bookValue {taut, taught, thought, experiment}

Repeatedly assured in my local vernacular that “things is tight” I’ve tried to give this post a thoroughly ‘tautological’ feel, informed in some small degree by vivid memories of the summation of academic writing technique by a highly respected UK based English Professor (of creative writing no less) thus: “Say what you’re going to say, say it, then say it again.”

Maybe that’ll initially smack you, like it did me, as overtly formal, blatantly lacking a little lilt of imagination, and honestly in my own real world, the majority of which is outside academia anyway, merely a method of overstatement guaranteed to irritate any reading audience while effectively eroding most writers’ enthusiasm for spontaneity or belief in the inherent creativity of the process itself..

…and yet…

I haven’t’ deliberately missed the central point of the above statement. The procedural advice is obviously in part concerned with conveying and unpacking ideas, while last Thursday’s Bloomsday in Dublin must be regarded by some as a celebration of its opposites; paragraph pilfering, meaning squeezing, word smuggling and virtuoso verbal violence… it was tantamount to our national day of prompt’n’pack, packing as much of the writerly into that single day as our collective little minds might allow, stuffing us full with Dublinease sentences from Joyce the literary modernist giant, the Irish (now academic) edifice of gargantuan proportions. Right bang on the writerly you old jimmy hippy.. am bleedin’ buzzin’ off ya.. What ?.

“Whatyoutalkingbout ?” as Gary from ‘Different Strokes might once have conflated. Well it was interesting to see various tribe members try to cope. The chats, speech, performance, tabloid print, talk radio, other traditional media, the inherent impact of their non-writerly wearyingly wanderly waffle dynamics, strategies and tactics, dullard factors, pitched at the lowest common cerebral denominator, stupidity soundbites, and how such similar structures seem to have surreptitiously seeped into so many aspects of Irish, even International culture. An enforced national penchant for simplicity and even over-simplification, repetition not as rhetorical device but large lump hammer to crack the dumb nuts’ heads (or minds) open. Rat tat tat on reviewers’ temples, evidencing the absence of a good traditional cerebral clout round the uneducated ear…for idol/idle thinking.. dreaming even.. “You won’t find your future out that window Maguire.”(

Writing of such repeated clouts, I’m currently engaged in critically reviewing works of digital literature, I have myself recently been hit by a couple of substantial ideas, which isn’t odd or uncommon because while listening to and reading academics over the last number of years I became cognizant of the fact that many of them have claimed to have been struck by various concepts, ideas, notions and theories, on various occasions, yet not one of them actually got slapped or smacked in the end for lazy thinking or ultimately lethargic or lick ass writing about their alleged traumas and attacks. Mostly it was just Lordy lordy guess who’s boredy, here’s one someone else made earlier.

What ever happened to that once educational idea of writing as a craft that received due lurve and attention, a tradition of critical discourse often regaled by its own self referential erudition? A hairy, sweaty faced, and panting joy of criticism. Wait, ouch, hold it right there, I’ve just been struck by my own striking disregard for reverence and reputation, no one wants to be labeled as being awkward ( except maybe left handed Larry the one armed comedy juggler extraordinaire). It is wholly and utterly undesirable for any individual to become perceived as somehow disrespectful or, God herself forbid, an actual ‘dissident’…and yet as proven to me over last weekend’s new critical voices conference in UCD, challenges to contemporary critical thinking, questioning accepted literary or canonical cultural theory is a quintessential element in progressing any associated field and one might go so far as to assume any potential career in related education… and yet again.. paradoxically as much as paragraphically…

Arguments must be traditionally structured and learnedly logical even absurdly conformist if they are to impact or penetrate current discourse, the same might be true for many works of digital literature, their beginning reference points must necessarily be located in some form of the familiar, if they are to achieve something new, these works must currently do that by extension. Ambition becomes incremental rather than perhaps some Joyce like authorial preference for giant leaps and bounds into the (re)new(ed), unknown or simply forgotten.

Yes different strokes, different keystrokes even, for different folks, my current dilemma centres around whether my reviews of the works should be purely academic, in which case, bye bye most if not the vast majority of any potential ‘general’ reading audience, like so many things of worth and value, our anthology ( can be found here - http://www.eliteraturecollection.eu/ ) will evolve or mature through the aforementioned incremental steps. (more on that in another post) As initially discussed with other editors, Fabio, (http://www.fabiodevivo.it/ ) Serge, ( http://www.sergebouchardon.com/) it’s the collection of individual reviewing styles and cycles that might constitute some unique value, dare I say ‘insipid comparative aspects’ that will actually set such things apart – now is that a paradox too far ?

Professor Geraldine Meaney, Head of the School of Arts and Celtic Studies in UCD, launched her book (the blue one on the left in the photo) on Friday evening last, shortly after I’d finished presenting my own little paper. Never having met the professor before, I really enjoyed learning something about her work through her earlier plenary session and subsequent Q &A engagements and interactions with various other fellow panel presenters. Always good to have a quick chat too. While I didn’t feel in anyway compelled to, I thought purchasing her latest book/study from Routledge might be the ideal way to become even more familiar with her work, I did have two bus rides and one and half hours of commuting time to kill, in both directions.. twice.. it started looking more like a Godsend then a book…

I thus had the opportunity to partly digest what was an expertly written distillation and representation of almost a decade of important ‘indigenous’ academically based research, essentially an interdisciplinary intellectual examination of the Irish condition, the Irish cultural psyche and to a large extent its representation or portrayal on stage, tv screen and cinema in the UK and USA, the potential underlying symbolic, inferential, interpretative and psychosocial geologies, unearthed. The book, a treasure trove of cultural insight and societal deconstruction, an examination of Gender, ethnicity and National identity in contemporary Ireland through the polished microscope of a supremely keen mind, uses among other penetrative techniques, feminist, post colonial, globalism, mythical, subjective and cultural series of lenses, to focus and frame social changes, attitudes, understandings, assumptions and implications for present and future generations of Irish women. Quite an achievement of (Neo ?) Gramscian proportions.

At our conference (https://sites.google.com/site/newvoicesinirishcriticism2011/) dinner in the Odessa Resturant the following Saturday evening a fellow speaker humorously observed that steak was ‘a man’s dish’. The aforementioned meaty study is very much a large roast that should be slowly consumed by anyone, man or women, wanting to familiarize themselves with the current state of Irish studies in these areas. All together a very valuable book… I had paid the specially reduced conference price of twenty eight euro.. a fiver off. I certainly got a bargain even before the discount. I am after all a bit of a bibliophile and the book, while decidedly academic, is obviously unique, it in many ways reinstates my belief in the power of academic writing. The critical center of course will be how the book and the ideas contained therein actually achieve a critical mass of cultural dissemination.. as what might be described as a part-time Latourian – I have ANT-like anticipations..

On the following Monday morning I popped into the local Hospice shop to drop some stuff off from my car boot and having a quick obligatory glance at their bookshelf on the left, spied out of the corner of my eye: “Roberto Bolano’s 2666” a book of which I had heard only a little but had often wondered quite a lot, as a fan of Spanish and indeed Latin American literature I had anticipated purchasing the book and possibly paying full cover price for it at some time in the future. Here’s a spoiler link containing info for you, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2666 , I just want to relish reading and enjoying the book now – which I have just begun. I might get around to discussing its detail on this or another site sometime..

The really odd part was when I arrived home well in advance of noon on Monday, put the books down and set about reviewing my working week. This week.. a full workload of writing and reviews, interrupted only by the occasional foray into research, meetings and communications. Seemed fine, I was still just a tiny bit perturbed, when I first took the book down from the shop bookshelf, and added it to the others which I also decided to purchase, I hadn’t actually noticed the aged 24 euro chapters price tag on the back.. when the lady asked me for just a mere single euro for it, I wasn’t fully aware of the scale of my second hand discount or bargain; seven books, seven euro. I paid a single euro for the hardback version of the culmination of a writer’s life’s work. Wait a minute.. there’s value and then there’s cheapskate charity shop skullduggery by omission or feigned ignorance. As with other ideas and minor annoyances, I began to scribble stuff down about it to assuage a growing internal irritation.

Well a lot of educational or academic ebooks are available for free, just look at the excellent quality, although ok subject specific titles, emanating from new academically supported presses like ETC press http://www.etc.cmu.edu/etcpress/ That’s not mentioning LuLu, scribed or similar or even the much frowned upon book sharing websites and pirated/scanned stuff in circulation/available all over the web. (not that I’d know where they were to be found Mr three strikes and you’re out Telecom Éireann / eircom )

While Amazon & kindle, reading device hardware and Bookstore chains and publishers and Ipads Ipods I phone and Igiveups get swallowed by all that significant other: napsterization of the print publishing industry, it ravages away unseen and is only partially acknowledged– and here I want to draw the same solid distinction between the music industry and it’s whingey exploitive cousin the music recording industry and in parallel the book industry and its abusive alcoholic father the book publishing industry. There is a genuinely empowering wave of digital disruption occurring right now and all that’s required is a surfboard of self belief, a modicum of talent and the need for the occasional presence of Lady Luck.

Yes of course some people will want vellum or paper, you can offer print on demand services as part of any book or content offer. Complications and difficulties lie in trying to assess or determine, or to properly categorize it as an action, ‘unpack’, the book value as some sort of metric.. there is an irony in that second hand car dealers all refer to bookvalue, as a price point to reference, they produce a book that has the annual expected values for any given model of vehicle… how would such a value scale be applied to books or indeed writing. The Cartesian split between creative /professional writer / academic and amateur / hobbyist / academic, digital creator do in many ways mirror the two parallels I drew within music and publishing – there is a whole world of change occurring and as ever I use my website here to try to figure some of that out, albeit in full public view. Essentially because I am potentially all those things.. the greatest form of value for me is and always will remain, the work itself, in whatever format, the creation of the content is what’s of paramount value, if the format from a book changes then where is has book value gone, should it more appropriately be called writing value, creating value, or thinky-uppie value what will or do others choose to call it ? Truthfully external estimations and valuations miss the point entirely, yet sometimes I need to be reminded, or remind myself of those facts. To thine own self be true.

bookValue {taut, taught, thought, experiment}