Chris Palazzolo looks at one way of seeing through the contemporary murk
Novels and narrative films are easy things to analyse because they are (or have been) customarily presented to us as singular objects. In the case of the novel, the objective form is the Book (authored, published, commodified) and in the case of the narrative film (an automated audio-visual spectacle of a definite duration), a Movie. With the internet now demonstrating what the much scoffed-at deconstructionists warned us about 50 years ago – that the ‘object’ status of the Book and Movie are historically contingent things, and that the age of the ‘text,’ which is neither objective nor singular, is now upon us, analysts are going to have to deal with a whole spooky realm of ‘regional’ readings – where defining a ‘region’ of text and calling that ‘region’ a novel, or a movie, is an act of will on the part of the reader. The collapse of the traditional model of book publishing and selling, and the feverish fractalising of electronic media means that commercial culture is going to be of less and less help in this regard; it’s embracing the ‘age of the text’ with planet enveloping enthusiasm.
Should we be afraid of these developments? After all, just over a century ago there were no such things as movies, and the Book as we know it now has really only been with us for a century and a half (sure, there are ‘books’ from the middle ages, but they were extremely rare things, and many of those the creations of monastic curators rather than single authors). Even up to the end of the nineteenth century the most common form of storytelling was poetic and verbal and the most common form of publishing, pamphlets and serials. Even our conception of criticism and analysis – of unlocking meaning from a single objective movie or book (including contemporary reviews which reduce criticism to whether something is good or bad) has only been with us for a century. But with the sense that our civilisation is threatened from all kinds of forces (political, economic and environmental) it’s natural that many readers would find the current situation alarming. How can we evaluate, that is to say determine what is worthy by virtue of its inspiration, its genius, and so validate what we regard as the best in our civilisation – how can we say anything is better than anything else – if there are no longer any reliable Objects for us to single out and study? The whole purpose of reading seems redundant. All we can do now is flit across surfaces and surrender our minds to memes.
But perhaps there are plenty of masterpieces out there. They’re just not only from the great metropolitan centres of cultural production anymore. Perhaps the finest films of these times are ‘home movies,’ made with an artfulness and delicacy that we don’t have the critical tools to appreciate yet, uploaded onto Youtube? Perhaps the greatest novels of the twenty first century are not being published by the presses of New York or London; they’re to be found in that continent sized slush-pile of online self-published manuscripts? It’s impossible for us to know because the enormity of the change (to say nothing of the amount of the stuff) makes all of it look like dross. We can’t get a critical purchase on it because the scale and speed that it accumulates makes all our intellectual tools seem so feeble.
The 21st century is the century of the regions and the first direct threat to the West’s metropolitan hegemony since the Second World War. All of the big macro events of the last two decades, from the catastrophe of the Middle East to Brexit in Europe and Trumpism in the US are in critical ways the ‘revenge’ of the regions on the metropolitan centres of the West where so much of the world’s capital and prestige has accumulated. These events mark the beginnings of a global adjustment so to speak, and terrible crimes are already being committed because of it. We are all involved in it, no matter where we live; everyplace in the world is now as important as any other. That’s why I propose the concept of ‘regional reading,’ as a way to get a perspective on things. I mean regional to be understood in its geopolitical usage, but also in its existential usage, that is to say a kind of continuous proximity that bears on any kind of individual activity. And I mean reading to be understood, not as the opposite of writing, but as a kind of writing – an activity that calls meaning and form into existence. I write my Teasing Threads posts in a café in my local shopping centre, so that café bears on, or contributes to, the writing. It’s not just my mental labour that produces them, but all the things going on in my region also have an input; the café, the course of shoppers walking by, the gratifying sounds of other people’s kids chucking tantrums, etc. All of it colours and inflects what I write, sometimes even changes its direction altogether. The concept of text is much more useful in this regard than the closed concepts of books and movies. But if I choose to call books and movies into existence in the middle of the shopping centre, that’s because I’m a fifty year old guy and I love books and movies. The greatest works of art give a vantage point on the world, and as the world is regional only a regional reading can see the world.
By way of a post-script I would like to take the opportunity to promote my novel Scene and Circles. I’m doing this here on the flimsy pretext of regionality. It is a very regional novel, both in its subject matter and its literary status (an online slushpile masterpiece). But I’d love to see it as a proper book one day. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/449419
– Chris Palazzolo
Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and was, until recently, manager of one of the last video shops in the world.