21 November 2006

Don't Touch That Mouse

I've had technical problems for the last few days that resulted in phantom postings, but I think they're fixed now. Of course, if they're not, you won't see this caveat...

In any event, here are a few disturbingly related news items. On the one hand, we've got a Frenchman complaining that Google will warp the culture of literature with its digitization efforts.

Solution? It may come as news to Americans (and investors who think Golden Google lays only golden eggs) that many governments have committed themselves to undoing Google's current march to monopoly. (According to Jeanneney, Google is "currently handling 75 percent of online requests in some countries.") In regard to book searching specifically, Jeanneney's Bibliothèque nationale operates its own virtual library, Gallica (gallica.bnf.fr). India and China, in partnership with the Library of Alexandria and eight American universities, have started the Million Book Project to digitize their books. More generally, France and Germany have initiated the "Quaero program" to develop a European search engine that, Jeanneney quips, is already being called the "Airbus of the Internet." (That's no longer the great example Jeanneney intends, given the European aircraft manufacturer's recent woes, but you can't update a new print edition every week!)

(fake paragraphing omitted for clarity) And this from a nation with dictionary police.

Yes, it's those evil capitalists again. The ones who suppress poetry because it's not profitable enough, while simultaneously publishing (and "news"casting) hypothetical criminal confessions until the publicity gets too adverse. (Of course, there are about 200 links I could have inserted there...) The public support for publicly financed arts projects in the most-recent election implies that the market isn't doing its job. Why should a "giggling dirty-minded creature" have his own classic film, while an arguably greater composer cannot seem to make his way satisfactorily to screen.

The real problem here, though, is that both ends of the spectrum — rather, the three corners of the market, the government, and the private patron — serve different and incompatible ends through different and incompatible means. Unfortunately, because (despite those bond issues) funding for the arts is extremely limited, those three corners end up competing with each other for that funding. That leads to nonsense like M. Jeanneney's implicit assumption that market-based systems have no place in the arts — a curious absolutism in the face of the inherent relativism of artistic taste. There certainly appears to be an imbalance at present, with the market having too great a say in what art survives; that, however, is a matter of degree, and not of kind (as M. Jeanneney appears to believe).

In any event, tryptophan heaven approaches in two days, at least for my overwhelmingly American readership. Instead of watching that first football game, which promises to be less than interesting and substantially less than well-played, try a challenging opera or oratorio, challenging film, or challenging book (if you don't have lots of company already) while the turkey roasts.