Friday, 2 March 2012

FB, Twitter & the Rest 2: Booking Your Face

Adaptability to new electronic worlds is all very well, but it is nothing without a streak of hard conservatism. As writers we love neologisms, word play and the whole dazzling funfair of language as she is spoke and bespoke, but we also have a certain interest in stability. We would prefer a word at the end of a paragraph to retain much the same bundle of meanings that it had when it appeared at the beginning of it. We know about the modifications of meaning undergone by any word on its journey through text, and as writers it is our business to know that, but we do rely on the stability of the range.

So a certain resistance to all major linguistic shifts is becoming. There is a proper delay before leaping into line. I resisted Facebook before going on to resist Twitter.

It wasn't the technology as such, more a sense of caution about a social fabric that seemed to involve so much sheer chat. My interest in chat as such is limited, not absent, just limited. I wasn't desperate for trivia, however human and charming and playful it can be. Writing is, as they say, a lonely occupation, though writing-work does not feel like loneliness. I am very happy working by myself. It is only in between the bouts of concentration that a desire for chat and trivia arises. It is like looking up from the desk and spotting a trusted face nearby.

Beyond the trivial aspect lies a part-moral, part-psychological quibble. The presentation of self involved in a Facebook page, especially if one has, however limited, a 'self' presented in books on the one hand and in person on the other, seems rather pushy. Self-advertisement always feels rather desperate, even abhorrent at times. It is not seemly to flog one's wares, even at poetry readings where flogging wares becomes ever more a necessity. I don't like it. On FB - and not only on FB - the wares are you. Your persona. Your party face.

It would be naive to suppose that having a face, however diffident or modest or averse to self-advertisement is, in its effect, self-effacing. A diffident presence is still a presence. It is still the self with its masks and watchful eyes. It is no use pretending that FB is not a performance. All social intercourse is performance. Nor is it any use pretending that the readers of the FB post are not there, it is just that, for a writer, the activity of writing and thinking through the material has to be more prominent than the thought of advantage or even the warmth of friendship. Writing is writing. It is always writing first, and anything else second. Technique is the test of sincerity, said Pound, and was right. In your writing you are what you are as a writer. And what are you doing right now? Writing.

Beyond that, both writer and reader know that FB is, like all social interaction, a game with a serious side which has just as much potential as a corresponding friendship or a small party to generate real friendship. FB friends can become actual friends and in fact have done in some cases.


But what kind of literature is FB? In terms of subject and interest it is as wide as the world of books and letters, as wide as the world of any human contact. In its means and manners it is more informal, generally briefer and snappier than the letter. It is not an essay but a series of remarks that can be honed to a delightful or at least honourable precision. It can address politics and make jokes. It can share music, films, and other interests.

FB can be a political and cultural lever. I have posted a great many links to news from Hungary on FB and have got into conversation with people about it. I have started clerihew- and limerick-chases. I have experimented with poems that are built on the use of square brackets. More recently I have twinned FB with Twitter and cross posted.

I doubt whether FB has, or is likely to have, a literature in the classic sense but I can imagine material produced or introduced there entering the literary bloodstream at some level. It is, after all, performative language that is aware of itself as some kind of shape. Having a quick mind - which has its disadvantages as well as advantages - I have enjoyed composing verse almost instantaneously. The verse had to have the same standards as poetry. In some respects FB has been a poetic scratching-post and may yet generate a new line in my writing.

It might. Publishing on FB is not the same as publishing in a regular journal. There is a a kind of dry-run sense to it, a built in obsolescence. I actually think of it as a place where genuine poems may be hung out to dry, as on a washing line.

What kind of literature is it then? Interim literature, is my best guess. One with its own forms and manners to be learned and explored, as any other kind of interim literature.


I know we are all making Mark Zuckerberg even richer. I know what is tacky about FB. I know what is glib. I know what is opportunistic. I think I know at any rate. I am a sceptical being not a cynical one. I know there are real eyes reading the words.

Next time Twitter.


Dennis Tomlinson said...

Thank you for coming over to Letchworth yesterday, George, and giving a splendid and warm-hearted reading. I had read The Budapest File already, but now I appreciate the range of your themes, not just the Hungarian ones

I belonged to Facebook for two years but 'suspended' my account a year ago. I had had my fill of trivia every day, even if it was literary and musical trivia. People like you must be able to pick the gems out of the rubbish.

Gwil W said...

I think I could never join FB or Twit. I really like the solid comfortable at home world of Blogger - it's a place where I can muse and edit and come and go as I wish - no pressure - no pack drill - you come and look - leave a comment - we mustn't all live in each others pockets - Blogger has the feel of a world where nerves are not frayed. I like that. The armchair comfort style.