A multitude of book-people in an uninterruptable discussion of the past, present and future of publishing, with easy-to-follow online headlines, participants reaching out beyond the meeting halls, tapping on tiny keyboards.
One topic is hidden under each agenda: worry and confusion, lack of conviction and sense of purpose. Everyone struts together to articulate a reason for continuing in the profession, and face-to-face meeting seems to make this bearable. There’s much mention of drink; nostalgia for the publishing lunch, the launch party, the award ceremony.
Perspectives of publishing stretch to an out-of-reach vanishing point, and there’s a wistful wondering with each limit overcome and corner peered round.
Publishing, bound by time and place, has internal and external points of congruence and communication. It pivots in a physically grounded social network, not one based on digital communication, webinars, suspect personal profiles and branded personalities.
There are many meeting points: book fairs, literary events, seminars, workshops. Publishing impels people to come together for negotiation, discussion, public reading, private browsing, display of publications and people. Cities are where they do it.
The digital has an idea of its own ethereality but it is non-metaphysical too: of its time, located, influencing and urging in one direction or another.
Data hides in humming bunkers in the distant wastes: the cloud where there is often not a cloud in sight, except the memory of the mushrooming missiles the silos once sheathed. Air conditioned, energy-hungry, empty of every non-secure human, this badged, protected, fearful information space isn’t shared without payment or permission. It huddles in the desert protecting its privates, boasting of its prowess.
The boys and girls with perfect teeth and self-selected bodies build these concrete halls to keep the stuff that matches the minds that first fiddled with a keyboard, mouse or circuit board.
They do not glance at what is in their own heads, only at what is in private hands. The future tells them this is the future and they never look back.
In physical space monumental piles of paper and data archives, financed by expansionary commerce and philanthropic urges, store and provide access to evidence for self-betterment and canonical trending. In city centres grand façades guard the contents of imposing interiors made of hard woods, brass and sculptured stone.
Forgotten and dismissed by publishers and politicians in the first euphoria of the digital economy, many libraries are on last legs: forced to destock (throw away books), rationalize staff (fire qualified librarians), adapt to new technology (swap useful paper for obsolescent technologies), and democratize (banish silence and difficult texts).
Some walking wounded carry on.
Flimsy but intriguing relationships are exaggerated and limited by nearness, look-alikes, magnetic pulls. The creative imagination, skills and sensibility of the navigator are tested to destruction.
Getting lost happens so often that it is no longer remarked upon. With no map-reading skills or language to ask questions in, travelers rely wholly on guesswork or technology, and they begin to distrust both. Instinct that was honed in wordy studies is no longer common or expected.
We do not trust politicians, journalists or banks because we do not trust what we read and only half remember.
We do not trust ourselves.
The archive has absorbed the flood to near the point of precipitation. One touch, one extra drop and there is a loss of any form, just an oceanic magic mixture of interrelated sponge and sucked-up stuff.
The archive is everywhere, and everywhere is archival, like the distantly blue bits of the globe, connected, flowing between, freezing, circulating, warming, evaporating, stagnating, deepening, shallowing: filthier and filthier as outflows, flotsam, jetsam, discarded and dismembered life clog its shallows and its depths.
Discovering something or other within the crowded cloudy cloaca is inevitable: but there is just so much so close together.
Handy for some to have another mighty resource to hand.
Their evidence-based arguments feed on validated, refereed and regulated data, while others who have a closer feel for difference and nuanced arguments experience over-publication and over-retention as something that refluxes, spills, gushes out of the printed, beyond the printed, drowning the printed, transforming what’s thought of into a polluting fluidity: flowing, foolish, flaccid, fallacious, felonious.
Monkish devotion to decoration and reproduction is displaced by monkeyish typing, terabyte upon terabyte creating a tsunami of foaming danger.
Too much access to excess.
The line that is the shortest distance between two points, the connection made between them, connects these libraries, archives, bibliographies, hyperlinks with inherited and manufactured markings. More points, more lines and linkages, the interlacing of possibly unrelated nodes becomes more byzantine and less instructive. Just possibly it’s a pointless exercise.
Posterity likes the keeping and interpretation of books of record, methodically piling new words onto and into the bibliographic store. Fiction connects the points of reference, and heritage is connected with another time and place, used for this time and place, underpinning a time and place that does not and never will exist.
Something someone somewhere doesn’t want you to know might be found by knowing when to point and click, with a trigger or a mouse, how to make a change, react to the word culture.
Looking back, things become more obvious, so long as we have stored the memories somehow; in the mind, memoranda, handwritten between the covers of a journal, pecked out on a small keyboard or printed in a public volume.
Firing point blank. Certain to hit the target. Didn’t have a chance. Or more often, much more often, a cat and mouse game, stalking, waiting around, hoping tonight will be the night.