29 January 2013

I No Longer Own These Words

As Mister Neil notes (and this goes for all writing, not just fiction and poetry):

But once a piece of art is made — and a story or a poem or a novel is a piece of art — it doesn’t belong to the person who made it any more. It belongs to the people who read it or see it or listen to it.

I'd quibble that his next sentence is incorrect: We can say that some opinions about what a work "means" are wrong (I'm lookin' at you, René and Terry and Jacques). It's just virtually impossible to determine that one particular opinion, or set of opinions, is right. That's what is so frustrating about political discourse in this country (I cannot really call it a "conversation," because there's so little listening): Virtually everyone is searching for the one right meaning, presuming that that meaning must be in their immediate, unenlightened self-interest, when the whole point of any flavor of democracy is that there is more than one right meaning... but that some meanings (like theocracy) are inherently wrong. It's all well and good to argue over whether a sausage qualifies as Bockwurst (and was imported either as a gesture of defiance at authority or in search of "authentic charcuterie," whatever the hell that means) while ignoring that sometimes it is just a link sausage... and sometimes it is anything but that.

  • I may not own these words, but it appears that the French government wants to own "hashtag" and take it behind the barn and shoot it. This is, to say the least, unsatisfactory; as English-speakers, though, we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg. One must wonder if the editors of the Journal Officiel treat imports from Germany (like schadenfreude) or Algeria (like merguez) the same way...
  • At least the editors of the Journal Officiel aren't importing German soldiers. The situation in the Bundeswehr just demonstrates that nobody else learned from the US experiences in Vietnam, either.
  • Speaking of lessons that should have been learned from Vietnam, here's one in aerospace that wasn't: Immediate profit as a cause of the Dreamliner problems. If Mr Surowiecki had done the minimally acceptable further research, though, he would have stumbled across the teething problems of the F-15 (particularly the Strike Eagle variant) and F-18 — also McDonnell-Douglas products — and seen that one of the other bits of corporate culture that was transferred to Boeing was utter disdain for maintainability. The scariest thing about those batteries is that they're not field-replaceable — they require depot-level maintenance equipment; they're not even as simple a matter as replacing an engine (for some value of "simple").
  • If I don't own these words, who owns not just particular pieces of art, but "The Arts"? To say that these are contradictory threads in their context is a vast understatement. To say that even that context ignores concepts of "meaning" is also a vast understatement. At least the arts have managed to escape from high school... on second thought, based on the last couple of events I've been to, the arts may never have gotten to high school — they're still in a racially segregated junior high.
  • And then... there's publishing. On one hand, we have arguably unlawful data collection from e-readers (which is one of several reasons that I always crack the DRM and use a "non-reporting" program to read my lawfully acquired e-books). If they use this sort of data the way I expect, we'll end up with a bunch of swell battle scenes and miss out on the story of a soldier playing an actor in a movie who is playing a soldier in another story but having nothing to do with Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. We'll certainly end up with fewer bookstores for many of the same reasons that the Dreamliner appears to be a "disaster" — and that's not a good thing, either.

    Meanwhile, the "reviews" at Amazon will remain fundamentally flawed, because — contrary to the meme in the entertainment industry — a review is not (or at least not just) a marketing device — it is, itself, a search for meaning. And nerds like me who look at the code of the links on this platter will note how much marketing-friendly surplussage I've stripped out of the URLs...

  • When even Judge Easterbrook refers to the arts as part of explicating a particularly technical point of bankruptcy law — an example drawn from children's books (look at page 3 of this opinion and spot the reference) — things are getting really, really interesting concerning who owns what words.

I think this platter of link sausages is now sufficiently reflexive.