Noir has been a form of realism from the getgo. It was and is an antidote to the historical cultural emphasis on transcendence, the idea that it is possible and even desireable to escape the realities of existence through religion, drug taking, power mongering or overconsumption in any form. It is not that these things are inherent negatives in the construction of a worthwhile life, but that overdependence on any one or two inevitably leads to dissatisfaction and tragedy. Life is too broad an experience. It is not a single-minded pursuit. Industrialization, with its specialization of labour to produce cheap, mass produced goods, and the need to build cultural consensus to have mass markets to consume mass produced goods, and to have the political consensus to construct the infrastructures for such a system, supports, even actively encourages such single-mindedness (which is analogous to addictive behaviour.) Noir literature points to the failure of the industrial system, and
the denial of that failure to allow individuals to pursue individual, meaningful lives.
Industrialization has been a historical hiccough. Through the collectivization of effort and capital it has allowed us to exploit the world's resources to our economic benefit and may even have allowed the average person sufficient leisure time from the pursuit of suvival to contemplate the meaning of a worthwhile life, it has not itself provided satisfactory meaning. That remains a more personal matter, and though digitization may been, in part, a consequence of the industrial pursuit of economic efficiency, or getting more from fewer resources, the path itself has been toward fulfilling the human desire to find individually fulfilling, meaningful lives.
And so we get market fragmentation as more and more people not only consume the products that suit them more closely (reading narratives that are closer to their individual interests, for instance) but they are able to write such narratives themselves, and exchange them with small groups of people who have similar interests, regardless of geographical proximity. True, as a result there's a lot more stuff that doesn't interest us but there's also a lot of ways, such as RARA AVIS itself, to sort through the slush. And on the upside, people are creating all sorts of stuff that is meaningful to them, individually and/or in small collectives. And there's so much information available at my digital fingertips that, relatively speaking, I can quickly and easily follow my individual interests from one career to the next. Compare this to the industrial career of putting hubcaps on new cars for forty to fifty years, then retiring to an early death. This is the contrast between living a
fuller life of broader experience versus an effort to transcend experience through repetitive behaviour.
In order to survive, industry rolls out these digital products to reduce costs in order to continue wringing money from the increasingly fracturing mass markets on which it depends, but in the process mass industrialization advances toward its own decline. Books don't go away. They can be produced POD for those who like the artifact, its feel, its readability, its "permanence" (because "permanence" is a relative term.) At the same time, those who like their narratives more visual get cheaper television and movie production, even as Hollywood tries to shore up its role as a generator of mass culture through investments in big, expensive new technologies. Others like their narratives more interactive, in the form of games. Others don't like to think of themselves as living within narratives, and so they get their how-to info straight from Wikipedia. And I can consume them all. When it comes to something that really interests me, as an individual, I can read the book, see the mo
vie, play the game, download the television mini-series, allowing the strengths of one medium to compensate for the weaknesses of another in order to get a broader, fuller understanding of whatever narrative interests me. Further, I can also enjoy the experience of learning how to communicate my own ideas through a variety of different media, also broadening and enriching my experience of the world.
The problem, as you point out, is adapting an economy based on mass production to one of more individualized production and consumption. In the mass-industrialized economy everyone got a few pennies from each of the standardized products they helped to make. For writers, that's a royalty. It's a system of not of much use when there are only a few hundred or thousand people interested in purchasing what I make, and where producers, as a result of digitization, have often lost control of the distribution process for their products. Of course, money isn't quite as essential as it is to the industrial process either. Digitization has made the production of individualized products cheaper. And a lot of products are no longer made solely because the producers are paid, but because the producer derives individual satisfaction from their creation. Still, a writer has to eat, get out of the rain, and have enough money left over to buy a computer so there's still a need for a sophistic
ated barter system, even if digitization has given the average producer access to the time, information and products that allow them to grow their own veg in the back yard of their own, environmentally adapted dwelling. And not everyone wants to do that anyway.
As much as people feel the need to pursue individually meaningful lives, they still like the feeling of collective belonging. They still gather together to exchange narratives, whether it's ghost stories around the campfire, or Super Bowl C. It is possible to make money through the performance and initial presentation of narratives. Books, CDs, paintings, that is to say records of the creative process may have so little value, except for artifacts such as the Mona Lisa, that they become promotional material, but the initial creative process itself, through live performance or digitally accessed pay-per-view events. I see it as a return to the days of the travelling troubador, though probably more often the troubadors will travel via the internet instead of by foot. Still, people will continue to walk to the campfire, or the concert hall, too, and writers will do what they have always had to do: adapt.
Not sure how many will be able to support a corporate entourage, however. Then again, how many do now?
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 5:02 PM
Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: nuts to the feel of a real book
Vinyl is a small niche, and it's nice it's not dead. It does show that people are looking for something else, but... how many people? The point, I think, is that "efficiency" is an industrial concept, not a human concept. I do believe we are witnessing the death of "homo economicus", but that death is likely to take a long time. What is worth what? If food were offered in pills and sex in a virtual reality machine, would people go for them and abandon the real thing? Humans are animals, that is their main characteristic. Let's not forget that. Sooner or later, something is going to snap. The huge consumption of drugs indicates that something is very wrong.
So, to get back on topic, when the toughest noir writers paint these nightmarish situations and these alienated people, they may be simply being realistic. Noir may be the new realism.
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