Recently, an extremely minor yet extremely ungraceful fitness mishap caused yours truly to
un-RSVP myself at the eleventh hour from a literary cocktail event at
Maxim's, hosted by the Chicago Cultural Center.
Held just days after many
of us involved in local lit saw one another at the newly-formed
Chicago Literary Alliance inaugural meeting, Chicago author Gina
Frangello recalls the Cultural Center's event on the Huffington Post, and explains a panel dialogue that was, unfortunately but not
surprisingly, cut quite short.
At the Maxim's party a small controversy arose. During the Q&A part of the panel discussion, ACM
editor Jacob Knabb made a comment to the effect of how technology and
alternative media/networking sites are actually beneficial to
publishing and literary culture, because it is so much easier to form
communities now -- online -- than in the past. His comment was very
much in response to the doom-and-gloom tone the panel had taken towards
the current publishing climate, with the decline of books-centered
print media (and print media in general), the layoffs in New York's
publishing world, etc. At Knabb's comment, Rick Kogan, who had
delighted the crowd earlier by reminiscing about sitting on Nelson
Algren's lap as a child, responded immediately that he felt online
community was not remotely the same as face-to-face conversation, could
never take its place and that in general he had no use for it. To which
Knabb said of Kogan's view (and I was sort of drunk on free wine in
actual wineglasses, so I am paraphrasing here), "That's why I'll have a
job in five years."
A point to consider: Is it not true that an often-overlooked point in this new v. old debate is that new media is, in fact, a new-fashioned take on the very old and very traditional personal way of doing business? Didn't it used to be the case that business, literary business included, was person to person until the mega-company-versus-the-individual business model was put into place? And, it is not this large company v. individual consumer model that is being challenged by new media, which begs a return to the old-old way of the person-to-person, community- and relationship-building business model where quality trumps quanitity? Anyone?
Not surprisingly, at the suggestion of debate, the panel was brought to an abrupt end, more wine was
passed around and that, everyone anticipated, was to be that. But,
Later, my managing editor at Other Voices Books,
Kathryn Kosmeja, who is a smoker and therefore always privy to the
off-stage conversations of other smokers, reported that Knabb and Kogan
were congenially polluting their lungs together outside and engaging in
a respectful and animated exchange of ideas. Which, of course, is no
surprise. Both men have contributed a great deal to Chicago letters,
and both have no doubt been subject to far bigger skirmishes than a
differing view of new technology. The unfortunate part of the story is
that the rest of the people at Maxim's were not privy to that
discussion, which touched upon what is probably the most important
issue in literary culture today.
And this is often the case, at least in my experience. The conversation
that needs to be happening concerning new and old media tends to more
often occur with like-minded peers, and when it approaches anything
close, the plug is pulled, and the whole thing ends with
a old media calling new media unprofessional or, worse, illegitimate, and new
media calling old media stodgy and inflexible. And, as is also often the case, a private, quiet conversation happens after the fact that results in a "good point, I guess" and maybe a "let's agree to disagree" and that is that. But, it happens. At least for a while, and that is the essential component to finding sure footing over the new terrain.
There is a meeting place, to be sure, between the two camps, between new and traditional and it can only happen when these conversations are allowed to continue rather than clip them off. The need is there, the inclination is there, and it, at least from my vantage point, seems to be on everyone's mind. How else could we explain why, again and again, at literary events and on panel after panel, no matter the original topic of discussion, the discussion turns to this very issue in one form or another, just as it did last week at Maxim's between Knabb and Kogan?
That's a lot of the aim of Chicago Subtext, to build community and explore the various aspects of this conversation between old and new as writers, publishers and readers all navigate the changing landscape. I'm beyond in favor of letting this conversation happen, if not helping it along, outright.
In the meantime, do swing over the Huffington Post and give the entirety of Frangello's post your attention. Her points are excellent ones to consider.