In August Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer for the Guardian, covered the last of five debates held at the 50th convocation of the Edinburg International Book Festival. The event dates back to 1962 and has a history of “passionate exchanges” among those attending.
Higgins’ article, “Writers should welcome a future where readers remix our books”, focused on remarks by author China Miéville:
"He and his fellow writers should 'be ready for guerrilla editors', [Miéville] said, adding: 'In the future, asked if you've read the latest Ali Smith or Ghada Karmi, the response might be not yes or no, but which mix?' There was, he said, a 'blurring of boundaries between writers, books and readers, self-publishing, the fanfication of fiction'."
According to Higgins, Miéville also dismissed anti-piracy measures as "disingenuous, hypocritical, ineffectual" and "artistically philistine". Clearly, the history of “passionate exchanges” lives on.
The comments that followed the Guardian’s article largely took issue with Miéville’s remarks, or at least with how his remarks were interpreted. Still, scroll down enough, and you’ll find a contribution from ‘frustratedartist’ who claims:
“Creativity is largely a form of recycling. Every great writer, and most not so great, are first of all gluttonous, omnivorous readers.”
At the time of the report, I had focused on Miéville’s perspective on piracy. There are relatively few authors arguing as forcefully against anti-piracy measures, but his perspective is personal, not data-driven. I ultimately deciding to pass on posting about it.
Around the same time that the Guardian article appeared, Peter Brantley wrote “The kids are alright: Making new stories” as part of his regular series of Publishers Weekly posts. In it, Brantley observes:
“There is a profound change taking place in media literacy. Rather than being riven by angst over the future of immersive narratives, younger people are delightedly swimming in a sea of diverse choices. Whenever they have access to tools, they are having a wonderful time using them.”
Sometimes it takes me a month or two to make the connection between an author who sees a mash-up future and a digital content expert open to a future in which the form of stories continues to evolve.
Almost all of the folks who were relentlessly critical of China Miéville shared a common assumption: the remix would take the same form as an author’s original work. That need not be the case.
In an article that will be published later this month (in connection with the Frankfurt Book Fair), Klopotek’s Helmut von Berg tells of his experiences with The Museum of Innocence, both a book and (in Istanbul) a physical installation of exhibits that evoke the novel’s 83 chapters. They are linked, and they are not the same. Both tell a story, likely unique to each reader or visitor.
All of those “gluttonous, omnivorous readers” (and we hope there are lots of them) are advocates for story. Soon, they’ll find a way to tell their own stories, and if they adapt prior works, we need not be surprised when some of their handiwork turns out to not look like texts.
Imagine the possibilities for all those works now frozen and waiting.