what is great literature and what is dreck. The idea that there is some abstract greatness of literature that only the literary elite can see (along with the Emperor's fine new clothes) is mostly supported by those who consider themselves part of that elite. The rest of the world isn't actually holding their collective breath and waiting for the received wisdom from the elite before they read a book; they're out there reading whatever they like -- or, more likely, not reading anything, possibly in part because the Snooty Ones have spent years telling them that their opinion, their likes and dislikes, and their literary taste are worthless, and only the elite can and should decide what's worth reading.

Y'know, Shakespeare's plays were written for the masses. The bawdy jokes were to entertain the groundlings. They were the soap operas of their day. Now we consider them among the greatest works of literature. Is Thomas Hardy one of the greats? He wrote serials for the magazines to pay his bills while he was writing poetry. He wasn't anointed by the gatekeepers in their ivory towers. For all we know, a hundred years from now, literature students will be studying such classics as "On Basilisk Station" or "Dragonsbane". Or maybe some great novel we don't know about yet, something that will be sold as a $3 ebook off some author's website. And the elite of that day will talk about what fools we were not to recognize the great literature right in front of us.

If some academic mutual admiration society wants to congratulate each other on a shared taste in books, it'll keep them off the streets. But the rest of us are just going to keep on reading books, the books they ilke, and not really caring if the elite thinks they're worthy or not.
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Old 04-28-2010, 07:44 AM   #40
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What is great Literature is so Subjective it is almost pathetic.... especially if you read some of the lit reviews of great works.... Please Gag me with chopsticks....and I like some of what is considered "great lit today" but stop with all the b.s. about it its a book. Plus as yo said... Shakespeare wrote for the masses and the elite at the same time... Shakespeare
is definitely Soap Opera on one level...
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Old 04-28-2010, 07:52 AM   #41
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There has never been a consensus about what is great literature and what is dreck.
In one sense you are obviously right - there very often is disagreement about whether this or that work is great literature, particularly in discussions which take place contemporaneously with the production of a particular work. There's also disagreement about what criteria to use for deciding what is to count as great literature - is it the polyphonic harmony created by the interplay between the strata of the work, is it the evocation of emotion, is it the realism with which characters and states of affairs are portrayed, is it the degree to which the work shows but doesn't tell...and so on. But what there is consensus on is that it is possible in principle to tell the difference between great and good literature on the one hand and dreck on the other. There is consensus in the sense that even if you believe that to set about defining great literature and marking it out from dreck is an inevitably elitist activity, you have accepted that there is such a thing as dreck - writing with no literary value.

Why is it so bad to rely on the thoughts, insights and arguments of others who have more experience and expertise in a particular field to help us work out what we think about something. This seems to be particularly prevalent in relation to the creative arts - it's the "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like" syndrome. Fine, nobody is telling you what you should like, but to dismiss the opinions, thoughts and arguments of people who have often spent many years developing their expertise, putting it up to scrutiny, testing out how their ideas work as some kind of snobbery is itself a kind of inverse snobbery. It's an aspect of the anti-intellectualism that seems to be prevalent in much of western culture and is as damaging as anything the nasty big corporations might do.
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Old 04-28-2010, 09:16 AM   #42
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Why is it so bad to rely on the thoughts, insights and arguments of others who have more experience and expertise in a particular field to help us work out what we think about something. This seems to be particularly prevalent in relation to the creative arts - it's the "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like" syndrome. Fine, nobody is telling you what you should like, but to dismiss the opinions, thoughts and arguments of people who have often spent many years developing their expertise, putting it up to scrutiny, testing out how their ideas work as some kind of snobbery is itself a kind of inverse snobbery. It's an aspect of the anti-intellectualism that seems to be prevalent in much of western culture and is as damaging as anything the nasty big corporations might do.
Actually, I believe it is doing to them what they themselves practise. Ignoring what they aren't interested in.

If the argument is that you need some great consensus to pronounce worthiness on some tome, then clearly what a handful of people think matters very little. You can't have it both ways.

Or, as G. K. Chesterton said :-

"HEREIN lies the peculiar significance, the peculiar sacredness even, of penny dreadfuls and the common printed matter made for our errand-boys. Here in dim and desperate forms, under the ban of our base culture, stormed at by silly magistrates, sneered at by silly schoolmasters -- here is the old popular literature still popular; here is the unmistakable voluminousness, the thousand-and-one tales of Dick Deadshot, like the thousand-and-one tales of Robin Hood. Here is the splendid and static boy, the boy who remains a boy through a thousand volumes and a thousand years. Here in mean alleys and dim shops, shadowed and shamed by the police, mankind is still driving its dark trade in heroes. And elsewhere, and in all ages, in braver fashion, under cleaner skies, the same eternal tale-telling still goes on, and the whole mortal world is a factory of immortals."

The last statement is ridiculous, however. Ignoring some so-called experts is on the same level as poisoning thousands of people with an industrial accident through carelessness?
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Old 04-28-2010, 09:36 AM   #43
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There has never been a consensus about what is great literature and what is dreck.
To say that there has been no consensus is to say that there aren't books that have been upheld over time as exemplars of writing worth studying and multitudes that aren't worthy of acknowledgement at all. And that isn't true.

Determining dreck from literature is no different than separating great musci from poor music, great plays from lousy plays, classic movies from movies best forgotten, great actors from wanna-be has-beens, great baseball players from who?, etc. We do it every day and we do it with the aid and guidance of "experts" and by building consensus. Why are books any different?

True not everyone agrees with the choices and there are always competing lists, but even among competing lists there is often significant overlap, giving further credence to the idea that there is a distinction between dreck and great that people from all strata recognize.
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Old 04-28-2010, 09:48 AM   #44
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The last statement is ridiculous, however. Ignoring some so-called experts is on the same level as poisoning thousands of people with an industrial accident through carelessness?
Just to clarify, the nasty big corporations that I was referring to are the publishers and distributors of books with their bad DRM, geo restrictions and agency models. I obviously (well, evidently not obviously), am not equating the harmful effects of the culture of anti-intellectualism with the harmful effects of releasing dioxins into the atmosphere or disgorging millions of gallons of crude oil into the sea.
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Old 04-28-2010, 10:13 AM   #45
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Fair enough.

DRM, georestrictions and defying the trend of all other media will certainly reduce the importance of books.
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