Whatcha Reading? (Picking it up again)

With a kiss and a flower, one of which will endure, I am whom you infer.

Which, I wonder would she endure?

I have been considering sending some paper letters. I’ll scan them before I send, but I want to communicate with some family in a way that feels odd in a block of text.

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As so often, her syntax there is indeed confounding. Maybe it’s instead the kiss or the flower that will endure?

As a sign off (though it’s not Emily’s), I like Weakness to our enemies,

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Ooops. I see I misread. It isn’t that she needs to endure one, it’s that one will endure. So…the kiss will endure but the flower will wither?

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A review of Who Wrote This?: How AI and the Lure of Efficiency Threaten Human Writing, by Naomi S. Baron, and Literary Theory for Robots: How Computers Learned to Write, by Dennis Yi Tenen

If a computer can write like a person, what does that say about the nature of our own creativity? What, if anything, sets us apart? And if AI does indeed supplant human writing, what will humans—both readers and writers—lose? The stakes feel tremendous, dwarfing any previous wave of automation. Written expression changed us as a civilization; we recognize that so well that we use the invention of writing to demarcate the past into prehistory and history. The erosion of writing promises to be equally momentous.

Both Tenen and Baron are cautious boosters of AI, saluting its potential to relieve us of many “lesser” forms of writing. But they also predict that more literary writing—Big C writing—will resist the encroachments of the machines. “It’s simply that, however effective or powerful, a muscular artifice for the sake of artifice isn’t that intelligent or interesting to me,” Tenen says. For truly human writing, an AI needs to gain a wider sense of the world, he adds. “But it cannot, if words are all it has to go by.” A machine cannot (as yet) watch a film to review it, and it cannot (also as yet; one must cover one’s rear) interview legislators to write a political feature. Anything that it produces in these genres must be confected out of reviews and interviews that have already been written. That lack of originality, Tenen would contend, will forever keep true creativity beyond the reach of AI.

Still, I remained unsure. One might argue that it is always the audience that creates meaning out of a text—that a book is merely a jumble of words until it provokes responses in a reader, that the act of reading summons the book into being. In doing so, we wouldn’t just be going back half a century, to reader-response theory and Roland Barthes’s essay “The Death of the Author.” More than a millennium ago, the Indian philosopher Bhatta Nayaka, in a literary treatise called Mirror of the Heart, reasoned that rasa—the Sanskrit notion of aesthetic flavor—resides not in the characters of a play but in the reader or spectator. “Rasa thus became entirely a matter of response,” the Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock wrote in A Rasa Reader, “and the only remaining question was what precisely that response consists of.”

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[smug mode]
I don’t understand - back to reading actual books?
[/smug mode]

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Ah, an eccentric antiquarian hobbyist, are ye?

Guards!

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I’ve been reading Physical Intelligence (a book on neuroscience) and this footnote almost broke me.

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Currently reading this…

Very good so far!

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That’s amazing!

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I just got to hang out with the author this weekend, he is a fun guy.

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Both of the books discussed in this review sound interesting and worth a read…

[ETA]

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Fozzie Bear Reaction GIF

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Article is too long. Could you summarize?

/s

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The print title of the article nails it: abridged too far.

I’m also disappointed that an attempt to summarize Proust has yet again said cake and failed to mention the tea sipped through the cake.

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You can look at your own favorite writers and you will probably notice the same pattern. It’s becoming hard to even remember who the vocal ones used to be before the Gaza holocaust happened, but check up on them one after the other and assess their record.

I scrutinized Margaret Atwood’s Twitter account going back to October, only to learn that she has continually been rehearsing all the Democrats’ hysterical cliches about Putin and Russia and Ukraine and Trump, meaning that she is only repeating the empire’s rationales for the other forever war we’ve got going on at the same moment. You will not find a single tweet on Atwood’s account about Gaza.

Roxane Gay was one of the more regularly featured writers on the New York Times’s op-ed page for the past several years. I had heard nothing from her about Gaza, and her Twitter account is now accessible only if she lets you in; however she did write, after six months of silence, a very strangely worded op-ed about Gaza, and then shut up again on the op-ed page. The article she wrote was an argument against the efficacy of open letters, which is to be interpreted in the context of the open letter to PEN addressed by discontented writers, in the news at the time. That letter has now been signed by more than 1,300 writers, although one notes the distinct absence of major writers, and the disproportionate presence of Arab, Muslim, and Asian writers, in addition to a large number of younger, emerging writers, many publishing with small presses, rather than the big guns. Gay’s op-ed repeated many of the genocide-justifying stereotypes routinely offered by U.S. State Department spokespeople, making sure not to omit blaming Hamas, and indulging in the familiar litany defenders of the outlaw Israeli state have always offered: both sides are at fault, the situation is too complicated, partners must be found for dialogue on each side, nobody has the right to exert moral certainty. That, in fact, is the big lie, and I challenge her followers to see through the deception. Gay is laying the groundwork for her own future past the holocaust, in effect canceling whatever her signature to the PEN open letter might have represented—already getting on the right side of those with power.

Prominent, semi-prominent, obscure writer, you’ll find the same pattern. Claudia Rankine, of Citizen fame, has had nothing to say about the genocide, even as she has been conducting herself publicly on the anti-racial platform. Jennifer Egan registered her nod on behalf of the literary establishment by defending PEN, the only organization according to her that will stand up for the freedom of writers (except for actual Palestinian writers being killed). J. K. Rowling, although she is no literary writer, has been obsessed with the trans issue for a while; she found time to register her hatred of the Islamic regime in Iran, while saying nothing about the genocide. Joyce Carol Oates loves to get involved in all kinds of controversies, and is as logorrheic on Twitter as she has been for sixty years of novel-writing, but all I could find was the “both sides have a point” (no, not in genocide) and “let’s have a debate without preconceptions” verbal blather Gay rehearsed for her fans. Ayad Akhtar made a splash with Homeland Elegies, a novel about American racial inequity, but I have found no public utterance of his with regard to the genocide.

These are just some random examples, but if any writer at the top of the leagues—and we know who they are—had taken a stance on Gaza, we would have known about it. We need to realize that these heartless people, who are carrying on with their narcissistic personal celebrations and milestones as if nothing of note were going on in the world, are the decision-makers, the authorities, the alleged moral exemplars, who are going to determine your fate if you are trying to get established in the profession, or your colleagues and friends if you have already established yourself. The moral stink is unbearable.