Before the web, quantitatively speaking, text had the illusion of being finite. Yes, libraries were available for plundering in their entirety, but the effort of utilizing those texts was enormous. The text was effectively stuck to the page. You could xerox a page but you got a copy with the text still held in tact onto the page. The only way to liberate the text was to retype the text and yet, even then, you got yet another copy with the text glued to the page. How different then is the fluidity of digital texts, easily swiped, rapidly portable and ready to be poured into any desired form. Once freed from the prison of paper, the possibilities are endless. And therein lies the heart of writing's current crisis.
The preceding is excerpted from one of Kenneth Goldsmith ’s recent posts to the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog. The position that Goldsmith takes regarding the sorts of questions raised by “writing’s current crisis”--what is heralded by the digitization and easy dissemination of alterable text via the internet? are technological innovations supplanting aesthetic concerns as the craft of writing goes forward into a brave new world? etc.--could be interpreted as an indirect rallying cry to the editors and proofreaders of the world. (For some real editorial cheerleading, check out Gary Kamiya’s “Let us now praise editors ” published in Salon this week.) Somewhat ironically, Goldsmith’s blog post contains a handful of errors that the average proofreader would’ve caught on his or her first read-through. And this is no criticism of Goldsmith’s writerly talents. Presumably the Harriet blog (like the Free Library Blog you're currently reading) is without the luxury of its own editor; that is, the author and editor of each post are one and the same. Writing and editing are markedly different activities, and not all good writers are gifted editors. Editing one’s own work well requires being able to establish a certain amount of distance between one’s present self and the person whose mind generated the text in question. Achieving this sort of mental distance is especially difficult without being able to establish some chronological distance as well. But expedition and timeliness are two of the defining characteristics of the so-called blogosphere. Most blog writers as such cannot afford to hold on to blog items, cycling them through draft revisions to see what works. They write; they skim for errors; they post--and step two is optional. This isn’t a fatal flaw, because clearly there’s a lot of great blog writing out there, but rapidity (and bypassing editorial review) certainly has a price. If you’re the sort of person who cringes at a misplaced apostrophe, maybe you think that price is too high.