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Sunday, May 19, 2013

On anti-tech writers (Harkaway)

...mainstream literary and “high” culture is showing a weird tendency to wall itself off from the reality of technology, and that this tendency risks marginalising what has been the central thread of cultural discourse for a long time. That may be natural wastage, but it’s still wastage, and what’s worse is that it leaves an otherwise informed, liberal decisionmaking class poorly informed about science and technology at a moment when they need very much not to be. That’s bad news for our politics, as if we needed more. If you’re not sure I’m right, consider the Auster/Coetzee letters. There’s a section which is bound to have many literati nodding sagely, where Coetzee details his reluctance to engage with modern technology. That’s like saying you’re reluctant to engage with music, the automobile, or death. It’s fine, you can write novels without those things, but they will be divorced from reality in a fundamental way, and the core of literary writing is on some way a search for truth, and specifically in most cases a search by reduction to what’s important, to identity and self. Those things are not disconnected from technology, and never have been. Identity now is partly shaped by technology, and by a society which is technological in the substrate. If new technology is an inconveniently awkward fit with your poetic perception, that’s a problem for you, and not one you can solve by pretending it does not exist.

Nick Harkaway

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