Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hot air didn't stop the Nazis, either.

From a San Francisco bookstore forum, reported in Shelf Awareness:

The idea for the panel, said co-owner Margie Scott Tucker, came from a statement made by Alan Kaufman, novelist, memoirist, influential in the Spoken Word movement and editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Literature: "When I hear the term Kindle, I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit." Kaufman moderated the panel, called the "Great Internet Book Burning Panel." (No books e or otherwise were actually burned despite the catchy title.)

Other panelist included beat generation icon Herbert Gold, San Francisco Noir author Peter Plate, Ethan Watters, author of several books including Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? and Cleis Press's Brenda Knight, a participant in the Google case.

Kaufman began by reading an essay soon to be published in Barney Rossett's Evergreen Review, which is now an online-only publication, he noted. "The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now der Book," he read. "High-tech propagandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets, downloaded on the Uber-Kindle."

Even speaking as someone whose Kindle gathers dust and who views shopping at Amazon.com as an unpleasant act of last resort, get the fuck over yourself.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Usually these conversations spiral around for a while before arriving at the absurd, self-important, and offensive Hitler/Holocaust metaphor. By simply starting there, Alan Kaufman has saved us all a great deal of time!

M. said...

Does Godwin's Law apply outside the internet?

Teacherninja said...

O, snap!

Love it!

Anonymous said...

Word

Andy Laties said...

Well, he's the editor of "Outlaw Bible," so you'd expect a Howling Jeremiad, no? It's a style thing.

And, Jews being "people of the book" (not "people of the e-book") -- I dunno -- I think he's doing a good job of getting a rise from his audience. Jeremiads are all about getting your people riled up. (Anyway, Roger, it is no fun to agree with you.)

janeyolen said...

Ah Roger, I would have thought this a comment from my son the rock-and-roller not elegant you. Nevertheless, I howled! GTFOY indeed.

And Anonymous 1--spot on!

Jane

Anonymous said...

what is GODWIN's law? and who is Godwin?

Roger Sutton said...

Wikipedia has a good explanation of Godwin's Law (and who Godwin is); roughly it means that people who need to invoke the Nazis in order to win an argument have already lost. I'm petitioning the Department of Rhetorical Standards to pass Roger's Law, which bans from public discourse any proponent of gay marriage who compares himself to Rosa Parks.

Anonymous said...

many thanks for the explanation of G"s Law (very useful to know!) and for RS's law, which has wonderful alternate applications when one substitutes new names and causes

Anonymous said...

just checked wikipedia - what a surprise! all this time I'd been thinking it had something to do with Mary Shelley's father and couldn't rationalize it!

Anonymous said...

There are two types out there, I am realizing: those who, when curious about an unfamiliar phrase, cut, paste, and Google, and those who don't. I'm confused by the latter. I'm not calling the people asking about Godwin's law Nazis (though it's tempting), but I want to ask, if you don't know what something means, why don't you just look it up?

Roger Sutton said...

But beware, Anon., lest you be labeled a "Google is your friend"-Nazi. Personally, I don't mind inquiring minds--they often take the conversation someplace good.

Alan Kaufman said...

Where intelligent, substantive discourse would shed light on the points I've raised in my essay “The Electronic Bookburning” (Evergreen Review #120) instead, you offer vulgarity and soulless wit. This supports my hunch that the well-concerted machinations of the hi-tech industry and its advocates to effectively destroy the book and book culture would not succeed were it not for the the impotent compliance of an intelligencia corrupted by its own hollow post-modernist cant and addicition to electronic media. You and your jeering allies offer striking example of a ladder-climbing,
intellectual petite bourgeoisie -- academic specialists operating in an atmosphere of intolerance and revisiionist distortions--who, in the name of personal advancement, will sacrifice any principle and accomodate any power that invades your domain, in order to survive. The road to the current catastrophe facing the book and book culture began long before Hi-tech became our world. It began when Foucault and Derrida effectively kicked the author out of literature. The destruction of book culture is a disenfranchisement that occured in stages. First the author was marginalized. Then, the physical book itself. Then the text itself was stripped of its copyrights. In the final stages, the text will be bastardized or eliminated all together. It is a process that bears a striking resemblance, by the way, to the process whereby Jews were lead down the road of annihilation in the Holocaust. I say this both as a Jew and a book author: You, ladies and gentleman, have helped lead the book to the gas, no less then the petite bourgeoisie of Europe and the many low and mid-station intellectuals and cultural functionaries quietly played a low-deceitful hand. They too laughed with jollity like yours as the catastrophe unfolded, they too quipped among themselves with a knowing smugness. But what is it that you know? Yours is a confederation of compromise, a shared understanding of self-betrayal.

In regards to my referencing the Holocaust, I not do so lightly but considered it long and carefully before deciding that in the case of the current destruction of the book it was appropriate. I don't know who Godwin is. But the name dosen't sound Jewish. I am the son of a Holocaust survivor, a former student of Elie Wiesel, and member of a group of writers anthologized in the volume “Nothing Makes You Free” (W.W. Norton) who are identified as “2G” or Second Generation Holocaust writers and that includes Thane Rosenbaum. Art Spiegelman, Melvin Jules Bukiet and others. . My memoir “Jew Boy” (Foxrock Books) is about the experience of growing up a survivor's son. I have studied, lectured, discursed and written about aspects of the Holocaust for nearly my entire adult life. And I know, in my bones, that my analogy is appropriate.

The Holocaust has never been properly considered by this or any other country (Holocaust-themed museums, movies, monuments-- all these are superficial vehicles of absolution for cultures and nations who are chronically revisted by an unshakeable guilt for either having done nothing to prevent the murder of Jews(America) or else proactively enacted and participated in the killing (most of Europe). Consequently, the unconcious agendas and dreadful strategies of The Holocaust continue to course beneath the surface of our lives and in a sense to shape our imperatives and outcomes, including not only the destruction of the Book but literary culture itself. One is but a short step to the other.

Alan Kaufman
Member of PEN American Center
http://www.pen.org/MemberProfile.php/prmProfileID/19319

Andy Laties said...

Hi Alan.

Nice defense! As I said, I am completely pro-Jeremiah.

I wonder what your perspective is on this conversation we had last month on Roger's blog:
http://www.hbook.com/blog/2009/09/what-do-you-do-when-your-favorite.html

Does this sound like a blog-list that has kicked the author out of literature??

Personally I've found that this group is not in the least enamoured of post-modernism--I'm usually alone in advocating for it. And I don't think you've made a good case for your opposition to post-modernism, only for the effects of imperfect understanding of what it says.

This blog has a lot of pretty conservative-sounding people like you on it, from my own perspective anyway. It's a blog for people who are very much engaged with the preservation of book-culture. (As I am too.)

However, personally I think that the book is not in the least endangered at the present moment. Things were a lot worse back when the early Jihadists in Egypt spent six months feeding the Library of Alexandria's holding into a bonfire. See my post here:
http://www.indiebookman.com/2009/10/future-of-books.html

Alan Kaufman said...

Dear Andy,
Not to be a complete boor, first, let me thank you for your qualified defense. It's in the interstices of such reservations as yours that, no doubt, lie shades of something approaching truth.
How strange, though, that championing the physical book would qualify me, in your estimation, as
'Conservative'. No. Let it characterize me as "Jew" or "Author" or "Reader". My stance fits right in with those. But I am neither a social conservative nor a political partisan of Hobbes or
Sidney Hook. Most simply, I am a devoted lover of books who feels that both the text and the vessel that contains it are sacred and that any effort to impose or eliminate either is a direct violation of the human essence itself. That its certain obliteration is presently occuring behind a guise of corporate toothpaste smiles and feel-good benign advertising, that is 'youthful' in its aspect (in the main, hi-tech promotion and dissemination is aimed at the young among whom are now those who will never open a single paper book in their lifetime and who will some day peer at a book caged like a zoo animal behind glass in a diarama, the Jewish profiles and types were displayed in Nazi museums). The fact that hi-tech corporate methodology does not deploy jackboots and lurid torchlight parades does not mean that its essential contempt for the book and determination to eliminate it from the mainstream of life, displaced by electronic devices,is any less sinister. The fact that its moves to eliminate author rights and copyright and to centralize literature into remote easily controlled centers of conslidation does not mean that its essential desire to control is any less ruinous than that of any totalitarian society. And even if its basic intention is benign, it is creating a fast lane to the ruin of all that is good and human. And yes, I do assign that level of signficance to the book. The free and independent book. For it is books held in the hand that lead to the great developments in human society. Of course, it produced its own share of evil. This is the world: nothing is exempt from life's contradictions.
But for every Mein Kampf there is
Camus's The Rebel and Begin's The Revolt, Rousseau's Confessions and Miller's Tropic of Cancer, Faulkner's Sound and Fury,
Beckett's novel trilogy, Dosdoyevky's Brother's Karamazov,
Babel's Red Cavalry, Kafka's Metamorphosis and on and on, books held freely in the hand that have pointed the way forward for readers to live and think. When you read something on Kindle or online, it is umbilcally attached to another, secret source. It is enslaved to its provider. It has gone from becoming a glorious, independent entity to content. This is the ultimate aim of hi-tech and its devotees: to reduce the book to mere content. Something to share equal space with the latest news flash from CNN and price breaks on cosmetics.
It is a denigration, a deportation and a crime. And I am astounded at how few have taken up the book's cause.
By the way, I posted on the website you suggested, Roger the blogger, who dryly urged me to "F'ing get over myself" and made other such comparable and, to his hooting constituents, impressive remarks.
That such persons command any sort of agreement is, unfortunately, not as astonishing as it should seem.

Andy Laties said...

I suppose I called you Conservative because of the fierce dislike of Post-Modernism. Since Post-Modernism embraces Relativism (thus your distaste for it, I assume -- all assumptions on my part here, admittedly), I assume you feel that Post-Modernism is aligned with a willingness to allow Absolute Evil to slip by as "only relative".

Anyway that's why most people don't like Post-Modernism. They think it evades Truth and Justice and Good and permits horrible and rotten people to do whatever they want under cover of "not as bad as..."

So, if you stand for Absolute Good versus Absolute Evil, I take this to be a Conservative stance. I'm not insulting you! I wasn't talking political theory.

The physical book has a stunning durability. You know that in Timbuktu, there are hundreds of thousands of books, at LEAST that many, buried in the sand. They were put there by the intelligentsia, in the 15th century. The wisdom of West Africa, and very possibly of the Ancient World (Aristotle's "Poetics" may be buried there!) are buried under the houses in Timbuktu. Many have never been translated or read. There are manuscripts and scrolls in lost languages being kept this way all over the world, against a more civilized era. Books will certainly emerge victorious when the fireball short-circuits the world-girdling internet servers. I'm really not worried about the fate of books. There are a huge number of them. The ancient Romans used to enslave educated scribes when they conquered this province or that. These slaves then staffed scriptoria in Rome, and two thousand years ago they produced "print-runs" in the tens of thousands -- Roman books were distributed throughout the Old World. So few of these survived the Dark Ages -- but -- some did survive. Just because of the sheer quantity. Similarly, we have produced a terribly large number of these book-artifacts. Electronic collectivization won't win the game, over the long haul.

I have known Roger since 1985 -- this is why I enjoy bantering with him, by the way. His bark is worse than his bite!

Andy Laties said...

Also, if the new technology is, as you say, devoted to the ending of the physical book's presence in the world, why does this new technology provide so many opportunities to individuals to CREATE MORE BOOKS?! For instance, here is Amazon.com's current approach to this.
https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/

I am no fan of Amazon's vertical integration of every activity under the sun -- but I cannot help notice that one of the activities they consider economically important to profit from is the very creation of physical books.

People are making more books than ever! Big companies may be having trouble with profiting from this in the ways they used to, but the number of self-published books has simply skyrocketed. I believe that I read that last year the number of different self-published titles was EQUAL TO the number of professionally published titles, for the first time ever. About 275,000 of each. That is a LOT of new titles!!! And this is being facilitated by the very technology you seem to be worried about.

Roger Sutton said...

If anyone is interested in reading Alan's essay it can be found here. here.

But, sorry, Alan, I still think you are a blowhard. You write, in your comments here and in the essay, as if you see yourself as some kind of Blakean lone voice in the wilderness, the sole resister to those who are eagerly marching books into the camps to be gassed and burned. That's just not true--concern over the future of the printed book is everywhere (such as the Horn Book, which sponsors this blog) as electronic communication becomes more and more widespread. Who are these "hi-tech propagandists" telling us that books are better off dead? Your provide no evidence for their existence, and your intimations of conspiracy read like Dan Brown. The proposed Google settlement is not only parseable but is in deep shit, despite your conclusion (in your essay) that no one understands it but everyone is falling into line.

By publishing your essay in an electronic forum and by engaging in debate here you are implicitly allowing that words via pixels have some value. Does that make you, at the least, a Good German? Of course not, but that is precisely where your argument and your analogy take us.

Andy Laties said...

You see, Alan? Roger is a pussycat.

By the way, I thought I was intelligentsia, not "intellectual petite bourgeoisie." (I did quote Camus in my book, you know.)

Cheers.

Andy

Andy Laties said...

Having read your essay, Alan, I have to say that I hope you get a chance to read my book, "Rebel Bookseller" Unlike you, I am not in the least pessimistic about independent bookselling, and I regard the closure of longstanding indie bookstores like Cody's as an opportunity for a new generation of booklovers to launch their own independent bookstores! Right now there are indie bookstores opening, all over the country. I encourage you to read this post, which includes my take on Cody's owner's assessment of his store's fate.
http://rebelbookseller.livejournal.com/22595.html

While I do hope you buy a copy of my book, you can read it in its entirely on books.google.com. I made it accessible in this way because I want my ideas about bookselling to be immediately accessible to everyone. To date, we have sold 3,000 copies of the physical books, and about 3,000 people have read parts of my book online. I wish people would buy the physical book because the footnotes are quite elaborate and I doubt readers encounter these when they browse the book online. But the task of my writing is to lead people to take action, and not be passive--so I hope to engage them wherever it's most convenient for them.

There are a LOT of Jews in the world, Alan. Hitler didn't succeed. My geneologist cousin has documented hundreds of members of my family who were killed by Hitler and Stalin. But the family tree has a very large contemporary, living contingent.

Alan Kaufman said...

To the bowtied blowharding Mr. Sutton -- a Hilton Kramer Wannabeee lookalike if ever I saw one--enclosed link to what
genuine intelligent discourse looks like. If you're going to fence with adults, perhaps it's time to tear yourself away from Harry Potter Meets The Little Red Caboose and undertake Cicero, who can teach you how to think.

http://the1709blog.blogspot.com/

Roger Sutton said...

Name-call me all you want, Alan, but I should warn you that denigrating children's books is probably not the road you want to go down with this crowd. Besides, as I've written in a few Horn Book editorials over the years, the children's book may well be one of our best bulwarks of bound-book value--Where the Wild Things Are ain't Where the Wild Things Are without page-turns, for example. And while I'm not a big Harry Potter fan, I am the first to admit that its success has a lot to do with its very bookishness, its presentation of a unique experience within the discrete physical boundaries of a book. That's a quality of what the po-mo's (and I'm not one, incidentally) call "print culture" that you and I agree is of incalculable value.

But is anybody still here but you, me, and Andy?

Andy Laties said...

There ain't nobody here but us chickens.

And, Alan, I did some reading on the blog you referenced. Very interesting stuff. I think that Roger's blog works in a different way however. The 1709 blog is more like my Rebel Bookseller blog: a series of essays by the author. But Roger specializes in eliciting conversation among his readers. Thus, the 1709 blog's posts have very few reader comments, while Roger's posts often provoke dozens of comments and our conversations can get quite sophisticated. For instance:
http://www.hbook.com/blog/2007/05/crap-here-comes-teacher.html

Alan Kaufman said...

By the logic of Godwim's law the American prosecutor at Nuremberg, in making his opening statements at the trial of the Nazi war criminals, automatically lost. Law is, after all, a dialogue too, if a very complex and
public one, between justice and injustice, ethics and the absence of them, circumstance and morality.

By the logic of Godwin's law, the State of Israel, citing the Holocaust as one of the principle rationales for its existence, also, automatically loses the case for its existence.

By Godwin's law, the SS man who can speaks in euphamisms about mass murder succeds to elude Godwin's paradimgn altogether and the Wansee Confernece, where no one ever openly referenced the Holocaust but only alluded to it in the most masked ways, must then stand as the consumate good for Godwin and his devotees.

Alan Kaufman said...

Regarding children, given the swift momentum and rapidity of hi-tech's advance I think its conceivable that in our lifetimes books will dissapear from the landscape and bookstores, which are nearly gone right now, will dissapear entirely. An entire generation will emerge who have never touched a book. I believe that the implications of all this extend beyond sentiment to an Orwellian totalitarian landscape of "captured" texts hostage in the hands of invisible corporate decision makers intent upon profit at all costs and brainwashing us to prefer machines over meaning.
In effect, this is already occiuring. And who will most suffer? The childrem will. They will become addicted to machines that sap their essence and distract them to the point of mental illness. One would think that of all people in the world who would stand up against the pernicious capture of their children by machines it would be parents but no, parents, and teachers, educators, even librarians, are advocating hi-tech dissemination of literature no less then the corporate greed machine does. It's like a mass-hynotized society sleepwalking to its own spiritual and mental annihilation by machine-induced distraction and soul capture. Parents want to seem progressive so they wire up their kids. The parents are addicted no less then the kids. And little by little a sense of the world, of the imagination, of language that is the human-shaping essence of the book is leeched away not only from parents but the children rooted immobilized before screens from day to night, thumbs banging on buttons, eyes glazed with constant visual crack. People literally cannot sit still without
constant checking of their blackberries. They now stand in the middle of crowded streets, in a trance, thumbs typing.
The haptic, pjysical world is vanishing from them, has no meaning for them. Life itself becomes nothing more then the raw material of digitization. And what sort of society will that inspire?
One that is pitiless, murderous, soulless. One such as we already sense stronge intimations of all around us, terrifying, even barbaric. The real barbarians are the business suits with the blackberries, tearing our world to pieces economically, socially, culturally.

Andy Laties said...

Well, this last comment of yours is brilliant, Alan. This is exactly what I'm worried about myself. The only difference in our perspectives is that I'm in an activist stance. I'm working against this outcome. I am quite concerned that those of us who work to bring children and books together are fighting a losing battle. But I cannot allow myself to indulge these kinds of negative thoughts. Instead, I simply continue my efforts. You can read about me at the bottom of this article.
http://www.parents-choice.org/article.cfm?art_id=345&the_page=event_feature

Lots of us on this blog work very hard to ensure that your vision will not come true.

Anonymous said...

As the very first anon. on this long thread, I want to duck back in to address Alan's point of 3:05 AM (!) on 10/21. It shows a misreading of Godwin's Law (which is of course just a cheeky sort of play to begin with).

Godwin's Law doesn't say you can't talk about the Nazis, as in all the examples you cite. It says that comparing other people to the Nazis makes one sound ridiculous, and without a sense of proportion.

Prosecuting Nazis at Nuremberg: Good. Calling someone a Nazi because they take your parking space: Bad.

That's Godwin.